Archive for June, 2012

Summer is officially here–already the temperature here in Central Texas is in the triple digits.  The dogs don’t get as much outdoor time when it is this hot.  The risk of heat stroke is too severe when you have dogs who don’t know when to quit.  Instead, we play outside in the early morning or later evening hours and they take “cool off  breaks” by jumping in the water trough (when it is not being hogged by the humans).

Zella waits her turn to jump into the water trough. My father routinely likes to wallow in the water trough, too, when he comes to visit.

The other way we keep cool is by consuming tasty treats, and by tasty treats, I mean cold watermelon.  Nothing beats the heat better than sweet, juicy chunks of perfectly sweet melon.  My dogs love munching on watermelon, even if they only receive mostly the rind portion.

Zella munches on her piece of watermelon.

Charley demonstrating the correct technique used by carnivores to eat a juicy piece of melon. First rule is to scrape out the red, meaty part.

Zella offers her assistance to Grimm in consuming his piece of watermelon.

As long as the air conditioner keeps ticking, we’ll be in good shape.  With a fridge full of watermelon as backup, we’re sure to stay cool and content.

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“If we don’t chase things,  the things following us can catch up.”

–L.M. Montgomery

My two younger dogs love to play chase.  Up, down, back and forth they race, dancing around each other in a complicated ritual.  And, for the most part, their game is ritualized, with an unspoken set of rules.  For them, the rules are as follows:

Rule #1:   Grimm is always the chaser, Zella (holding a high value toy) is always the quarry.  This is how she likes to play the game, and as she is the boss, this is how it is played.  If Grimm grabs a treasured toy (usually a frisbee) and flaunts it in front of Zella, she totally ignores him.  She will usually go on a hunt for her own frisbee in order to start the game.

Zella starts the game by searching for a frisbee.

Grimm gets ready to start the chase.

Rule #2:  The chaser (Grimm) is never allowed to tackle the quarry.  He tried that tactic once and Zella quickly put a stop to it (she is very good at effectively correcting another dog without actually hurting the other dog in any way).  The chaser may nip at heels, tail or flanks, but he better not actually jump on the quarry.  Now, if Grimm gets going too fast and it looks like a tackle may happen or appears unavoidable, he actually now will speed up and jump completely over Zella, at which point she will turn around and sprint the other way.

The chase is on!

Grimm nips at her flanks, and Zella puts on speed.

Rule #3:  When the chaser finally catches his quarry, the quarry must play tug with the valuable object before the chase can restart (this is Grimm’s rule, and since Zella set the other rules, it is only fair that he has one, too).  This usually lasts for about three to five minutes, then Zella gives him the frisbee.  He carries it around for a little while, then gets bored and drops it.  He saunters over to some greenery in the yard and starts his impression of a goat.  All the while he is munching his greens, he is eyeing the frisbee and pretending not to see Zella sneak around to snatch it up again.  As soon as she has it in her possession, the game renews.

Time to play tug.

Grimm watches to see if Zella is going to restart the game. He dropped the frisbee in the middle of the sunflowers.

Zella gets the frisbee to begin the game all over again.

Watching my dogs play their ritualized game reminded me that all of us play our part in our own ritualized games each day.  At times we are the quarry, at other times the chaser.  I also realized when watching their play that the quarry can have just as much power as the chaser and the chaser is just as much at the mercy of the quarry.  Without one, you cannot have the other.  For me, this was again another reminder of the delicate balance we face each day, but probably don’t stop to realize it.  I would never have guessed that two pit bull’s play could spark an epiphany.   Have I ever mentioned what  terrific teachers dogs are?

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My dog Grimm has a problem.  He has an entirely unhealthy fascination with footwear.  He cannot help himself.   Maybe you could call it a fetish, but if you are a shoe, you are in danger.  Sneakers, pumps, loafers, flip flops (oh, how he loves flip flops!)–doesn’t matter.  If he sees one, it immediately becomes his favorite chew toy.  I know, I know…puppies eat shoes.  But, he’s almost 10 months old, so I thought he would have outgrown this by now.  Also, I constantly keep the shoes in the house off the floor, mostly behind closed doors,  but he’s like a shoe ninja–he  uses crazy stealth techniques that a 60 pound dog shouldn’t know.  He creeps silently into closets and onto the dresser tops where a shoe may be placed, and sneakily runs off with it.  He will take the coveted shoe into his kennel or with him to his dog bed or to my bed and commence destruction.  If confronted, this is what happens:

Me:  Grimm, is that a shoe?

Grimm:  What?  No, no…  [here he starts to slowly crawl on top of said shoe so that I can no longer see it]  I was just chewing on my feet.

Me:  Then why is there a shoe lace hanging out of your mouth?

Grimm:  Uhhh….hey!  Look how cute I am when I roll on my back with my feet sticking up in the air!  [he proceeds to roll around on his back with his feet in the air]

Me:  Stop eating shoes!!!!!

Shoe? What shoe?

I’m sorry…I couldn’t help it. I think I have a problem…

Nevermind! The flip flop is mine! It is…my precious….

His obsession is getting out of hand, though.  When he meets a new person, the first thing he does is sniff and inspect their shoes.  Occasionally I see him secretly taste their shoe, but the person doesn’t notice–he or she is too distracted by his banging, whipping, waggling butt and tail that they never notice the doggy drool left on their footwear.  I notice, though, and am secretly horrified.   I guess it could be worse–he could be one of those embarrassing crotch sniffing dogs.

One of many taste-tested shoes

Hopefully one day my dog will outgrow this obsession, although right now I think he is secretly dreaming of invading Imelda Marcos’ closet.  Dreams of shoelaces, treads and heels drift through his little brain.  I will continue to try to thwart his actions and hopefully put an end to this irksome (not to mention expensive!) behavior.

Grimm’s hidden cache of favorite things under the deck. Notice the flip flop, sneaker, and frisbee.

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I was looking through some older photos of my pets, some of which are now deceased.  I noticed that my very beloved old cat, Thomas, seemed to show up in a lot of the photos of my dogs.  During his reign, he was lord over Charley, my current 14 year old cowdog cross, and Roxie, my pit-lab cross (who passed a few years ago).  I think, secretly, he always wanted to be a dog, as I frequently found him lounging in the dog kennel.  He would taste-test the food first before allowing them to eat and he oftentimes hogged the dog bed.  Alas, poor old Thomas has been at rest for a few years, but seeing some of these photos reminded me how much joy and laughter Thomas brought.

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…or, more precisely, the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) rabbit.  These cute, fluffy bunnies run rampant in central Texas because they breed like, well, rabbits.  Because of our mild winters, they can reproduce year round–they can have large litters and can reach sexual maturity in a matter of months (3 to be exact).  When you are the popular main course for coyotes, domestic dogs and cats, hawks, owls, snakes, possums, foxes, bobcats and other predators, you learn to grow up fast and hard and to have plenty of youngsters around to spread the genetic code.  Of course, you also have death by man–motor vehicles creating roadkill, wayward lawnmowers running over rabbit nests, and those well-meaning individuals who try to intervene with Mother Nature.

Zella, my 4 year old American Pit Bull Terrier, has many “jobs”–couch warmer, frisbee wrangler, food taster–but her favorite job is being the local rabbit trainer.  Every day, she makes sure those bunnies are running faster, leaping farther, and turning quicker.  She has not yet caught one, but for her I think it’s more about the chase, not the capture.

One day a few weeks ago, while out with the dogs, I noticed Zella was being very still in the empy 1/2 acre overgrown lot next to my house.  The other dogs noticed it too, and we all went to investigate.  Zella got snarky with Grimm (my other pit bull) and Charley (my 14 year old catahoula/heeler cross) when they got too close to her.  I thought, maybe, that she had found a dead critter and was keeping it all for her own.  When I got closer, she started to wiggle her tail slowly and would make deep eye contact with me, then look at the ground between her feet, then back at me again several times.  Usually if she has found something dead and she sees me coming, she either immediately starts consumption of said matter or starts to roll around on top of it, getting greasy, sticky slime all over her shoulders, chest, neck and head.  This time, she did neither.  She wasn’t jumping and lunging at it, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a reptile of some kind (snake, lizard, turtle).  Instead, it was a nest of baby rabbits.

Zella Searches for Bunnies

Eastern cottontails don’t burrow underground–their nests are usually a few to six inches deep, lined with grasses and the mother rabbit’s fur.  This nest was far below standard–momma bunny just wasn’t trying.  It was maybe 1 inch  deep and had a few twigs around it.  No momma bunny hair in sight.  Zella stood over the little buggers, waiting for me to come.  She had not disturbed the nest or the 4 baby rabbits in any way (only dribbled some slobber on them from her panting–they were also right in the full sun).  These little guys were only about an inch and a half long, with eyes still closed, meaning 4 days old, tops.  I knew that if I left them out there, either 1) Zella would stand guard all day, 2) Charley would eventually get them and slurp them down like cocktail weenies at a free buffet, or 3) they would fry in the hot sun exposed like they were.  So I did exactly what you aren’t supposed to do with Mother Nature–I interfered.

I wrangled Grimm and Charley inside, leaving Zella to stand guard.  I collected all four babies and into the garage we went.  I placed them in a cat carrier and proceeded to learn about raising eastern cottontail babies.  Turns out, this is hard to do (like most wildlife rehabilitation).  The stress usually kills them, but trying to mimic rabbit milk is difficult, too, not to mention having to make sure they are able to establish the normal gut flora to eventually digest the plants in their diet.  To do this, you need to feed them cecotrophes.   Apparently, rabbits pass two types of stool:  the hard, round pellets you normally see, and dark, wet, sticky stool.  Cecotrophes are the second type and it is this fecal matter that contains the appropriate bacteria needed to populate the baby bunnies gut.  Because baby bunnies have an essentially sterile gut at birth, they need a momma rabbit to pass her good bacteria on to them by grooming them and by defecating around the nest where the babies can ingest these cecotrophes.  If a human decides to play momma bunny, you can go around looking for these cecotrophes and collect them and force feed them to the babies to help ensure a successful outcome.  I decided that, for one, there was no way I was ever going to find cecotrophes in my overgrown acre area and, secondly, if I started crawling around in my yard on my hands and knees looking for some, my neighbors would really think I had gone off the deep end.

I studied more on rabbit rearing habits, and learned that momma bunny usually only feeds at night, and not during the day anyway, and is usually not deterred from her babies by the smell of nearby predators.  So, I went to the spot where the nest was originally found, and basically “upgraded” it.  I dug it deeper and collected lots of grasses to line and cover it with.  I waited until dusk, then returned all the babies to the nest.  All babies were in good health when found, so I placed a few twigs over the nest to check the next morning to see if momma bunny had come to visit.

The next day, I peeked at the 4 babies under their new straw covering, and all looked fat and hydrated and content, so I let them be.  For the next 7 days, Zella dutifully went to check on them.  When Charley got close, she chased him away.  When I couldn’t ensure the dogs wouldn’t get to them when we were outside, I brought all the babies inside to the garage to stay in the cat carrier and returned them to the nest at dusk.  When they started to jump and crawl around, Zella would find them and stand over each one until I had picked each one up and returned it to the nest or I brought all of  them inside for the day.  Last I saw of them, they were 5 inches long and on their way to reaching independence.  They were already leaving the nest and eating on their own.  It appears now that they have gone their separate ways (I hope).  Zella occasionally goes to the original nest site and snuffles around, but Charley and Grimm are no longer attracted to the area.  I’m sure in a few weeks time, Zella will become these little guys personal trainer, too, ensuring that they continue to run faster and jump higher and live to pass on these genes to the next generation.

One of Zella’s baby bunnies.

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