Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring has sprung...

Spring has sprung
The grass has riz'
I wonder where
The Red Heads is?

Last Saturday marked the return of the rose-breasted grosbeaks to my feeders- a full week earlier than last year. I saw a male sitting on the deck railing early Saturday morning as Cory and I were getting ready to leave for the Columbus rally trials. I hated to leave and waste the bird watching opportunity! I did not see them again until yesterday morning.

Today is my half day, and I arrived home to find three males on my feeder. So far today they have been around all afternoon and I have had as many as five males and a female on the feeder at a time.
I think these are the coolest looking birds ever. To me they look like someone painted a heart on their chest with a red magic marker (the females are much plainer; brown streaked without the flashy black and white, and no red; doesn't it just figure? They are easily recognized though because they share that grosbeak, big bill. I guess that's where the name came from- gross, for "big", and beak!).

This is my view from my recliner in my living room. I couldn't catch all five at once, and the female took off just before I shot it.

Last year the red headed woodpeckers came back within a day or two of the grosbeaks, so surely they aren't too far behind...I saw on ebirds that someone has already reported seeing them at Boone Cliffs, so any day now they should show up demanding their banana chips!

I put up my hummingbird feeders yesterday and am anxiously waiting to see my hummers back as well...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A new generation

Saturday before last we went over to Kathy and Ron Rhoades' house to see "Fred". Fred is one of Andy's puppies from the second breeding and is almost three years old. He belongs to the Young family and especially to their daughter Kaylynn who has been showing him in 4H obedience and junior showmanship. Her mom Gayle was bringing Fred over to Kathy's (his breeder) to get some help grooming him for the Central OH kennel club shows in Columbus the next day, and since we hadn't seen him since last summer we wanted to come visit too. Fred is looking great! At just shy of three years old, he is really coating up. He is not quite as dark a red as Andy was, but is a very clear pretty dark orange. Both my Cory and Fred were sired by my Andy; Cory was the only pup in his litter. Their mothers, Annabelle and Libby, were full sisters, so they are about as close to full siblings as you can get and still have different mothers! Fred has always looked a little more like his mom's side and there is definitely a resemblance to Libby there, but I see little flashes of Andy's side as well.

Fred and Kaylynn have been doing really well in 4 H at the state level but had to take a hiatus last summer due to other family obligations. This was their first time back in the AKC junior showmanship ring in over a year. Kay has really grown up in that time! She is taller than me and now looks like a very poised young woman, not a little girl any longer!

Kathy and Gayle did a lot of fluffing, puffing and trimming (I watched; grooming is not my strong suite!) . I think Fred and Cory have about the same opinion of the grooming table- YUCK! Cory wouldn't go near Kathy as long as she had her grooming apron on!

Kathy and Ron left the next day (Sunday) to drive to the sheltie national in Perry GA, so weren't entered in Columbus. However, Cory and I had entered rally for our first time in excellent so we arrived first and showed just before Gayle, Kaylynn and Fred got there. It was not one of his better runs; we were running late, got there at the last minute, and both were a little frazzled. But it was good enough for 4th place and his first excellent leg.

Fred and Kaylynn looked great in a good sized Novice Intermediate (I think) class. Fred does have a tendency to pace a little bit like his dad and his brother so Kay has her work cut out for her! They ended up with a very respectable third place. We are so proud of this pair! After they were done they were checking out the novice obedience ring; they hope to make their debut in AKC obedience or rally this summer.

Here's a brief video of Fred and Kaylynn in the ring- my battery was about to die so I only got a few minutes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Creepie crawlies, things that go bump in the night, and Stevie's Redemption

You know, there are just some responses that seem to be hardwired. I work with animals all day, and started when I was 12 as a volunteer at the zoo. I worked my way up to employee, also spending many hours as a volunteer at a wolf sanctuary and doing years of wildlife rehab, then followed by half a dozen years of working at various vet clinics while I was in school and now 19 years as a practicing veterinarian. Over the course of those years I've worked with all kinds of animals of various species, including all kinds of reptiles, rodents, and other oft maligned critters. For the most part none bothered me...

However, I have found that dealing with them in a context where you are in control is one thing, and happening upon them unexpectedly is a whole 'nuther ball game!

I've lived in my house a little over 2 1/2 years now. When I bought it and moved in, my dad started rehabbing my old house. Since he spends half the year in Florida, it turned into rather a prolonged process. A few months after I moved, I brought an EZ up tent over from the old house that I had stored on the covered front porch. It was in a nice, zip up bag with wheels. I stowed it in the garage at the new house. That night as I pulled into the garage SOMETHING ran across the back of the garage in the glare of my headlights. Uh oh, I apparently had a hitchhiker who had ridden along with the tent. I now had a resident mouse! (I must point out that I never had mice IN the old house, nor did I ever see any outside in the yard...but apparently I did have some living outside!). I spend a couple of weeks leaving the garage door open hoping he would choose to leave (right). I put the cat out in the garage hoping he would do the dirty work for me- he just looked at me like I was nuts. I took Andy who was OBSESSED with his rabbit fur squeaky mouse into the garage and tried to encourage him to look for the mouse...he also had absolutely no interest in being the bad guy. Finally I reluctantly did what I had to do and set a trap. I baited it with peanut butter and barely got back into the house before I heard a loud SNAP. End of mouse problem. Ugh. Totally grossed me out to have to deal with the aftermath.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago. We finally finished the rehab on the house and put it on the market this year (I must say it looked GREAT!) and miracle of miracles the first person who looked at it bought it. The week prior to the closing I headed over to get a few last things out of the shed in the backyard. I brought back my old wooden obedience broad jump from the set my dad made me 20 years ago (how is that possible???) when I was training Levi; a few leftover stick in the ground weave poles, some garden tools, and one of those plastic upside down cone shaped Christmas tree stands ( for some reason I had at least four tree stands there; since I have an artificial tree I left the others for the new owners, but thought i would keep one just in case!). Deja vu....that night I pulled into the garage and again, something ran in my headlights. HOW the mouse hitched a ride somewhere in that stuff I don't know- there just weren't that many places to hide, but I guess he was inside the Christmas tree stand. I think it's far too much of a coincidence to not believe that he came from the shed. Crap.

So, I tried to ignore the problem and hoped he would just go away. That worked pretty well until Saturday night. Cory was entered in rally Sunday in obedience, and Saturday night I was checking to make sure I had everything i needed in the car since I had to leave at o'dark thirty in the morning. It occurred to me that since excellent rally has the "honor exercise", which is basically an on lead sit or down stay in the ring while the next dog does its exercises, that I needed a six foot lead according to the rules; the very pretty braided teal and purple lead I usually use at shows is only five feet or so. Darn it! (can you tell that I really don't do a lot of training specifically FOR rally? I should have been better prepared but we've actually only practiced the honor exercise once. A stay is a stay is a stay....until you realize your equipment doesn't quite meet the regs!). Oh well, I have about 4000 leashes so no problem. Except none of the leashes in the van is six feet- I have 4 flexies, at least four agility slip leads, a four foot Bengals lead, the show lead, Andy's pretty braided kangaroo leather show lead, also only 5 feet, a purple nylon 4 foot one, several "spare" braided leather leads anywhere from 3 to 5 feet long; our best braided leather teal and purple agility slip lead that matches the snap verson show one, one "standard" leather training lead which, for the first time, I bought in a four foot rather than six foot length, and three or four tracking lines ranging from 20 to 40 feet long....ooooookaaaaay. So now we move to my various training bags which are in a state of disorder stacked in the front of the empty side of the garage. In my defense i will say I have really tried to avoid clutter and be neat since I moved, and for the most part I have succeeded. The places where it occasionally slips through and gets by me are the garage, the pantry, and the office closet. (the van and my office at work don't count, we're only talking about the new house!). I have been meaning to sort through all my training bags and organize them for the summer....but first it was too cold in the garage, and when it got warm I was not anxious to go looking through them and have an unexpected encounter with my furry little guest! While I was searching I had been trying to ignore the occasional scuttling noises I heard, but when i started moving things around in the front of the garage Mr. Mouse was quite indignant and began running around the edge of the room. I was not real happy with this development; it made me a bit jumpy to say the least! After an abbreviated search, I came to the conclusion that somehow in my extensive leash collection and approximately 15 training bags of various sorts (seriously), I no longer own a six foot lead. Well. Maybe the judge wouldn't look that close. I walked over to the trash can, lifted the SUPPOSEDLY snug fitting lid, and about jumped out of my skin when the mouse was perched on top of the trash and went flying off to God knows where. Ok, enough already, time for a trap. I set a trap and fully expected to be done with the problem in the morning.

But morning came (WAY to soon as my alarm went off at four so I could leave to drive to Columbus) and the trap was still unsprung. Stevie the clinic cat was home with me for the weekend. He is a paper shredder and I had a project spread over the dining room table, so I shut him in the laundry room and basement for the day (not exactly a hardship- the basement is set up as a training room for the dogs complete with tunnels, jumps, their own couch and TV, and big windows which look directly out at the woods and bird feeder). I got home around 5 that night...still no mouse in the trap. OK, moved it to right in the middle of the path around the perimeter of the garage I have seen him run. I was bringing things in from the car and it occurred to me that Stevie wasn't yowling to be let out of the basement. I opened the laundry room door and called him- no response, and no Stevie. Uh oh...Stevie ALWAYS comes running when I get home. This was not good. I went down the steps afraid of what I might find. But when I got to the bottom, there was Stevie over by the panel jump, looking just fine but still very uncharacteristically ignoring me. A minute later I saw why as he had a MOUSE trapped against the panel jump. A tiny, not much more than a baby looking mouse like critter at any rate. At this point I am more than a little jittery, Stevie is alternating between trapping him against the panel jump, batting him around, and picking him up in his mouth and shaking him. Now, this is very cute behavior when it is his little pink stuffed mouse or one of those tiny rabbit fur kitty mice, but when it's real it's just kind of gross! I was torn between pity for the poor critter, amusement at Stevie, and mostly horror that the mouse might escape and get up into the house. I grabbed one of those mini traffic pylons (we use them to heel around when we do figure eights) and managed to clap it down on the floor with the critter trapped inside, and slide a piece of cardboard under it so I could carry the wild beast outside. It was not looking too good when I captured it- lying on its back panting and looking like it was not long for this world. Now, I KNOW how to humanely do a cervical disarticulation on a mouse but it's been a LONG time, and those were mice that were somewhat used to being picked up, and this one didn't have a tail to hang onto. Plus I'm just too wimpy and I don't like killing things. So I took him outside where it was pouring down rain, and my neighbor's downspout which empties out on my side was gushing and had about a 6 inch deep, large puddle under it. I figured I would drop the poor critter into it, he would quickly drown, and that would be that. I still felt really bad but in the scheme of ways to handle it it seemed the most expedient and least bloody. I tentatively tipped the cardboard, lifted the pylon, there went the "mouse" or at least mous-ish critter- but he didn't know the plan! He promptly righted himself, swam out of the puddle, and took off, thankfully towards the neighbors' yard (don't tell!).

OK, so immediate disaster averted. I was very pleased with Stevie and gave him all kinds of treats for actually doing something USEFUL, and tried to avoid thinking about the 12 hours he had to torture the poor critter before I came home. At least I didn't see any evidence that waterboarding was involved. But then I started to worry again. Was this the mouse from the garage? And if so, how did it get in the basement? It would either have had to come through the house (AAAAGH! NO!) or outside all the way around the house and found a way in. It seemed smaller than what I thought I had seen in the garage- only about the size of one of those mini kitty rabbit fur mice; and it had a short haired tail instead of a long bald one, although I can't say that he didn't have one BEFORE he entered Stevie's interrogation program- I didn't get a very long look to do a complete physical! I checked the basement carefully and found no evidence of mousy habitation- no mouse droppings anywhere, and pretty slim pickings. There are a few bags of dog treats, but they are in sealed plastic bags which all appeared intact, and the bird seed I keep for the yard feeders is in rubbermaid tubs with latches, so pickings are pretty slim there. I thought maybe the basement critter was a baby vole who somehow got in when the downpour started- I had tunnels in my flowerbeds last summer and found a dead critter which had looked similar but bigger and was definitely not a mole.

Stevie did a basement check before we left for work this morning and assured me that all was clear. In the meantime, back at the garage....still no one has triggered the trap, and all is quiet with no scrabbling noises or visible flashes of running mouse. Hmmmm. I arrived home tonight and looked for him in my headlights when the garage door came up- no running mouse. Maybe it WAS the same critter. Tomorrow is garbage day so I opened the lid to throw away my coke and take the cans to the curb- AAAGH! Mouse alert on top of the trash again! I tried to slam the lid shut, but I'm not sure if he dove deeper into the can or back into the garage- I didn't hear him running along the wall, so I am hoping he was still in the can. I put the lid on tight and took the cans to the curb, at as long an arm's length as I can manage...I am hoping and praying he is still inside.

Please, Mr. Mousie, be in the can. If you are, you have just won an all-expenses paid trip to the Rumpke dump, a true mousie vacation paradise. There you can dine on the remnants of the best restaurants the city has to offer. I keep picturing Templeton the rat at the fair in "Charlotte's Web"....

"A fair is a veritable smorgasboard, orgasboard, orgasboard

After the crowds have ceased

At night, when the lights go down

It can be found on the ground all around

That's where a rat likes to feast"

Please, Mr. Mousie....this is the best possible outcome for all involved. I don't like being a mousie executioner. And apparently since your ancestors made this trip, the mouse population at the old house has followed Darwin's law and evolved to get smarter; you are not falling for the peanut butter in the trap trick.

You know, some people need the benefit of pharmacological intervention before they start hallucinating about such things. I'm a little frightened that they just inhabit my head naturally.

Some day I will tell about the night the bat got in the old house...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dogs in movies...

Last night I finally watched "Marley and Me". I had read the book but had not gotten to the movie, and since Andy died I wasn't sure I could watch it. I have to say it was quite the tear jerker! I can't tell you how often I have lived those final scenes and been there to witness first hand an owner's goodbye to their dog. It tears your heart out every time and never gets any easier. Tonight it will be time for Maggie, my favorite little cocker spaniel; she is truly the epitome of what they mean when they describe the "merry cocker". Maggie is 12 now and for the past two years has been battling with a tumor in her mouth; she has far outlived the most optimistic projections but her time has finally come. I am terribly sad, but I am glad that she will pass here, among people she considers friends, most likely after a few yummy cookies :-).

Movies sometimes shape the direction of our lives more than we know...many years ago, back in probably the very early 70s, I saw a movie on TV called "The Little Shepherd Dog of Catalina". Google tells us it was an episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" that used to air on Sunday nights when I was a child. It followed episodes of Lassie and it was a frequent source of friction between me and my parents that they found attending church on Sunday nights more important than Lassie and Disney. I must have won the battle that night, or been home sick, but I remember clearly watching the show. The story was about a champion sheltie who was lost at sea in a boating accident and swept up on Catalina Island where he became a farm dog who performed all manner of useful tasks; rounding up the goats, bringing the farmer his lunch box, riding around with him in his truck. I was instantly in love and knew I wanted a dog just like that!

My dog at the time was Winky, a mixed breed houndy kind of dog from the shelter. She was a great dog who was with me until my college years. When I was a vet student, at the beginning of my sophomore year I told my parents that all I wanted for my birthday was money to put towards buying a dog; if they wouldn't do that I didn't want anything (I wasn't spoiled much, was I?!). Initially I wanted a Newfoundland; but common sense prevailed. I was living in a trailer, as did most of the vet students, and likely would be graduating to apartment living at least for a while; probably not the most practical situation for a 100 lb plus, very hairy and drooly dog. I had been spending most weekends during the summer at dog shows with my friend and her family for the past couple of years, and I thought I would like to try a hand at showing in obedience. Mostly I wanted a dog to be my best friend, who could go everywhere I went. My "short list" of breeds to consider included a sheltie and when I thought back to that long ago TV show I knew THAT was exactly what I wanted. So I did my research and with a lot of digging and phone calls and a little bit of serendipity, I brought home Levi, my first sheltie. Not a sable, like the dog in the movie, but a blue merle; but in every other way I could not have asked for a dog who came closer to my ideal and my mental picture. Levi was one of those dogs who was just born to be a good dog; he learned quickly and lived to do anything I asked. He went with me everywhere but class, including accompanying me in the evenings to do my treatments at school. He was a wonderful dog to start into obedience competition with and ended up with advanced titles and high in trials, even though he was trained almost exclusively from a book until we were working in utility. When I bought my practice he came to work with me every day, and had a perfect instinct for who should be there and who shouldn't- he never barked at a client, but he let me know any time a delivery person came in, alerted me to shady characters, and once when I left the door unlocked after hours and was back in the kennel he cornered the maintainence man in the front hallway and wouldn't let him into the back of the clinic where, in Levi's opinion, he had no business going. He was incredibly useful around the house, and when I had only one working TV remote between the upstairs and downstairs TVs he learned to retrieve it for me, as well as books and shoes. If he couldn't find the remote, he would bring back whatever looked the most like it, one time unplugging my alarm clock from the wall and bringing it down the stairs to me (well, it WAS black plastic and roughly rectangular). He even got a basic herding title without the benefit of any herding lessons at all- he just did it. He did countless school demos and was one of the therapy dogs who started the program at Dayton Children's hospital. He truly did fit the ideal sheltie description of a small, sturdy, all around working dog- I can't remember ever asking him to do ANYTHING that he didn't do.

I'm not sure Andy and Cory were quite as useful as Levi, but they both have had their own tasks around the house. Cory has become obsessed with bringing me things that I drop (funny, it coincided with a weak moment where I rewarded him for holding the remote with a little piece of pizza- apparently it made a BIG impression). He hovers underfoot and as soon as something hits the floor he grabs it and brings it to me in hopes of another fabulous jackpot. I actually had to hide the remote for a few days as he wouldn't leave it alone. Last night before I got in bed I noticed the cat had knocked a pen off the bedside table and under the bed, but I was too tired to reach under and pick it up. I climbed in bed and a few minutes later, Cory dropped it on my chin...of course, that meant I HAD to get up and get him a cookie for being such a good boy! Cory is also a better watchdog than his dad, sort of...Andy only barked at people he considered "friends" (strangers could be clients, and you weren't allowed to bark at clients....however he also didn't bark at the stranger who slipped out with our cash box while i was in the office!). Unfortunately Cory does not have Levi's instinct for who to bark at and who not to- he tends to bark indiscriminatly at anyone who comes in. Not the best, but OTOH, no one is going to sneak in on us again!

All in all, I'm pretty happy they were showing "Little Shepherd" and not a show featuring another breed that night! I have found the perfect breed for me, even if it DID come from watching a TV show which, it turns out, may not have been as far fetched at least in its details as would first be thought!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lure coursing

Saturday some friends and I decided to drive
up to Yellow Springs, Ohio, just south of Dayton, where they were holding a lure coursing trial. Lure coursing is a sport done by sighthounds; sighthounds are dogs in the hound group which were traditionally used for hunting using their eyes rather than their noses. One example is the dog pictured to the right, the basenji (known for being the "barkless" dog). Basenjis are one of the smaller dogs in the group.

Now, none of us actually owned a sighthound, but after the trial is over they offer " fun runs" for any breed to try out chasing the lure. My friend Kathy's poodles have done it before and LOVE it. Cory has been brimming with energy lately and I figured it would be a good way to burn some off; plus we thought we could probably find a place in the park to do some tracking while we were there as well. And it was a beautiful spring day, so what did we have to lose?

The lure coursing itself was fun to watch. There was quite a variety of breeds, including these Salukis to the right. They were fun to watch-so elegant!

The "lure" is actually three plastic bags attached to an electric pulley system. The pulleys run up and around the field- a different pattern for each class. When it is running, the lures zip around the field with a snaking motion and rustling noise that makes the dogs absolutely nuts to catch it. To be honest, I'm not quite sure just how the runs are scored...but they are fun to watch!

The dogs above and to either side are Pharoah Hounds, a very old Egyptian sighthound breed.

To the right and below are Rhodesian Ridgebacks...see the ridge of fur they are named for? They were originally bred to hunt lions in Africa...big, tough dogs! They're a bit heavier bodied than most of your sighthounds.

The dog above is an Afghan Hound, the only one there that day. It's one of the more recognizable sighthounds...quite impressive with that amazing coat!

And of course, to the right and below are the most well known of the sighthounds, the greyhound. They are truly something to watch in action.

To the left is an Ibezan hound; this one is wire haired, which is not as common as the smooth coated variety.

Below left is a basenji in action; and to the right is another saluki- they are my favorites to watch with the grace of a greyhound, but with the flowing coat.

Below is my friend Kathy's poodle Winter; Winter LOVES lure coursing and could hardly contain herself until her turn to run. She gave those sighthounds a run for their money and ended up winning her division in the "other breed" runs.

To the left was another one of the "other" breeds, a basset hound. Yes, a hound....but a SCENT hound, not a sight hound! Rain and her two basset friends did quite a good job and "killed" the lure enthusiastically.
As for Cory, he did pretty well for a first timer; he started out well and chased the lure with great enthusiasm, but about halfway through the course got hung up in the pulley string and decided to come back and pee on the fencing instead. Nevertheless, it was good for second place! He was a little unsure about the sound of the pulleys zipping the string; I think he would do better running with a group rather than solo. When we were done we ran the same track my friend Sharon and her dog Baylin had done, looking for a missing article that she didn't find; we couldn't find it either, even when Sharon and I walked the first leg of the track a third time. Maybe one of the sighthounds stole it while we weren't looking- it was a cosmetic pouch full of chicken! The dogs were happy to crash in their crates in the cars while the humans enjoyed dinner at Olive Garden before heading home- all in all a great way to spend a lovely spring day!