Monday, July 15, 2013

Dear Clipboard Guy

Dear Clipboard Guy:
First, let me say that the use of "dear" is merely a convention for a letter greeting, rather than an expression of affection. A colon may seem formal, but I'd like to remind you that you're not a friend or family member or even an acquaintance I think I might kind of like one day; the reason you don't get a friendly letter with a comma after the greeting is that you're a stranger.

Your status as a stranger might have been driven home to you when you walked up to my house. Did you hear my dog barking from the moment you stepped on the grass? Remember how her barking increased in both intensity and volume when you stood at the front door? How about when she jumped up on the armchair and barked at you through the window?

What I didn't have the time or inclination to tell you:
1. I've been regretting opening doors to clipboard-carrying strangers for thirty years, which experience assures me that there is nothing you can have to say that would interest me, partly because I have no interest in knowing someone who invades people's privacy for a living, but mostly because I know you wanted something from me that I didn't want to give you: money or a signature.

If I had opened the door, I know I would have been sorry. You might have been sorry, too; I would not have bought what you were selling; I would not have signed your petition. I never do. I don't want strangers appearing on my doorstep to sell me things or to proffer petitions, and therefore I never reward the unwanted behavior.

2. In order to open the door to you, I would have had to grab my dog's collar and drag her, toenails scraping on the wood floor, into another room, and lock her up. I did the cost/benefits analysis and decided not to bother. My dog is getting on in years. She has hip dysplasia and arthritis. Being yanked around the house would only aggravate the pain she is already in: you might or might not agree that's an excessive cost for the experience of declining whatever you're selling. It doesn't matter either way; I care a lot more about my dog's feelings than I do about yours.

3. When you knocked on the door, I was working. I don't show up at your work and bother you. I wish you would show me the same courtesy.

4. When a person asks you THREE TIMES--politely, in a neutral, civil tone and without brandishing a weapon--to vacate the premises, the sensible action is to shake the dust from your feet and hie thee hither, not to remain on the doorstep making facial expressions and gestures indicating your chagrin at being insulted. If we lived in Florida and if I owned a gun and if I had any whiff of a hint of a thought that I might be under threat, I guess I could have shot you. 

If you believe that we all of us who are not you have some obligation to do exactly what you would like us to do, e.g., open the door, buy your magazine subscription, do your laundry, put up with your nonsense, and so on, much disappointment awaits you. To be plain, just because you want me to do something doesn't in any way obligate me to do that thing. (Although I very much hope you will learn from this experience and stay away, so I can't imagine what else you might want from me.)

Best regards, (which you should interpret as a meaningless convention)
[signature here]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Next Stop, Dr. WhyWeDoWhatWeDo

We took Sophie to the vet. The prescribed arthritis medication and glucosamine marked a drastic change in her temperament. Until it didn't. The effect lasted about a week and a half. She had stopped lunging at random cars, and confined her crankiness (lunging, teeth baring, ferocious barking) to mail carriers and all delivery folk. Then she started again. She's also limping, so maybe there is more going on than just arthritis.

The vet had recommended we talk Sophie to a vet who is also a certified animal behaviorist. The price tag for this is rather high, but the vet told me she thought it would be a worthwhile investment.

More to come.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Color Me Discouraged

Just about the dog, God bless her and you know I love her to death. Everything else is fine.

All right. We tried the halty. It was awesome. Until it wasn't. I did as the trainer had recommended and introduced the halty gradually, with plenty of treats. Sophie got treats for looking at it, treats for smelling it, treats for letting me drape it over her nose, and so many treats for letting me put it on over her head that it's a miracle she retained her girlish figure.

Sophie wasn't a big fan of actually wearing the halty, though, and was not shy about letting me know it. She showed her disinclination to wear it by lowering her head and then by walking away. As much as she loves going for walks, she would lie down rather than let me put the halty on. Unlike Sophie, I thought the halty was a great thing, once I had it strapped on her and we'd gone on a few walks.

I thought the halty partly because of what it wasn't. That is, I'd used the prong collar in the past (trainer recommendation, not my idea, and the trainer had convinced me that the collar didn't cause pain, which belief was laid to rest when Sophie began wheeling around as if to give me a nip to make me stop when I tried to keep her from murdering mail carriers). The halty was no prong collar.

I also liked the halty because I'd begun to worry that restraining Sophie from murdering mail carriers would damage her esophagus. Even though I was only using a martingale collar, it seemed to me that such force applied to the throat (the tension between her lunging and my holding the line) could not possibly be beneficial.

But the standout wonderful trait of the halty was that it didn't require all my strength to hold the line when a mail carrier passed. 

However and unfortunately, Sophie developed an aversion to the halty. I don't know if this aversion is what led to the agitation that last week led her to wheel around and actually bite me (which she has never done before) or if there is some other reason.

The wound is almost healed. If you've ever been bitten by a 75-pound dog, you know the appearance of the wound was much more impressive than the wound itself. There was a puncture wound (which burned like hell the first day) surrounded by vividly colored bruising. The bruising was about the size of a large handprint. It was on my left calf. I wore jeans all week to spare anyone the sight. Now the puncture site has healed over, and there's some mottled purple skin.

No bit of knowledge is ever useless. I learned what to do in case of a dog bite. I cleaned the wound by irrigating it with water for a few minutes, and then dabbing it with hydrogen peroxide. For the first couple of days, I applied antibiotic ointment.

The pain of the bite was nothing to its psychological effects. On me, not Sophie. I'm actually a little afraid to walk her. Even before we started using the halty, she'd been crankier and crankier. She'd lunge and leap at things that had never bothered her in the past: garbage trucks, school buses, an elderly woman in sunglasses, a passing boy on a bicycle. City buses--and there are many on the streets where we walk. She was becoming wildly unpredictable. I used to know what her triggers were; now, I don't. It seems as if anything can set her off.

Yesterday when I took her out, she lunged at a passing car before we'd taken ten steps out of our driveway. The car wasn't any of the things on her list of Things She Hates: not a mail carrier truck, UPS truck, FedEx truck, meter reader, police officer, nor person in uniform. It was just a blue car. So I turned around and we went back inside. She hasn't been walked in two days, which I know is bad for her. I'm going to muster up my Inner Resources and walk her tonight, after dark, when no one is about.

Do I have to put a muzzle on her? I don't want to. If she hates the halty this much, can you imagine how much she will hate a muzzle? And yet, we must walk in the outside world, a place that is full of Things She Hates and also full of Things That She Never Hated Before But Now Hates. I have what I think are justifiable concerns: what if the leash breaks or if I lose my grip? She could attack some poor innocent person--and I say "attack," not "bite." She bit me and then realized her mistake. I'm certain Sophie wouldn't think it was a mistake if she bit a stranger. She could run into the path of a mail truck or garbage truck or FedEx truck or city bus.

My plan is to take Sophie to the vet and ask, "What the?" Is it possible there is some kind of health problem that is exacerbating her crankiness? If not, then off to the trainer we go. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rainbows, Butterflies, and Unicorns

Although yesterday started off fine, with a long walk during which My Good Dog was mostly perfectly behaved (except when she wasn't), she went on to have a bit of a rough day. Mondays, you know: trash day. All day long, we hear the slow rumbling of  garbage trucks. Then the yard waste trucks make their rounds. By the time the mail carrier arrives in the late afternoon, Sophie's limited store of patience has been exhausted. Still, I see progress. Even though she launched a full offensive at the mail carrier's approach, I intervened swiftly and she recovered her equanimity quickly.

This morning, we left for our walk a bit later than usual. A mail carrier truck was parked to the left of us as we neared the trailer park on Telegraph. I made sure I was breathing and walking normally. Sometimes I catch myself tightening up when I see a mail truck, or a FedEx or UPS truck: my shoulders tighten and rise, my breathing gets faster, my heart beat becomes noticeable. I react this way even if I'm out driving by myself.

So I've been learning to pay attention to that and correct my posture. This morning, I held the leash loosely in my left hand, which is in itself progress; I used to begin our walks by wrapping the end of the leash around my hand several times.

We kept walking, with Sophie trotting at a sedate heel. Then she glanced at the mail truck briefly, returned her gaze forward, and kept walking as if she had never once in her life ever even growled at a mail carrier, as if she bore no grudge against mail carriers in general, as if she'd never been the spectacle of 70 pounds of barking, whirling, ferociously lunging fury that interrupted a middle school P.E. class because all the students and the teacher ran to the chain-link fence to stare at her while she let a mail carrier know what was up.

Several blocks later, we'd turned down Ashwood toward the park, and Sophie caught sight of a large, long-haired cat of the striped variety. The cat looked at Sophie calmly, and then approached--not as a Halloween cat would do, but as if she thought she'd like to say hello. Sophie and the cat touched noses and sniffed each other thoroughly. The cat didn't run, Sophie didn't pounce at her, they just looked at each other for a moment, and then Sophie and I went on our way.

This is how it would be in my dream world every day.

Today's Report Card
# of mail trucks sighted (parked): 1
reactivity: 0

# of cats sighted (in motion): 2
reactivity: -5, 0

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fool Me Once

Last night, Sophie woke me up in the middle of the night with whimpering and click click clicking of her little toenails on the floor. Her whimpering and anxious clicking were so persistent that yep, again I thought her anxiety was produced by urgent need, but this time, I got a tiny bit smarter and put her on a leash.

When we got to the grass, she tried to bolt. Huh. Must be a whole colony of possums out there, but last night, she didn't get to chase them.

Today's report card
# of mail trucks sighted (in motion): 2
reactivity: 4, 4
recovery: right quick

# of mail trucks sighted (parked): 1
recovery: right quick

# of FedEx trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 0
NOTE: This latter may not count; vision isn't a dog's sharpest sense, we were on our way to My Good Dog's Favorite Place, The Park, and so it's highly likely she didn't catch sight of the FedEx truck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Natural Born Killer

Here is Sophie, chewing on her ferret. She took a systematic approach to dismantling the ferret, first removing the paws, then then the eyes.

I'm always surprised how I feel when I look at pictures of Sophie. I find her charming: the cutest thing in the world except for my kids. Even just looking at her picture is enough to make me feel this upwelling of love and affection. I love this dog so much. Except when she kills possums.

Writing about dogs and kids is difficult. It's so easy to stumble into a thicket of sentimentalities or predictable jokes--about how lovable or aggravating or mysterious or wise or stubborn or whatever else they are. Who doesn't love his dog? Who doesn't love his kids? Who doesn't find the whole pack of all living beings belonging to oneself wonderful beyond measure? I don't want to know that person.

Sometimes I wonder if we even need to write about dogs and kids, because it seems like everyone already knows what you're going to say. 

Last week, while I was preparing to embark on a desert road trip, I went outside to clean up the backyard for the house-sitter and found a dead possum on the patio.

Possums are big, way bigger than cats. They have big sharp teeth and long rat-like tails, and their little paws look disconcertingly like little baby hands. Looking at that big dead possum with its little baby hands made me hate Sophie a little, but I took care of it. I put on leather gardening gloves and then wrapped the gloves in layers of plastic bags, and slid the possum onto a flattened cardboard box. I tried to call Animal Control Services, but couldn't reach anyone, and time was ticking, I had a lot to do that day. I don't know what you're supposed to do with dead possums. I put ours in the trash, and then for the few days while I was away, worried that it wasn't really dead-dead, it was just playing dead, and that the possum would wake up and find itself at the bottom of the trash bin, but I took comfort in considering the possum's size and in its sharp teeth, both of which I thought would go a long way in helping the possum escape the predicament I'd put him in.

When I came back, there was no evidence of a possum resurrection. The house-sitter reported no carnage had taken place in my absence.

A few days after that, I went out in the morning to clean up the yard before taking Sophie for a walk, and then I saw the rest of the possum's family: his mate and all their children. Dead. The sight of the bodies of the mother possum and of all the babies, some still with their paws clinging to the mother, some lying a few inches away in the grass made me hate Sophie again. Baby possums are much darker than their parents. They look a bit like little rats. Some people find rats disgusting. I don't; I had a pet rat when I was in sixth grade. I'd taught my rat to play tag. But that was a pet. Not that I'd be inclined to play tag with the city vermin variety.

After I cried, I went inside. I called Animal Services this time. There are probably millions of people in the world who can cheerfully dispose of that many dead baby animals and their mother in a moment, but I'm not one of them.

The woman who answered the phone at Animal Control Services was very nice. She assured me that possums don't carry diseases, so I didn't have to worry about that, and directed  me to leave a note on my door.

When I returned home, the yard was cleared. Sophie sniffed the grass where the possums had been, and I looked at her and hated her a little more. It's not like she needed to eat the possums. Sometimes she won't eat her own food. I would say she killed the possums for sport, but she didn't; she killed them because they're prey and she's a predator, and that's just what predators do. I'm sure she had fun, but it was working kind of fun, not going to the beach kind of fun.

Before Sophie, we had Harriet, a long-haired tortoiseshell cat of distinctly foxy appearance. Harriet was a skilled hunter, and brought home all species of small animals. Sometimes they were dead and sometimes they were alive, and sometimes they were in-between. Mice, gophers, birds, a squirrel, once she carried home a bunny that was more than half her size. Then Harriet herself disappeared. We lived in the hills then, and it could have been the coyotes. Harriet's disappearance broke our hearts.

Before Harriet, we had Shaka, a glossy black short-haired manx. Shaka was such a goofball that I didn't believe he would be much of a hunter, so when dead mice started appearing on the deck, I assumed that they'd been poisoned and that somehow our deck had become the preferred final resting place for neighborhood rodents. Shaka put that belief to rest when he started bringing home live mice, too. Shaka was HBC, vetspeak for "hit by car." We'd put up fliers all over the neighborhood, so I had to endure at least a dozen calls from well-meaning folks who'd seen him before we got the fliers down. Shaka's death broke our hearts, too.

My goal is to keep Sophie alive by any means necessary, so far so good. I don't know what I can do to protect the possums. Maybe always assume Sophie is lying when she indicates she needs to go out in the middle of the night.

By now, I've forgiven her for being a dog and a predator and we're back to normal.

Today's Report Card
# of cats sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 1

NOTE: This is very impressive, considering the cat was the one we see on the way to the park. This cat is badder than bad. This cat comes TOWARD us when it sees Sophie. The cat puffs up and steps forward. I admire this cat so much.

Today the owner came out and I told her I'm a big fan of her cat. She looked at Sophie's perked ears and wagging tail, and then asked if Sophie likes cats. Her cat loves dogs that like cats, she said. At that moment, her cat looked like one of those cats on a Halloween card.

I told the cat's owner that Sophie would probably try to eat the cat if I let her go. The cat's owner smiled uncertainly. Sophie had issues, I said apologetically.

# of mail carriers sighted (on foot): 1
reactivity: 3
NOTE: Here I'm thinking we might need to indicate how much time it took for her to calm down, because even though there was an impressive reaction, she pulled herself together right quick.

# of FedEx trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

# of UPS trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

It was a busy walk.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We're moving in the right direction.

Today's Report Card
# of meter readers sighted: 1
reactivity: 3
# of cats sighted (2):
reactivity: 1
# of mail carriers sighted (in motion, with truck): 1
reactivity: 0

I would throw a party if only there hadn't been such a hullaballoo about the meter reader.