Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pups on pointe

Florian graduated with his Master's of Fine Arts in dance this week, wearing the traditional dancer's graduation regalia of all-white Miami Vice-style duds and a flowing leafy gown. I'm so proud of him. 

With the university out of the way, and with a certain amount of career-centered anxiety, he thought it would be good to start volunteering at the shelter. 


That way he can maybe pick up some new career skills while being around the relaxed four-pawed people who never bother him about hegemonic logocentricity or the semiotics of gendered discursive metanarratives.

He loves it. Twenty years of professional ballet training, teaching, and performance, and he is like a pea in a pod when he leaves his white tights in a drawer and dons his volunteer T-shirt to hose down shelter stalls. 

But no matter how he tries, he still can't seem to get the dance out of his system.  

Get out your tutus, shelter pups! Stretch those metatarsals! Practice your port de bras! You'll be on pointe in no time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sleepy Creek Lake

We were unexpectedly reunited with Collette last week, when her adopter had to go out of town and asked us to watch her. Which was not a problem, as it seemed only right that she get to go on at least one camping trip with us.

We took off Saturday morning with me, as usual, in the dark about our destination. I had the chance to wrangle all 3 dogs for a remarkably peaceful walk along a trail in suburban Fairfax while Florian taught a private ballet lesson--during which we saw two deer, two Great Danes, and Fozzie stayed fairly calm on both occasions--and then we were off to Florian's camping land of mystery. 

We had discussed going someplace remote where we could relax a bit even with the three dogs, so I was a bit surprised when we came upon the familiar scenes of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. 

A sweet little town of herb shops, New Age trinket stores, and of course the renowned hot springs, which you can enjoy through one of the spas of through the public site in the park in the center of town. 

In the 90 degree heat we had to be a bit creative about how to check out the attractions; fortunately, most of the businesses are dog-friendly. The dogs were able to help Florian pick out a tie-dyed T-shirt, and then we cooled off those fevered paws in the cool stream running right through town. I waded in myself, but not too deep as there are huge crayfish in there and they've given me the heebie-jeebies ever since my big brothers threatened to throw them down my back when I was a kid. 

What I always forget about Berkeley Springs is how close it is to the Potomac and some amazing hiking and camping places.  

Just a couple of miles out of town we found an access point to the river and to the C & O canal. The dogs took no time at all to get into the water


And Florian was not far behind.
Collette just loves her sticks, and she loves chasing Fozzie around in the water, harassing him, and paddling around.

As far as I know she learned to swim just a few weeks ago--when we took her on another little trail in Virginia--and like most dogs learning to swim she is not what you  would call graceful.

She does the most ridiculous thing where the front half of her body rears up out of the water and her paws paddle up and down furiously, creating an enormous splash, while her face gets an incredibly serious look of concentration. 

 But then, I guess all dogs look kind of ridiculous when they swim.
After cooling off we took a nice stroll along the empty, always beautiful and slightly spooky C & O Canal trail, and then set off to find ourselves some tasty food to share with the dogs before heading off to Sleepy Creek Lake. 

It's the closest place we've found to camp near Berkeley Springs, accessible through a winding drive through the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area...State Department of Natural Resources-speak for a place you need to watch your ass during hunting season.

Fortunately, we encountered only benign presences along the road 

and awakened to a foggy morning on the lake complete with the deafening sounds of bullfrogs, spring peepers, and water birds. Fozzie stayed on his leash until the geese were safe in the center of the lake, and Collette stared out in wonder.

Thanks for the fun trip, everyone! Collette, I hope your mom comes home soon so I don't get too much more attached to you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Collette goes home

Well after just a few short weeks with us, Collette has gone on to her forever home!

I expected she'd go fast--she's a 6-month-old lab, for God's sake--but what I didn't know was that she'd find such an awesome adopter.

Rose works from home and wants a cuddly companion to be near her all day. She is looking forward to taking Collette for daily runs and photography sessions along the beach, and play sessions with her mom's super friendly dogs. 

She's already bought out the pet store with all sorts of toys and treats and a perfect little purple harness, and signed up for positive training classes so Collette can hit the ground running in her new home. 

How does THAT sound, my tiny friend?

The Washington Humane Society made it easy for Collette to go home with her new mom, which is the right approach for an open intake shelter--although its a bit of a shock that just a few days after I first heard from Rose, Collette is already gone!

We hardly had a chance to get attached to her, though we did have time to love her up, 


get her wet, 


take her hiking, 

give her some really high-quality food, 

and expose her to some good music.

Have fun Collette! You'll have to write and tell us about all your amazing adventures.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A weekend with Uncle Johnny

This weekend we had the intense pleasure of Uncle Johnny coming down from New York for a visit. Uncle Johnny comes down pretty frequently, and helps me with stuff around the house, relaxes, babysits and plays with my niece Ursula, hooks me up with cool books about astronomy and shipwrecks, and puts up with the dogs. 


Outwardly, Johnny grumbles about the dogs but secretly I think he loves them. 

They sure love him. Ever since I was a kid and Johnny was babysitting me, the family dog has always loved Johnny all through his grumbling and grousing.


In fact, there's never been a dog that didn't love Johnny, to my knowledge. Johnny is one of those figures loved by kids and dogs everywhere. 


Johnny reminded me this weekend that he's 84 years old. 

Eighty four and he still comes down every few weekends by Greyhound bus from New York to hang out with his wacky Takoma Park family. 

Johnny's studying the art of watercolor through classes he took at the senior center where he lives in New York, and books he got from the library. 

I think he's doing an incredible job!

This weekend, he got to meet Collette. 

And Collette got to meet him, and Ursula, and Genghis, and my sister. 

She and my sister did a bit more than just meet. 

After a wild play session with Genghis, Collette was ready for some snuggles and some making out. 


It could have also been that after a while, Genghis started making her a little nervous.

Fortunately, Uncle Johnny was there to provide support. 

Uncle Johnny, unheralded friend of the furred people, benign ruler of all your familiars. All paws in the air! We salute you!

Friday, May 18, 2012

TTouch: Calming elastics

Still eager for any tactics that will get me off the hook for implementing management techniques to ease Fozzie and Lamar's tensions, I have been experimenting with Pam's suggestion to use a calming elastic on both my dogs to see if they can relax more around each other. 

Vets and groomers will tell you that a muzzle is useful not just for its intended purpose of keeping a dog from biting, but also because it seems to calm them down. 

What I've learned from TTouch is that the area in contact with the muzzle--especially the base of the nose right under the eyes--is an area that releases endorphins when stimulated.

So along with lots of TTouch around the nose and mouth, a great complementary tool is the calming band or face elastic. According to Unlock your Dog's Potential by Sarah Fisher, the purpose of the calming band is to enable the dog to become aware of himself, and to release tension through the muzzle. As a result the calming band or face elastic can quickly settle and quieten a hyperactive or excessively barking dog. They also help increase confidence and can encourage a dog to accept and enjoy contact around the face and mouth.
To use a face elastic, just take a piece of sewing elastic and place the middle of it over the dogs nose. Cross it under his jaw, then tie it around his neck, just behind his ears. Tie it just tight enough that it creates a bit of pressure.

I have been using a calming elastic on both my dogs at night, as we explore different ways to manage our tense bedtime relations. With his calming elastic on, Lamar does seem to be calmer and more receptive as I do TTouch circles all around his face. A little less tense if Fozzie comes close, and more tolerant even of our new little foster pup. 

The boys are both still big barkers, and Fozzie is mouthy as ever. I am curious to find out how much headway we can make by working and elasti-fying those mouths and noses!

Monday, May 14, 2012

TTouch Tension Tamer

Besides my guilt over shortchanging Lamar on attention, another motivation for our recent TTouch session was to get some more ideas on how to help Lamar relax at night, when Florian and I are reading or watching movies in bed and both dogs want to be with us. 

Two years of giving Lamar treats as soon as Fozzie comes close, and he's still no less likely to snarl and lunge even though Fozzie is approaching with a meek expression and a little wag.

I've been giving both Lamar and Fozzie treats as Fozzie approaches the bed, my reasoning being that maybe I can countercondition Lamar a bit to Fozzie's approach, and keep Fozzie from developing aggression toward Lamar. 

It hasn't worked, and I've realized that maybe I need to just let go of the desire to modify behavior through training and just manage things better, by asking Fozzie to go sleep somewhere else

Certainly the smartest, most effective solution and one that I would tell anyone else who asked. 

But because the old adage "do as I say and not as I do" is the best thing my Mom ever taught me, we need another strategy for those times when Fozzie absolutely needs to be near us--alright, alright: when we absolutely need to be near Fozzie. 

For those moments, we have been taking refuge in TTouch. Far more effective than a cheesy or freeze-dried meaty snack is a really good, relaxing TTouch session around the head of both dogs. Those little circles in front of Lamar's ears can sometimes make him breathe a big sigh of relief, and then smile in relaxation, even when Fozzie is right next to his head. 

On Fozzie, Pam told me that lots and lots of mouth/muzzle work is the ticket. For mouthy, barky, high-strung dogs, releasing the tension around the nose and mouth can make a big difference. Lots of little circles all around the base of the muzzle, under the eyes, also release endorphins. At least in theory, this gives our little wild man a blast of peaceful sensation. 

Yes, management is the best strategy for many dog behavior conundrums and definitely for Fozzie and Lamar's bedtime territory guarding tensions. On the other hand, is there anything more wonderful than having both my boys right next to me, relaxing as I do circles on their noses? I think not. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

There goes the neighborhood

When I was looking for a house 4 1/2 years ago, my dream was to find a place where I could bike to work in the heart of Washington DC but still live surrounded by trees, woods, nature, and wildlife. 

I found my house. It was bounded on the back by woods and on one side by an empty lot, which was split off from my house's property and put on the market separately by my house's previous owners.

The lot next door
My house is perfect. I've lived there all these years with my eccentric nudist Swiss dude and my succession of poorly trained, impulsive, loud foster dogs of widely varying dispositions, and no one has ever said a peep. Most of my neighbors are far enough away that they're not bothered by my menagerie, and the ones who are close are for the most part mellow, friendly animal lovers.

Among my greatest joys is the sanctuary and wildness, not to mention privacy, of my backyard, where I can garden, train dogs, sunbathe, and make noise in any state of dress or undress without fear of judgement or of imposing on neighbors who may have different values and interests. 

The property next door has been on the market all these years, and no one has bought it because it is narrow, steep, has several large trees that can't be removed per Takoma Park's tree regulations, and sports a cool asking price of $240,000.


Now, some people are looking at the property. They came over to talk to me when I was in the back with Fozzie the other day, planting an azalea and some blackberries. 

In the course of the conversation I realized that Our Worst Nightmare has a possibility of being realized in the property next door. 

No, the prospective buyer did not want to build a meth lab, a crack house, a brothel, or an adult video emporium. 

It's worse, way worse. 

The woman who spoke to me, who came with her two toddlers in tow, one of whom kept sticking her hands through my fence and ran away screaming when Fozzie barked once at the intrusion, wants to build a daycare. 

Not to be mean or to give the impression that I don't love kids, but I can't imagine anything more horrifying.

Anything more destructive to the peace and sanctuary of this little pocket of wildness, than the screams of dozens of little darlings as they scamper amok through these formerly wildlife-rich woods, or the disapproving glares of Takoma Park soccer moms every time I foster a new poorly socialized fireball, or fail to stop Fozzie from barreling into the backyard after a squirrel like a raging tornado of poor impulse control, or every time Florian steps onto the back porch for a smoke clad only in his dance belt.  

The good news is that the realtor says any proposed development of a commercial property would require special permits and hearings at which neighbors would be able to testify.

And while I welcome that opportunity, I also fear that the powers that be will not look sympathetically upon a pit bull rescuer and naked Swiss guy going up against people who are of course doing it all for the children

So in the hopes of obviating the need for me to testify, I'm considering various tactics for convincing the prospective buyers that they really don't want to put a daycare on that lot. Here are a few ideas:
  • Explosives. Imagine Florian and his son Quentin's delight when I lift the restrictions on rockets, firecrackers, and small thermonuclear devices in the back yard. Wildlife might not like it in the short term, but they'll thank me when buyers beat a hasty retreat.
  • Ditch the positive training, at least when people are looking at the property. Adopt a communication style with dogs and partner that relies heavily on confrontation and loud expletives.
  • Scrap metal, and old cars, left to molder, randomly scattered on sidewalk in front of my property and one next door.
  • More nudity.
What are YOUR favorite ideas for scaring off prospective buyers?