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.