Saturday, July 30, 2005

Graduation Day


Last week Gumbo "graduated" from his Beginner Obedience-I class at Ouachita Valley Dog Training Club (OVDTC). The class focused on the basics: sit, down, come, heel, etc. Luckily Gumbo pretty much knew how to do these things, but what I was after was "structured learning." You see, Gumbo does well when there is a set agenda. It's part of the "work-a-holic" nature bred into border collies as well as many other dogs. Gumbo needs a "job" to do and training in obedience and agility is part of his job. He loves it so.

After 8 weeks of training and practicing, the big night came. The class, consisting of 12 dogs, all participated in a mock obedience trial. The format and scoring was identical to the AKC Novice trial, but the rules were pretty relaxed. At this level, the OVDTC wants all the dogs to be successful. Most of the participants were there to make their dogs better companions and to minimize any problems when others beside family members interact with their dog. So we were encouraged to talk to our dogs and give treats if needed. This was just for "funnzies" anyway.

We all drew numbers from a hat to determine the order which we had to perform (we drew #5) our individual exercises - heeling on lead, figure 8, sit for exam, and recall. The dogs were lounging around, while the owners milled about, nervous as whores in church. I was hoping my nervousness wouldn't be relayed down the length of the leash.

We all got through our individual exercises, and the group exercise commenced. A one-minute sit while the owners faced their dog, followed by a two-minute down, with the owners facing the dog again. I was dreading this. Gumbo can be a strong-willed dog. I just knew he wouldn't stay down for two minutes. But he did.

So at the end of it all, Tanya, the judge, gave out prizes for the top four highest-scoring dogs. Gumbo came in second with a score of 194 (out of 200 possible points.)

Some other notable dogs in the class were Rocky the German Shepherd, Brett the Golden Retriever, Rhett the Australian Shepherd (who came in first with a score of 196!), Lilly the German Shepherd, Bear the Border Collie (who on day one didn't like ANY other dog, but ended up being tolerant of his K-9 pals at the end) and Cletus the 137-pound Bloodhound, who drug his female owner all over the ring while he bayed virtually the whole time, every class. You knew Cletus was in the building and I'm sure Cool Hand Luke is still running!

So we made it. I am so proud of Gumbo! Gumbo has matured into a wonderful, dyed-in-the-wool (no pun intended!) border collie. And second place is pretty good. After all, he came in dead last in his puppy obedience class way back when. And on the way home he got the best reward of all - his favorite treat, an ice cream cone.


But Gumbo's ready for more work. He and Roux start a new set of obedience classes next week. We'll keep ya posted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wanna be Pup Pals?

We've found this web site, www.dogster.com, where every dog can have his own web page.

It's one of the top web sites for pet lovers -- and yes, there's a companion www.catster.com for our feline friends.

The site has a number of fun features, including the ability to vote on your favorite dogs (called "give some paw"), applaud a dog's web page ("give this dog a bone") and "save" favorite pages for later reference ("corral" this dog).

My favorite feature is the ability to invite another dog to be "pup pals." It's just funny to see how many folks are willing to put your dog's picture on their web page, and vice versa. You get an e-mail invitation from the dog, and if you agree, you just click a link and the "pup pal" automatically pops up on your page.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

What does this say?



What does it say about you when you have your dog's portrait painted?

A happy ending, but...

Lindsey and I have had numerous comments about the "Lucy in disguise" story.

Everyone thinks it's an incredibly funny tale.

But today, Lindsey and I had a series of "what ifs."

We recalled Tanya, the obedience judge, saying this week: "Congratulations, dog owners. You are already in an elite class. Only 5% of dog owners seek obedience or any training for their dogs."

What if ... your dog runs outside. You see a car coming. What do you do?

With an obedience-trained dog, you yell the dog's name, followed by a strong "COME!"

Obedience training not only helps us all get along better... it can save a dog's life. That's a very small investment in time, money and energy.

Our dogs are part of our family. They're definitely worth that investment. How about yours?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Karma from dog heaven


Our home computer displays a slide show that pulls from a stored photo file. This morning, as I was getting dressed for work, it locked up on a picture of a very content Shetland sheepdog sunning in the back yard.

That was Kazbah, originally Lindsey's dog, but certainly a dog who became a big part of my life as Lindsey, Anne and I started our lives together.

I'm still misty-eyed when I think about him, although I'm sure I'll catch up with him on the other side of the rainbow and he'll be stealing manna sandwiches off our heavenly table.

Here's the original Kaz and Gumbo story from my News-Star archives, published 2/8/2004.

Kaz gave his best despite age’s toll

It seemed like a long time since Kazbah had stolen a sandwich from the kitchen table, sneaked out of the back yard to stroll the neighborhood or jumped on the back of the sofa to greet us in the afternoon.

In his youth, our Shetland sheepdog was the ultimate protector, patrolling the yard one last time every night before bedtime to make sure we were safe. He herded raccoons, armadillos and stray cats out of the yard, and always placed himself between us and strangers.

He was confident and smart, loved going to Mr. Robert, the groomer, and grew so large people actually thought he was a collie.

His eyes eventually clouded, and we could tell he was growing deaf. He no longer came when called, but responded to a loud clap. We joked that he could only hear the sound of the bread wrapper in the mornings when we made toast.

He turned 15 in December. He slept a lot his last few months, going outside briefly only a couple of times a day. A walk around the block left him breathless. His appetite drifted away. We nicknamed him "Speed Bump," because you’d just have to step over wherever he lay.

We expected to come home any day and find that Kazbah had drifted off in his sleep.

He finally could not get up anymore without help, and although he never complained, we knew he was hurting. We spent a painful two weeks talking over quality of life with our vet. We all finally decided it was time.

Kaz was too big to bury in our yard, so we chose to have him cremated. We considered scattering his ashes at Cormier’s, his favorite spot to escape to during crawfish season, but thought better of it when we considered the health implications. So Kazbah, our loving companion and family member, returned home in a tasteful, sealed urn from Best Friends Crematory.

The loss left a crater in our hearts, an ache that even weeks later brings tears to our eyes. I still look for him every morning, asleep on his round rug next to my bed, until I awaken enough to remember he’s gone.

But we are certain our faithful old Kaz is still looking out for us.

My husband Lindsey and I held a wake for Kaz, remembering his good days and all of the joy he brought to our lives. We told stories and laughed until we cried again.

"We really need to get another dog," Lindsey said. "When we’re ready, of course."

That prompted a discussion of what the right dog might be, and we went online to look at pets available for adoption from the Ouachita Parish Animal Shelter and the Humane Society. We couldn’t agree on a breed, we just knew we didn’t want a really big dog or a really small dog.

We checked The News-Star’s classified ads. Nothing jumped out at us. So we pulled out a book and started looking at the photos of hundreds of different types of dogs.

"I had a border collie when I was a little girl," I said. "Other than Kaz, that was the best dog I ever had."

"Those are great dogs," Lindsey said.

So we went online again and started searching for border collies. We were reading about the breed when the telephone rang.

It was my daughter, Anne, calling from Baton Rouge. A death in our family a few months ago was causing a niece and nephew to have to find two adult dogs and a litter of puppies a new home.

"I just thought y’all might want to consider taking one of the puppies," Anne said.

"What kind are they?" I asked.

"Border collies," she replied.

She sent pictures, and within days we adopted a 5-month-old male puppy whose freckled face and warm eyes mesmerized us.

He has a black stripe on the top of his head that looks like a Mohawk. We almost named him "Mo," but thought that sounded too much like "no." We looked up "spot" and "freckles" in French, and didn’t like that.

Somehow we hit upon Gumbo, and that just seemed to fit his personality. He’s an energetic mess of ingredients that, with love and training, will turn out to be somebody good for all of us.

We still miss Kaz very much, and no one will ever replace the fond memories we have of the time he shared with us. But we think he had a paw in what has happened since in our lives.

Gumbo is keeping us pretty busy, and I think that’s exactly what was meant to be.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hey, Gumbo, I'm getting tutored!!!


My favorite Gary Larsen "Far Side" cartoon features a dog hanging out of a car window, proudly proclaming to another dog:

"Guess what! I'm going to the vet's to get tutored!!!"

Gumbo, who we believe communicates many other things to Roux, evidently failed to warn her. (He had already suffered the double indignity of being neutered and humiliated because of the size of his no-longer-useful-except-for-elimination penis.)

So she goes prancing into the vet's, all wiggly butted, just like it's old home week, looking like she does in the photo here.

The following evening when we picked her up, shaved from her ribcage to her rear haunches, we could barely find the puncture wound that signaled the end of any possibility of puppy mothering. She was also none the worse for wear, except that she was a little hesitant about jumping on the bed during our morning game of ball tossing.

Lindsey and I believe there are plenty of good dogs in this world, and we don't need to add to the number, since we're not particularly interested in "Running a Kennel for Fun and Profit."

I mean, who wants to sacrifice a good pair of drawers to put panties on a dog in heat?

Friday, July 15, 2005

The lifesaving blog, blog, blog

I've discovered my daughter Anne is a talented writer and storyteller (you can read some of her comments posted on this blog....) But Lindsey REALLY pulled me out of the editor's special purgatory this week.

Several of our top editors were out for various reasons, and I found myself being a hands-on newspaper editor, the managing editor, the editorial page editor and the newsroom assistant all on the same day.

I needed an emergency column for the newspaper Thursday night, and I still had four editorials to write. I told Lindsey I was going to let him be my guest columnist this week with his "Lucy" story, but he didn't want to do that. He generously allowed me to rewrite it and use the story of his pre-dawn stroll. (Well, he HAD told it to me before he wrote it...)

It was a real lifesaver. I managed to slam everything out in the time it took Lindsey to take Roux to agility class.

My good friend and mentor Wiley Hilburn taught me that journaling is invaluable to writers for ideas, capturing emotions and recalling significant detail. But I've never had the self-discipline to do it before. For a person who hangs around words all day, writing in your "off" time seems too much like work.

For some reason this weblog stuff is a little easier to handle -- you can journal in a minute and when you're in a pinch, there might actually be something to use in the REAL job.

It took years, but I'm sold now. After this week, I really believe in the value of journaling!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hurricane Lucy hits our town

We expected massive thunderstorms. But we didn't get a drop of rain from Hurricane Dennis.

The yard, until the weekend, was beginning to show its "parched" spots from the relentless Louisiana summer heat and humidity.

Then, Lucy came for the weekend.

We anxiously anticipated how she would react to the new dog, Roux. Heck, what were we worried about? They instantly became a pack of friends, all running for the tennis ball and playing snarly face. Three was definitely not a crowd. It was a dog event.

But Lucy is a water dog, and she provided a show for everyone on Sunday afternoon when we set up the sprinkler. She adores the sprinkler, and delights in "talking to it" as she carries it and plays with it around the yard.

You have to hear Lucy to appreciate it, but her voice is somewhat higher than you'd expect from a big chocolate lab. In fact, her bark is so high-pitched and wimpy, we call her a "wuss."

Thirty minutes, and EVERYTHING, including the audience, was wet. The other dogs, Gumbo and Roux, watched in awe from a safe, dry spot in the yard.

Water dogs, they're definitely NOT.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Tick, tock, the BC clock

Pounce!

I opened my myopic eyes to a black nose.

Slurp!

A wet kiss followed.

It was still dark outside.

"Lay down, Roux," I said.

Jump!

She bounded onto the bed and laid down, leaning on my legs. I'm not sure how a gangly, teen-aged border collie can take on enough air to make herself weigh a ton, but Roux's got it down. She might even weigh two tons some mornings.

Seconds later, the alarm went off. Roux and Gumbo started their morning pace, waiting for the daily games to begin.

Pad, pad, pad on the carpet. Pad, pad, pad.

If they pace long enough, bouncing on and off the bed intermittently, someone (usually Lindsey) will eventually get up and let them out. We try to let the snooze alarm go off once, but the border collies usually won't let us.

Get up! Let us out! Get the ball!

They are creatures of routine. They know there's a time to play, time to work, time to rest. They know reading the newspaper also means throwing the ball. They know when we're going to work and that Lindsey always leaves before I do. They know that when I brush my teeth, I'm about to leave. They know we don't play ball when we come home for lunch.

But I've never thought of animals as having a concept of time, and I've never known a dog as intuitive as these two are. They watch our movements and activities and act or react accordingly.

How do they know what time it is?

When we figure that out, we may be able to solve our other problem: Teaching the border collies who now awake at 5 a.m. daily how to sleep late on the weekends.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Where every dog has a web page

If you scroll down through the posts, you'll see that Gumbo has his own web page. Now, we've discovered something pretty fun -- www.dogster.com -- where every dog can have his own web page.

Of course, there's the companion catster, but I'm scared to go there.

I always thought people were pet-obsessed like us. Now, it's confirmed.... there's a whole bunch of us loonies out there!

You can go there and search for Gumbo, Roux and Lucy-Go-Lucky. It didn't take long to get them online....

Sunday, July 03, 2005

It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn . . . Thank God!

I'm an early riser, up before the dawn. My routine is to start the coffee, let the dogs out to do their thing, and toddle out in my blue bathrobe to pick up the paper at the end of the driveway. One early fall weekend I was also charged with dog-sitting Lucy, our daughter's chocolate lab, while wife and daughter were out-of-town planning for our daughter's upcoming nuptials.

This one particular morning, everything was happening on schedule. The dogs had found their favorite places, the paper was at the end of the driveway, and as I headed back towards the house, my canine entourage blended back into a small but energetic pack to escort me back to the house.

Then Lucy decides to go AWOL.

Splitting from the pack, she makes a left turn and heads down the street. Loudly whispered calls of "Lucy, COME! LUCY COME!" fall on deaf ears. She makes a right at the end of the street. Now I know I have a problem. It's still dark, I'm trying to find a dark dog, and there are 3 blocks of houses and yards for exploring. And in I'm a blue terry cloth bathrobe, no shoes on, and my hair, what little I have, is going in a ka-jillion different directions. Get it? It's the latest in pervert fashion.

Luckily, I see the silhouette of Lucy dart between two houses. I'm in luck, I think. Both houses have a fenced yard. I have her cornered. Sure enough, Lucy is sniffing around one of the back yards. Now if I can just grab her by her hunter orange buckle collar without waking this family or having the cops called.

Lucy sees me and starts loping towards me. Soft whispers of "Here, Lucy! Here, girl" seem to be working. It is then I realize the back door of this house is standing wide open. I mean wide open. Lucy realizes this too and just before I can grab her, she makes a quick dart to the right out of my reach and disappears into the house.

What I whispered to myself at that moment cannot be repeated in this blog, but in the cartoon world I believe it goes something like this -"#!*&$%!#*&%!"

Within seconds, there is an eruption of dog barking and someone saying "What the hell?" I'm hoping this homeowner doesn't have a gun. The barking intensifies and sounds of multiple dogs annoyed from being awoke from the depths of their deep doggie dreams gets louder. I hear footsteps and now I'm thinking what the police will tell Kathy, "We're sorry, but your husband died from multiple dog bites and gunshot wounds. First fatality case we've ever had like that."

A woman appears at the back door.

"I'm sorry, ma'am" I tell her in my most apologetic voice. I know I am at her mercy.

"My dog got away from me and she's gone into your house. I am so sorry to awaken you and your family."

"Oh, no problem, " she says, sweet as pie. "I needed to get up anyway." I now know I will live.

About that time, a whole cadre of dogs exit the back door in a rush, a lab among them. In a flash, I grab the collar. Gotcha! Now for the graceful exit.

"Once again, ma'am, I am so sorry to have disturbed you."

She's chuckling now. "Well, that's what I get for leaving my back door wide open." This woman deserves sainthood.

I start to leave and Lucy refuses to budge. "Lucy, c'mon!" But Lucy now has somehow managed to lock herself into position. I pull again. Nothing. The whole time this woman's dogs are barking and running in and out of the house. Criminy, if I can't get away, this incesstant barking is gonna wake up the whole dang neighborhood. And it's dark outside still.

It's now or never. I gotta get out this place. With all my might I start pulling and Lucy still won't budge. More "LUCY! C'MON! LET'S GO!" I pull harder and now I am dragging a locked-leg dog. Meanwhile, the woman is telling her dogs to pipe down.

Then I see another lab exit the house. It's Lucy. My Lucy.

I look down at the dog I've got a death grip on. Lab? Check. Buckle collar? Check. No wait, it's a dark buckle collar, not hunter orange. Wrong dog!

My Lucy had stopped next to me and within a nano-second, I have my Lucy firmly in my grasp. I make one last apology and easily escort Lucy home. As I'm leaving the woman cheerfully tells me to "have a nice day!"

After work, I stop by the local pet store and buy a bag of doggie treats to take over to the around-the-corner neighbor whose morning I had so rudely interrupted. We live in a neighborhood where folks tend to know and try to know each other. It's very social. I need to make amends.

I knock, and a little girl of about 9 or 10 years of age answers. I ask if her mommy is home. I hear her mommy holler from inside the house "Ask who it is, baby." I holler back, "It's the man who's dog visited you this morning, I brought you a gift."

"Oh come in, come in!" God, I love the South and its genteel hospitality.

We make introductions, including her kids and I see the pack of dogs - 6 in all, mulling about. Among them is a black lab the same size of Lucy, wearing a brown buckle collar. That explains everything in the wee hours of darkness. A classic case of mistaken identity!

I present my doggie treats and the woman tells me how her husband slept through the whole thing.

"He never heard anything," she tells me. "But I will tell you this. I emailed my sister in Los Angeles about this morning and she forwarded it to all her co-workers and it was the buzz of her office all day."

Somehow I felt a bit thrilled that I made a bunch of folks half a continent away have a good laugh and gave them a story they can regal over cocktails. Maybe it would make Leno that night.

As I'm making my way out the door, I inquire about the black lab.

"So, what's the name of your lab?"

"Her?" the lady starts chuckling again. "Her name is Lucy."

Obsessive Dog-pulsive

Our household contains two adult humans. We have rescued two border collies and two cats. That probably says we're suckers, or to be kind, a couple of old softies. But we've really become obsessed with these border collies, and even the cats tolerate them pretty well. (See Natchez, above, sleeping with the Simon Baxter portrait of Gumbo.)

What did I just say? Dog portrait? Well, yes.... The dogs have a blog, a portrait, a web site, an email address, a Dogster.com page.... And Gumbo's spotted face adorned our Christmas card last year.

They go to agility and obedience classes, and occasionally get to go to Petco and pick out new toys to add to their bulging toy box. We've searched the world for "pet friendly" hotels so we can take them with us when we go on vacation.

We're empty nesters. Or, at least we WERE empty nesters....

Saturday, July 02, 2005

And they called it puppy love


This is Lucy, the chocolate lab, and Gumbo's first true love.

She currently resides in Paris, Texas, but frequently comes to visit. She's very bossy and has never met a drop of water she didn't like.

In fact, it's a good thing she's brown... she splashes through every mud puddle in the neighborhood.

She's an adventurer, and recently took a bathrobe-clad Lindsey on a pre-dawn journey into a neighbor's house. But I'll let him tell that story....

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