Friday, March 28, 2014

The Early Edge of Spring

It's officially spring, as of a week ago. But for weeks and weeks we have been teased by buds and blossoms and jacketless balmy afternoon walks on soggy trails. The peekaboo sun has been peeking through a lot. I enjoyed monday in Seattle with son Ian and we spent most of the day outside because it was clearly the best place to be —especially for him since he was visiting from Fairbanks, where spring doesn't show up anywhere near the 'appointed' date. Ian told me he could see the cherry blossoms in Seattle from the plane and we walked under and around the pink petals as well as larger blossoms of magnolia. There were tulips and trailing blue myrtle as well as primrose and plum and the deep magenta of wild current - a confetti of color as well as limitless shades of green. Driving through Port Townsend today I caught that intoxicating spicy aroma of spring blossoms, just about everywhere I went. It's a heavenly time. This evening the light on Port Townsend Bay was like liquid platinum...people say that we in the northwest live in "gray" as if it's a bad thing, but I get fonder of shades of gray all the time. Especially when it seems to have life of its own, painting the softly rippling water as though to dress it up and show it off.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two years and no posts. A lot has happened.

Shadow died. It took her six months to die. It was heartbreaking to watch her decline and die but I wouldn't have been anywhere else in the world but with her. I never thought I'd live with a dog. What a blessing she was in my life. I truly loved her. And now, a year and a half after her death, I feel more grateful for her than I can say. I always referred to her as my only dog. She came home with me as an alternative to euthanasia, which she and I both felt was an excellent and necessary choice. I gave her five great years and she gave me an entirely new perspective on living. A couple of weeks after she died I adopted Duff, also scheduled for euthanasia. I can't say I fell in love with Duff instantly, as I did with Shadow. I was still mourning her, after all. But more than a year later I can say I love him dearly and he is as wonderful in his way as she was in hers. How lucky can I be?

Sad to say that after Shadow died, two more elder cats died as well, PJ and then Smokey. Lisa and Lucy had already passed away, after my mom. Hard losses. And I knew Smoke and PJ were getting to that point. But it's still hard. I was fortunate to be able to spend time with them, as I had with the others, and see them gently to their final days, in some cases holding them in my arms as they took their last breaths.

So now I have a garden full of dead cats and one dog. And here in the house with me, McDuff and Gracie. A boy dog, a girl cat. And they are wonderful companions. Gracie is more lovey and cuddly now that she's the only cat. It could not be clearer that she is fully enjoying her days at about thirteen years of age. She has even decided that the dog's bed is quite comfy if she plops herself clear in the middle of it. And he's too much of a gentleman to ask her to move. But he has other beds. And couches. And lots of soft rug. AND trips in the car, little walks with mom, and a dog house that he's decided is a splendid place to survey his outdoor kingdom from. Some nights he even insists on staying out there. And with all the frog symphonies going on and coyote sing-alongs, and errant squirrels and raccoons and neighbor cats thinking of intruding - well, there's a heck of a lot of work for McDuff to do.

So this is where we are now. I hope to post more often here on things outdoorsy and animal related.
Happy almost spring.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Wild Life

Shadow and I walked three miles at the fort today and for the second time encountered strange rodent behavior. A couple weeks ago, on a narrow trail along the bluff, we saw a small vole crossing the path, or trying to cross it. The little beast was so fat (pregnant?) that it could barely walk and waddled and stumbled as it tried to cross in front of us. We skirted around and when I looked back a few steps later it was resting on the dirt, still not having made it across.

Today we were on the paved roadway loop when another rodent, about three inches long and seeming to be tubular shaped, tumbled or ran down the bank on our right and with great vigor attacked Shadow! Ran right at her. As I danced to my left, pulling Shadow away, it just kept attacking. It was shocking really as we are so large and it was so tiny. At one point it moved so fast that I thought it was a tumbling pine cone that had fallen and was spinning on the pavement. But even as we got around and away and moved quickly along, I looked back to see it running after us for several feet. Could it have been trying to drive us away from a too-near proximity to its den where there were babies? If so it will be a VERY busy rodent because that's a busy trail!

This afternoon and evening involved a trip to Seattle to see a wonderful play, which always means a late return home. So I was on Discovery road between Sheridan and San Juan around midnight when a doe crossed in front of me. Then my headlights caught a little spotted fawn behind her, stopping at the road's edge and turning back toward the cemetery. The doe stopped on the opposite side and looked back, became alarmed and turned and crossed back in front of me to get to her baby. I was touched. So often I've seen doe leave the babies trailing, expecting them to catch up on their own. "Maybe she's worried about predators, especially coyotes around here at this hour," I thought. And then, not quite a mile away as I turned from San Juan onto Lopez I saw a familiar dancing figure scampering along the road, onto Lopez just ahead of me. It was the young coyote I'd seen in training at nearly the same spot a month and a half ago. And it went to the same bend in the road and began dancing about, though this time I saw no cats around. And this time the youngster was alone.

Amazing, isn't it? To live in town and yet encounter all this wildlife so frequently? And I see fewer dead animals on the road than anywhere I've ever lived. May we all drive slow and it continue to be so. It's hard to share territory sometimes but it's pretty wonderful that we do.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Brief Conversation with the Vet

Note: Pee pills are a drug to address doggy incontinence. Every now and then older dogs may "leak." So Shadow is to have two Proin tablets, one morning, one evening.

Me: Thanks for calling back. I just got in from the movies and find that Shadow has taken her pill box from the counter, opened one section and eaten the two pee pills that were in there. To make matters worse I gave her one before going out this evening. She's acting just fine though.

Vet: Well, probably the worst that will happen is that she'll act like she's had too much coffee. Be a bit agitated. You may find that you're up late playing pinochle.

Me: Oh, that's a relief! I'll let you know who wins.

Vet chuckles.

Me: Though you've probably already figured out who the clever one here is.

Vet: Ummmmmmmmmmm. No. Comment.

Me: Thanks again, doc. Night.

As I got off the phone I looked at Shadow and she covered her eyes with her paws. I am looking for a higher place to put her pills where I'll still see them and remember to give them to her.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Regarding Shadow’s Social Skills

It has been brought to my attention that I have “a very sweet dog.” People have been cooing over her lately, telling me how good she is, what a sweetheart, what a noble beast.Where, I ask myself, has Cujo gone? The black lab who lives with me began a couple of years ago to become a hyper guard dog, throwing herself at the front door when the UPS man came, practically pulling my arm out of its socket to chase cars down the street, challenging any dog we met on walks, head down, lunging and barking. If my dearest friends have pointed out to me (even in fairly recent months) that Shadow’s anxiety was due to fear she was reading in me, then am I to get credit for her new-found calm as well?

It started about three months ago. My book group met here and Shadow carefully introduced herself to everyone, bringing them each a toy to admire, rubbing them gently to give them permission to pet her. Then she lingered in the living room all evening at people’s feet, looking up at them adoringly, craning her neck in case they wanted to pet her again. The latter is accompanied by “the look.” She tilts her face up to theirs, cocks her head slightly and rolls her eyes up just so – if a dog can have “Bette Davis eyes” Shadow’s got ‘em. How anyone can resist this, I do not know. If they give her any encouragement she escalates to laying her upturned face against them, sometimes her entire 65 pounds slides down their legs landing, a puddle of fur, at their feet.

We also had a church committee meeting here last month – same charming dog, same exclamations about her sweetness. Then about a week ago I was walking Shadow past the church when one of the committee members saw me and called out happily. Then he saw the “Gentle Lead” around Shadow’s nose, jaw and neck. “Why do you have that on her?” he asked, and he actually seemed a little hurt on her behalf. I told him that she has an unpredictable sense of humor. I never know when she will have an issue with another dog approaching or walking past, or a car driving down the street. The man looked at me in disbelief: “But she’s the sweetest dog in the world!”

I know. Tell that to my friend who had perfectly good hearing before riding in the car with us as we passed people walking dogs and Shadow barked like a maniac until we were well past them. Or to the bicyclists riding peacefully along the road until we drive by and the dog goes nuts barking at them. And yet, today when a couple stopped us on a trail to ask, in pitiful voices, why my dog had a “little ribbon on her nose?” I began to ask myself the same question. She has been utterly calm for months now! No lunging, almost no barking in the car. She waits calmly when I lead her off a trail to let other dogs pass. She has even stopped herding the cats, though she still wants to do it.

I sat in the living room the last few nights and noticed that all three cats have been getting lap time with me, sometimes all at once. If I am, or have been eating, she is still bothered by the fact that they might get a taste of a dirty plate which is surely, as all plates must ultimately be, meant for her. But instead of her usual stealth, spring and chase, she begins her approach slowly and when I intervene vocally she listens and responds! Last night my dinner plate was on the floor by the couch and Gracie was having a taste. Shadow came from the dining room, head down, walking slowly towards Gracie and I said “come around this way” motioning with my arm and hand for her to walk around the large coffee table and sit on my right side, which would allow Gracie enough space to do as she wished. Shadow did just that, and obeyed my “Sit. Wait.” until Gracie had her fill and walked away. Then Shadow bent to lick up the rest. It was all so civilized.

Something is clearly different right now. I’m not sure what. And I’d still like to get her professionally evaluated at Legacy Trainers in Sequim and get some training myself.

It’s not that I actually want credit for her current behavior, but I have to say we really are both a lot calmer and happier these days.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Score: Cat = 1 Coyotes=0

The cat survived the attack! This morning I went by the house where I thought the coyote-surrounded cat of last night lived and I knocked on the door. A worried-looking young woman answered and said: "Yes?"

"Does a striped cat live here?"


"Have you seen him today?"

"Yes," she said "but we think he may have been hit by a car. He's just lying here and won't move at all."

"He wasn't hit by a car," I said, and proceeded to tell her the coyote attack story [See last night's blog entry: Dancing in the street]. Then I asked her if I might see the cat. With tears in her eyes she said that I could. He was on his side on the comfy chair right near the door and, as she said, he was not moving but was breathing. His rear legs twitched now and then. She said she thought he was in pain and that she had given him a leftover vet pain pill from another cat. I asked if I might touch him and she said yes again. I got down on my knees and began running my fingers through his fur very gently to try and find any punctures.

I was appalled to find his fur was slick, all of it, with what must be dried coyote saliva. I told the young woman this and she said "we thought it might be car grease." No. It was dry and clear. Definitely saliva. "He's been in their mouths" I told her. "I don't find any punctures but I feel it's very important you get him seen by a vet today. Please call right away. I'm so happy that he's alive and I really hope he's only traumatized and that he recovers completely. But something more than that might be going on here." We exchanged phone numbers and I went on my way. I called about an hour later and she told me that they had a two o'clock vet appointment in Chimacum. She promised to call me when they returned from the vet.

The phone just rang and the thrilling news is this: the vet says he has a fracture of the hip but that at barely a year old it will likely knit up well on its own. Also, it has a bruised leg and scratch and bite marks and a fever, likely from infection. So the cat came home with antibiotics and pain meds and will survive.

I hope these people, who obviously love the cat, will start keeping him indoors. All I said to them was that I see coyotes frequently walking past their house. Our street is basically a coyote trail. Before leaving their house this morning I asked what the cat's name is because I felt a bit proprietary about him and wanted to be able to think of him by name, though I hope I will not see him out and about after this. His name is Fuzzy. As in "warm and..." - may he have a long and trauma free life from here on out.

Dancing in the street

After midnight. Coming home from the opening of The Seagull at KCPT, I turned onto my street, then stopped at the first curve near the corner. What my headlights illuminated were four adult coyotes and one kit. I thought they were frolicking. Then I saw the tabby cat they were surrounding! Its back was up but it had no chance against the five coyotes. So I honked the horn incessantly and, with my car, herded three of the adult coyotes into a neighbor's yard, the first house on the left side of Lopez. The fourth adult and the kit continued to dance in the street so I tried to stay between them and the cat, still honking my horn. Then I herded those two past two more houses, down into the open field on the right.

I had held the street long enough so that I could watch the cat disappear into the darkness on my right, back towards the house I think is its home. I am terrified that after I forced the last two down the street, the other three adults hunted down the cat but I am hoping hoping hoping someone heard me and opened their door and the cat somehow got inside. Or that it's well hidden.

Tomorrow, I am going to knock on the door of the house where I think the tabby lives and ask if that's their cat and if it made it safely inside. It's all I can do not to pound on their door right now.

My heart's still racing.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Varied Thrush

Last spring I found a varied thrush dead on my doorstep. He had flown into my west-facing front window, near the front door. I'd just gotten up and walked out to the living area to feed the animals breakfast when I saw the beautiful black and orange, nine and a half-inch body crumpled on the cement. I kept the bird for days on some boughs I'd cut from the Christmas tree and then left on the woodpile near my entry. They were still green in spring, evergreens being so resilient in our damp air. And I just couldn't bear to discard the carcass. The bird's markings were stunning, with slender orange tracings over dark masked eyes and both patches and bars on the black wings, an orange breast with a band of black across it under the orange throat. To find any being dead stops me where I stand. It's a wound to the heart. That it is beautiful is incidental but impossible not to notice.

Yesterday morning it happened again. Again a varied thrush, again a male with those amazing colors. That it was a songbird made the ache of loss more palpable. Did I hear it singing as I planted bulbs the other day, or when I let the dog out in the early morning hours? That killing window matches one on the dining room's opposite wall, so you can see through to the back yard and the trees. But I have put two large decals on each window in the house to discourage these accidents. I did it after finding the dead thrush last year. Apparently this is not enough. A friend suggested I could hang a net up near the window to catch errant fliers. I'll look into that.

This time there was a nickel sized pool of the reddest blood next to the narrow, black, closed beak. It broke my heart to pick the bird up and put it in the garage. First I put it in the trash can, then took it out again. It was a living thing just hours before, after all. A living thing which flew and sang. How could I just discard it? I have buried birds since finding one when I was a child, but today I didn't have it in me. I scrubbed the blood off the concrete. Not true. I left a faint ring of blood as remembrance. But then I faced the fact that the song, the spirit if you will, was no longer in the bird. And I went to the garage, wrapped the body in newspaper and nestled it down inside the garbage can.

I know it's a small thing in this big world. It's not as though my child has cancer or I have a suffering hard life or any number of things which haunt or challenge so many people. But it was a lovely bird. Who knows how many hearts it lifted with its song?