Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Animals need help -- PLEASE

If you'd like to donate to pet relief for victims of Hurricane Karina, the pet shelter in Monroe is dealing with hundreds of animals. It is coordinated by my hero vet, Dr. Jim Rundell. The address is Rundell Veterinary Hospital, 104 Kansas Lane, Monroe, LA 71203. Anything that is not used for immediate pet relief -- which will probably stretch into weeks and months -- will be donated to PAWS, the ongoing pet rescue association in northeastern Louisiana.

If you say your donation came from reading about Gumbo and Roux, they'll appreciate it even more... They're the people who made sure we rescued Roux.

Much love and with enormous prayers for our hurricane victim disaster friends.


An update on our shelter

I had heard about the yellow lab, the one left to die in Hurricane Katrina. He had tried to escape so desperately, he'd literally rubbed off all the skin around his neck.

At the hurricane victims' animal rescue center, they sent me out to find the dog, who was being walked by the guy who had rescued him.

The guy was one most people would find scary.

The sleeves of his shirt were torn off at the shoulders, exposing his tatooes.

His teeth were yellowed, his jeans filthy, his hair too long and unwashed, his cigarettes tucked into his chest pocket. He was rough, in the scary rough kind of way.

The dog strained against a leather collar around its neck. He restrained it with a long chain.

Not good, I thought.

I approached him and stuck up a conversation. The dog had been left to drown, and he had rescued it. He'd sought veterinary help for its neck wounds.

I had hope. But he was dragging the dog he'd named "Bud" for "Budweiser" by the neck and chain, trying to train him with tough love to obey his commands.

I went inside the shelter, where I'd seen a box of treats, and tried to show my new unnamed friend and "Bud" how to respond the easy way. Sit for a treat. Down for a treat. Heel for a treat. Thank goodness for the Ouachita Valley Dog Training Center folks, I thought.

Within minutes, Bud was responding to the treats, and I was so encouraged I sent Lindsey to Petco for a shoulder harness. Petco already had donated thousands of dollars' worth of pet supplies to our rudimentary shelter, and I was able to find a nylon leash to replace the chain.

It took two trips to Petco for Lindsey to find the right size harness, but it worked. And good ole' Bud had a nylon harness so his neck could heal and a thick nylon leash, plus toys and treats for training.

My new friends were set up. I went back to check on them today, and they had left the shelter. I hope they're safe. I believe in my heart Bud will be loved. I just hope Bud's owner can afford to keep him.


First off, Kathy and I feel for those in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who have lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The pictures you see in the media cannot begin to show the utter devastation the region has endured. The pictures out of New Orleans are particularly haunting. New Orleans is a city Kathy and I love to go to - I know "The Big Easy" will be rebuilt.

Second, this post is about evacuees - animal evacuees. Kathy and I help set up a animal shelter in Monroe Sunday afternoon as Katrina bore down on New Orleans and residents started to pour into our shelters.

Here's her story from the Tuesday, August 30, 2005 edition of The News-Star.

It was 4 p.m. Sunday in the hurricane evacuees' animal shelter, and it had already been a very, very long day. Because we were fitting in evacuees around the Monroe Civic Center's already scheduled work, the animals had to slide in after the weekend rodeo was over but not get in the way of the major preparations for the Labor Day weekend dog show. We kept moving around the back of the Arena until the Equestrian Pavilion finally became our home, the only animal shelter for miles around.

By 4 p.m., we had an untold number of dogs and cats, some birds, a hamster and a ferret. And they kept coming - so fast, the perspiring and exhausted volunteer crew representing all of the local animal groups could barely keep up with them. But they were grateful, these refugees. They left their homes without a place to go. They grabbed their pets, but many came as far as Monroe with no way to care for them.

One young man brought in two parakeets in a box with holes punched in it. We managed to find a wire hamster cage for them. An SUV showed up with five cats, three dogs and a ferret. Another family brought in their pets plus a puppy they found tossed in the Civic Center parking lot. The puppy went in a crate just like someone's family pet, with a worry about ownership to be dealt with later.

Some pet owners brought their own crates, pet toys, food and medicines. Other pets came with their leashes or carried in their owners' arms. Some pet owners went to the American Red Cross shelter at the Civic Center, and came over to walk their pets and check on them. Others found hotel rooms or housing with friends locally, but restrictions prevented their pets from staying with them. We took them all.

Our accommodations for the refugees were rudimentary, but we had fans, food and water. We volunteers were trying to be sympathetic and understanding of people in an extraordinarily stressful situation. We wanted them to know that of all their worries, their pets would be safe.

At 4 p.m., I was on the cell phone with the newspaper office discussing hurricane coverage and simultaneously trying to help corner Lilly, a medium-size dog who had broken loose from her owner and bolted into a grassy area next to the shelter.

Once Lilly was leashed, I went inside to grab some water. Lilly's owner and another young man found me and asked where to put donations. I told him I would make sure they got to the right place.

He opened a money clip and kept peeling off bills. His friend did the same.

"Oh, that's too much,'' I said.

"No, I see what y'all are doing here - sending people out to buy more fans, trying to keep all of these animals comfortable,'' he said. "We never thought we would
find something like this.''

My feet were aching and I could barely see for the sweat dripping down into my eyes. But it felt good. Real good.

Our community, you see, is that kind of place. A place that will open its arms to all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Alex the barn kitty

I'm not sure we even have a picture of Alex the barn kitty. She was a very typical tabby, one you've seen a zillion times before.

Here's how I met her....

My mother had been confined to nursing care with advanced Parkinson's Disease, leaving my father at home to deal with the household.

Part of the household involved my mother's legacy -- kindness to all animals, including the strays who were tossed by the roadside and wandered to the door. Naturally, most of those strays were cats and kittens.

My father abhorred and cursed them.

They were all wild, almost ferile, cats who came to the covered patio and devoured what my mother provided for them.

She, of course, could approach some. But no one else could.

I would joke that she had become the "cat woman," the crazy old lady who had more cats than she knew what to do with. My father just cursed -- and agreed.

Of course, that was all bluster, as I was soon to discover. When mother's Parkinson's progressed to the point that she was no longer able to get around, the caregivers fed the cats.

Dad, of course, continued to curse the felines that came and went in waves, depending on their reproduction cycles. As I visited, increasingly concerned at their numbers, I kept trying to count them.

Four, no there are eight, no there are six....

It didn't matter.

There seemed to be too many.

Mom went into the nursing home, and my visits to our Texas homestead became more frequent.

Dad and I would sit on the patio in rocking chairs, drinking a Coors and talking about our times.

He took it hard, abandoned in his seventies, not understanding really what had happened to my mother. And he found his friend.

Not me, his only child.

A kitten.

She came to him, full of love, and won his affection.

I first noticed her as she sidled up to his rocker, purring and rubbing on his legs.

He reached down and petted her.

"DAD!" I said. "A CAT?"

"Yes," he grinned. "This one is special. She's taken a liking to me."

And she had.

Alex, I discovered later, liked all male humans. But that was after Dad was gone.

Their relationship continued to grow, and Alex -- although remaining a scraggly, rough-coated, independent barn kitty -- loved Dad and he came to know her as the unnamed "cat" he liked.

When he met an untimely death, I took some things from the house that were special to me.

I brought the kitten home.

Anne named her Alexis, and you may already have read Lindsey's account of her full and satisfied life. She became a sleek, house cat who ruled the roost.

But from my perspective, she was an emotional tie to my father, the animal whose love we shared in a time that bridged generations.

When I petted her, I sensed his presence, and his approval that his daughter was carrying on. With Alex to watch, I did OK. His granddaughter turned out pretty good, I found the love of my life and we are all living satisfied lives with a kitty and a few dogs to pet now and then.

How I miss Alex. That connection was a big piece of me.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Best of Show

Lindsey and I volunteered as stewards at an obedience show this past weekend. It was our first foray into the dog show world.

We donned our "Wal-mart greeter" vests, and set to work. My ring had novice, utility and veterans' competitions.

It was a blast, but we both learned something:

1. Don't bend over in old britches (Lindsey).
2. Be ready to grab the dog that bolts from the ring (Kathy).

Together, we learned that some folks have a great time with their animals, and some take it entirely too seriously. We hope to show Gumbo and Roux in obedience and agility at some point, but I think we'll keep a copy of the movie "Best of Show" around just to keep us grounded. I mean, people who have a dog weblog might just take it a little too seriously....

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

K-9 Compassion

Do dogs have feelings? Can they think, rationalize, or sort out their emotions? These were but a few of the questions posed by Dr. Stanley Coren in his book, "The Intelligence of Dogs - Canine Consciousness and Capabilities." After reading Dr. Coren's book, but affirmed by personal observation, the answer to my questions is a resounding "Yes!"

The other members of our household are two cats, Natchez and Alexis. Natchez was rescued by Anne about 10 years ago, after being found scavenging french fries by a McDonalds dumpster in Natchez, Mississippi. Alex, the most civilized of barn cats, came to live with Kathy after her father died.

Natchez is pure feline. She hunts and is quite successful. I've seen her stalk a bird on the ground and execute a perfectly timed leap to snare the bird as it made its getaway flight. Obnoxious blue jays who once tried to torment Natchez were met with her "You wanna piece of me? You and me. Right here. Right now." attitude. This confrontational demeanor is what makes the Border Collies love it every time Natchez roams into the house. Cornered by Gumbo and Roux, Natchez stands on her back legs, boxing the dogs with her declawed front paws. They love it. After Natchez finds safe harbor atop the fridge, the BCs position themselves on the kitchen floor in front of fridge for hours on end, waiting for Natchez' inevitable trip to the food bowl or litter box. Who says you can't herd cats? Our border collies do!

Alex, on the other hand, is the sweetest cat in the world, and could purr for hours on end while stationed in your lap. For a former barn cat, Alex never hunted or acted catlike, but instead lived the life of Riley. She had it made and she took full advantage of it. The one time early in life when Alex had kittens, she was the worst of mothers. It was like being a cat was something she wasn't destined to be.

Well, several weeks ago, we noticed Alex gimping around with her left side almost totally limp. Her left eyes and mouth drooped, while the mouth quivered. The look in Alex's eyes was not one of pain, as she did not howl out, but one of "what the hell is happening to me?" Certain Alex had a stroke, we took her to the vet. A stroke was ruled out, but some sort of unknown neurological degradation had occurred on her left side. We were given little hope that Alex would ever walk normal again.

But Alex didn't give up. She gimped less and less each day, and preferred to lay outside in the scorching Louisiana sun. Now suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, call it what you want, the chill of an air-conditioned house made her uncomfortable. But she was losing weight. Fast. It was obvious to Kathy and I that Alex was not long for this world. Her condition reminding me of so many stories I've heard about elderly folks falling and breaking a hip and it's all downhill from there.

Last Monday, Alex slid outside, motoring quite well. The gimp was barely there. As I left for work, she was parked in the sun, basking in all its radiance. She's on the mend, I thought.

But by Tuesday evening, Kathy and I were asking each other "Had you seen Alex?" By Wednesday noon, we concluded that Alex had wondered off to die. When Anne called Thursday evening, we told her about Alex, but she rebuffed our logic saying, "No, cats come home to die."

That night, both Gumbo and Roux started a new session of obedience classes. Kathy shuttled Roux out to the OVDTC for the second session, giddily telling me, "Alex is back!" When I got home, Alex, looking skeletal and pale, plunked herself on my lap and purred herself to sleep.

Anne and Jeff came for the weekend, and Friday night Kathy took Alex under her arm and brought her to bed with us. Sometime after midnight, I got up to turn off the TV, and returning to bed, I stroked Alex's head and was greeted with a soft meow and I heard her purr motor kick on. At 2:35 AM, I awoke to go to the bathroom, but when I went to stroke Alex again, I was met with a limp cat. I took her lifeless body outside and buried her at first light, before the family was awake and the mosquitoes, humidity, and heat of a Louisiana summer could work on me.

So what is all this background about the life (and death) of a cat along with questions about if dogs feel emotions and understand situations doing in a dog-blog?

Since Alex's gimpy-ness, the border collies left her alone. They would harass the hell out of Natchez, but Alex was off-limits. Not once did they confront her. They respected her disability, and gave her wide berth. As I dug Alex's grave, Gumbo and Roux stood guard over Alex, her body wrapped in an old towel. After covering the ground with stone and brick, they both came by and sniffed the grave. Once inside, Gumbo looked at me with a set of a sad, brown eyes. As I sat and drank my coffee, reflecting about Alex's life and times with us, he came and pushed his muzzle under my arm. He knew.

Do dogs have compassion? You bet. I'll argue this point with any scientist at anytime. Gumbo and Roux will never delve into quantum physics, but they certainly know about quantum emotions, the lifeblood of the soul, both human and canine.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Graduation Day, Part Deux, er..Part Roux

Roux, our newest, but growing-at-full-steam border collie, had a graduation ceremony of her own this last week. Roux graduated from Blue Ribbon K-9 Training Center after completing a 8-week course in Foundation Agility.

At this stage in her life, Roux could be compared to a gangly, long-legged, gawky teenager. So when we arrive at the training field, Roux is so excited to see other dogs her little "wiggle-butt" ends up going into hyperdrive. If you've ever seen a hip-hop video where the over-sexed women can shake their booty six different directions at once - well, that's Roux.

All that pent-up excitement isn't wasted when class starts. Roux eagerly explodes through the tunnel, buzzes across the see-saw, and flys through the tire. Therese, one of Blue Ribbon's trainers, commented one week, "She's got attitude. I like her attitude." It was one of those subtle comments where all the sweat, work, frustrations from "why-can't-this-dog-learn-this-simple-routine" become worth it. And as with Gumbo, when Roux gets in the Jeep and especially when we turn on Thomas Road, the excitement of knowing she is going to 'work' drives her into a spinning frenzy in the back seat.

Back at graduation, the dogs and handlers had to successfully go through all the exercises we learned to "graduate" to the next level - beginning agility. Individual dogs and handlers were scored separately; how well the dog did the exercises, but also how well the handlers gave commands without calling the dog's name, giving release words, and overall handling. In this foundation class the dog can pass, but the handler may flunk, thus dog and handler has to repeat the class.

We all drew number to determine our work order. Out of nine dogs, we were number "8". So we sat and waited. Roux was restless, all that "ready-to-go" forced to idle. Eventually we did our exercises and waited for the results. Roux came in second place, earning herself a red ribbon and the second pick out of a huge box of doggie toys drug out for awards.

Roux picked a pink and white knotted rope toy with a pink tennis ball impaled on it (well, pink is her color.) She went onto a flipping and tossing frenzy with it. But it was really getting late and we headed for home, knowing that Mom was fast asleep and will have to hear our good news in the morning. Upon arriving home, Gumbo immediately stole the pink and white tennis ball toy as Roux pranced into the house with it in her mouth. Snarly-facing ensued over this and by morning the ball, sans the knotted rope, is nowhere to be found. Kathy later discovered the ball filleted into one piece of pink material, much like a continuous peel from an apple.

It's on to bigger and greater things. Roux started Beginning Obedience last night at Ouachita Valley Dog Training Club, and next week starts the next agility level at Blue Ribbon. She's really a semi-rebellious teenager now, feeling her oats, starting to fill out, her body starting to catch up to those legs-right-up-to-her-neck, and certainly testing the pecking order of our pack. And Roux's moved up in that pecking order a notch. Kathy is now at the bottom of the pecking order, and will have to work at reclaiming her formally held number 2 position. I just hope she doesn't want me to take her to any training sessions! I'm just too pooped. Besides, folks might think we're a bit kinky if I'm leading her around on collar and leash.

Friday, August 05, 2005

We've been BLOGGED!

Our friend Rebecca West makes us famous.....

Here's the link: www.waynesworld2005.blogspot.com.

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