Master Class – I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

This week’s Master Class (follow the link to read the other submissions and submit your own) was the following line from a novel:

I love Robert Heinlein, so this quote really excited me – it’s Heinlein!  And, thankfully, it got me out of my lack-of-writing funk, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write something by him.

Criticism is always welcome.

Cats on unmade bed ... Re-edit...

I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.

Considering I hadn’t slept in a bed in at least six months, the violence of my previous close encounter with a man, the fact that the last cat I’d seen I had caught, killed and eaten, and my complete lack of memory pertaining to my arrival in this situation, I felt surprisingly contented.

He had an arm draped across my waist and his head nestled against my neck, breath tickling at my hairline.  His face was childlike in repose, and he stayed deeply asleep despite my own jerk to wakefulness.  I felt surprisingly safe in his arms, though I still preferred him unconscious.

The cat looked at me with distain, sitting primly upright on the man’s hip.

Last I remembered, I’d been drinking a tea of boiled pine needle and willow-bark, huddled miserably under the sodden boughs of an evergreen.  No fever, now.

Last I remembered, I was trying – and failing – to fight off the infection that would likely kill me, from the arrow wound in my shoulder.  No pain.

The cat minced its way to the bedside table and began to groom itself.  The man rolled closer, draping a leg across me and moving his hand up my side, and I judged that the usefulness of his being asleep was at an end.

I cleared my throat.

His eyes snapped open, feral and golden, and before I could think of something to say, he had me by the throat.  I kneed him in the groin and clawed at his face as my vision grew spotty.

Asleep, he’d been childlike.  Asleep, I hadn’t seen the mangled left side of his face, the clawmarks trailing from his forehead, catching at the corner of his eye and down to snag at the corner of his snarling mouth.

The pressure on my neck eased enough to allow me faint passage of air as he looked around.  He crouched, poised for action, casually gripping both my wrists to prevent me from further self-defense.

“What is this place?” he snapped, sweeping the room with his sharp gaze.

His breathing was rapid and shallow, like that of a wild animal cornered by hunters.  I saw my own death in his eyes.

The cat stepped into my field of vision, and, with a suicidal seeming lack of fear, burbled a chirruping meow and butted its head against the man’s chin.  He swore and jumped back in surprise, like he hadn’t seen the cat in his in-depth perusal of the room.

I sucked in a breath and scrambled weakly away to the relative safety of the other side of the bed.  My neck throbbed with each rasping breath I drew in.

When it seemed that he wasn’t about to do anything drastic, I relaxed slightly.

He glared at me and repeated his question.

“Hell if I know.”  I was feeling a bit hard-done-by and in no mood to answer the questions of psychopaths.

“How did I get here?”

The cat took the opportunity to sprawl playfully on its back and purr.  It was a she, with clear signs of past litters.  And equally clear scars marring the sleek black of her fur. Like some bird of prey had been keen on accessing her intestines.

I pulled at the shoulder of the loose-fitting and blissfully clean tunic I was wearing.  The wound I last remembered with angry red lines tracing away from it in the firelight – blood poisoning – was the pale pink of an old scar.  My turn for questions.  “How long ago did you get that scar on your face, Bucko?”

He touched his jaw gingerly, as though expecting to encounter something horrible.  Not finding what he expected, he dashed to the mirror and stood staring at his reflection, stroking at the scars and shaking his head in disbelief.

“I was hunting, and the bastard caught me by surprise.  Barely got out of it alive.  Don’t remember making it home.”

Unabashedly, he stripped off his own pristine white tunic.  His chest and left shoulder were lacerated with equally old scars.  Based on the claw marks at his stomach, I couldn’t see how he could have lived long enough to heal from those wounds.  Not with the loss of old-modern medicine.  He and the cat both looked to have been part of some creature’s meal-plan.

I took a few tentative steps towards the door-shape in the smooth wall, but darted back when it hissed open.

A short plump woman entered, pushing a wheeled table ahead of her.  She took in the scene with a pleased smile – me, crouched in one corner, him, half-naked and ready to attack in another.  The cat continued purring on the bed.

“Excellent, you’re awake.”

She turned to me and extended her hand, but before she could introduce herself, he had her in a headlock.  Without missing a beat, she stuck him in the arm with a small syringe and he dropped.

“Let’s try this again, shall we?  I’m Myra, and you have been saved. Welcome to ARK, the last bastion of pure life on earth.  Breakfast?”

I suppressed the growl of my stomach.  “How long have I been here?”

“Eighteen hours, dear.  And your mate’s been here nearly seventy – stomach wounds are a nasty business, even in the healing tanks. We scooped you up in the storm – it gave us enough cover to come in without alerting the mutant population to our presence.”

Mate?! My skin crawled but I kept my face neutral.

“Why save us?”

“Because you are a healthy and genetically pure female human with many fertile years left, and he is a genetically pure male human whose genes combined with yours will produce healthy, genetically pure offspring.”  She smiled in a deeply unsettling way as she said this.  “You will help true humanity begin again.”

I felt like screaming.

Thought and action were simultaneous, giving her no warning of my intention when I broke her neck.

I slapped the unconscious man hard in the face to no avail.  Feeling time trickling away, I grabbed the pitcher of water and upended it on him.

He awoke, spluttering, and I tossed his shirt at him.  “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

“You killed her.  Why?”  I paused in stuffing the breakfast foods into a pillowcase, happy to see that he was riffling the drawers for useful tools.  Happier to see that there was warmer clothing than what we had on.

I sketched out what information she’d given me, and added, “No-one gets to take my freedom from me, and no one will ever rape me again.  Humanity be damned.”

He nodded, amusement in his eyes as he noticed the tight grip I had on the breakfast knife.  “I never did understand the purists, anyways – mutants are a-ok by me.  Damn, no shoes.  Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be.  Grab the cat and let’s go.”

“Why bring the cat?”

I pictured the scars on her belly, wondered at her opinion about being kept in this cage.  I’d always been pragmatic about survival, and pets were a hindrance, but she was a survivor too.  All I said was, “Snack?”

A Family History of Pets

 I don't think I've said it before - but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they're still around - you'll regret it later if you don't.  labeled 'may, winter, 19', I have so many questions.  dogsled?  frankly, it looks like they're off to Narnia.
I don’t think I’ve said it before – but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they’re still around – you’ll regret it later if you don’t. labeled ‘may, winter, 19’, I have so many questions. dogsled? frankly, it looks like they’re off to Narnia.

When my aunt was born, my dad’s parents had to get rid of their dog, Spot.  In my dad’s own words, the dog’s name was Spot, because… well… he had spots.  I suspect my grandfather was involved in the naming.  He was original like that.  My dad grew up in a small town that is nearly as small now as it was back then, and the dentist has a farm just on the outskirts, and lots of horses.  My aunt is so allergic to animals that, when visiting her parents’ home as an adult, if the wind blew in from that direction, she would have to stay inside with the windows shut, or risk her throat closing up.  One time, a plane was emergency landed for her, because the company ignored her when she said that there could absolutely be no animals in the cabin, and allowed someone to bring on their tiny dog in a carry on.

My dad was three the last time he’d had a pet.  He didn’t have another pet until he and my mum married.

Tomcat... before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears.  First rule of cat fightclub... you run to grandpa when you get hurt... but you also don't talk about cat fightclub
Tomcat… before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears. First rule of cat fightclub… you run to grandpa when you get hurt… but you also don’t talk about cat fightclub

My grandfather kept cats – stray farm cats who found their way to him, and who were willing to continue living their lives outdoors, visiting with my grandpa on the porch.  He couldn’t invite them in because my aunt would then no longer be able to visit.  Frankly, I’m not sure if most of them got more of a name than ‘cat’, or possibly ‘gray tabby’, ‘calico’, and ‘black cat’.  The one I remember best was, in yet another highly original choice by my grandfather, named Tom.  Short for Tomcat.  Another original.  I’m sure my uncle Tom appreciated the sharing of names.

The Clydesdales - or some of them anyways
The Clydesdales – or some of them anyways

My grandmother grew up on a farm, and was terrified of the Clydesdales her father used for farmwork, and equally terrified of the cows and their horns.    Those work horses are one of my dad’s few memories of his grandfather, and he agrees – to a small child, they were immense and immensely terrifying.  My grandmother grew up with chickens as well.  She doesn’t eat eggs, though she will use them in baking.  She grew up poor, and always said, “You don’t eat the chicken if it’s still laying eggs.  You eat a lot of eggs that way.”  When we took riding lessons near her house, she would stay as far from the horses as possible, despite their considerably more petite size.

One of the strangest old family headstones at the cemetery near where my dad grew up has a small photograph in it.  I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I’m only ever there for funerals, and frankly, that is not the time for photography.  The main thing you need to know is that everyone on that side of my family has a very distinctive look.  When in a room full of us, it’s very clear who is ‘us’ and who married into the family.  Pictures of my grandmother at 17 look like pictures of my aunts at 17, and probably would remind you a great deal of her mother, and grandmother at that age.  The men in the family are even more obviously the same.  So this photograph is of a man who looks like my dad.  Dead on, in fact.  It looks like my dad… if he were to grow out a full and magnificent handlebar mustache.  And, while I have never met this dearly departed distant relation, I think we’d understand each other just a little bit.  Set into his gravestone is a picture of him and his cockatoo.

a relative I suspect is on my grandmother's side of things... based on the basket of eggs. People don't dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs...how times have changed!
a relative I suspect is on my grandmother’s side of things… based on the basket of eggs. People don’t dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs…how times have changed!
my grandfather and the creatively named Spot
my grandfather and Bunkie
cat pictures - common even in 1945
cat pictures – common even in 1945

Stay tuned – next we look at my mom’s childhood!

Creeping In

I’m doing my best to get back into writing – apparently the holidays were so exhausting that I have no imagination left.  Or I just lost all ability to plan my time out.  One week free of it, and I find myself overwelmed with how much time I spend walking the dog and entertaining him.  Not that I’m complaining – we’re getting some pretty walk-friendly weather lately, and less than a month after the solstice, I’m getting so much more daylight.

This week’s word for Trifecta’s writing challenge is:

INTENTION
(noun)

1: a determination to act in a certain way : resolve
2: import, significance
3a : what one intends to do or bring about
b : the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered

Check out the other submissions HERE, or submit your own.

It was never my intention to stay so long.  I took advantage, I’ll readily admit.  It isn’t my proudest moment.

They were an easy mark.  How could I resist an open door?

I just can’t bear to leave, quite yet.  Maybe a day or two more.  Not that I’m getting attached, or anything.  I could see myself getting used to it, though, y’know?  I’ll stick around and enjoy a bit more free food.  Not much of a hardship – company’s not too bad – they give me my space, and they’re real good listeners.

I need my freedom – I need to stretch my legs, feel the grass under my feet, breathe deep of the great outdoors.  I’ve got instincts, primal instincts, and they can’t be ignored.  I don’t want to get rusty.  I’ve gotta hit the road.

It is a pretty scary place out there, though.  My pal Fred got scooped up by the nastiest bugger you’ve ever seen.  Guy swooped down out of nowhere, and now Fred’s nowhere to be seen.  It’s kind of nice to be big man on campus, just for a few more days.

The Missus relies on me to taste-test her cooking.

Plus, they’ve got some wildlife in this place.  They buzz around bothering the people here.  Tough suckers, too – seems like no matter how many times I land a killing blow, they’re up and jingling about.  Can’t leave quite yet – Ieast I could do to repay them is to get rid of this infestation they’ve got.

The old guy and I haven’t gotten much chance in the past few hours to hang out, either.  I’ve got this wicked kink in my neck, and he needs help reading the newspaper.  Now that’s what I call an equitable exchange of services.

I’ll be leaving soon – best get in some warm-laundry napping while I’m still around to spread the fur.  Creeping into their lives was exhausting.

cat bum

Foreign Dogs

No.  Not an insulting term for people of a different nationality than me.  Just to be clear, I mean Canines.  Canines in Foreign lands.  Frankly, I think it’s an improvement on my working title of “Mexican Dogs”.

I was lucky enough to spend a week this winter in beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Gwynn also spent a week at the beach – just one in more northern climes.  He visited a friend of ours at her cottage while we were gone, a week straight of snow-frolicking and wrestling with her two dogs, and picking up a few bad habits along the way.

Feb2011 350

Dogless, I redirected my usual doggy time to observing everyone elses pooch.  I’m not sure why I was so surprised to see so many people walking their dogs down 5th street in the evening.  I know dogs aren’t limited to Canada, US and Europe.  I just tend to imagine them being far less pet, and far more work elsewhere.

I think most cultures have, to some extent, a sweet spot for our furry friends.  And the differences in their treatment of dogs is one of the things that stands out most to me about being in a strange country.

In France, dogs are permitted in restaurants and cafes, and generally most places. If someone had their dog very well trained – chances are, that dog wasn’t on-leash.  And I’m talking about Paris, not some very rural community where leash laws are kind of ignored.  Dogs there are welcomed into far more places than they are in Canada – but they also have higher expectations placed on them, in my opinion.  It’s very much a society of “You are welcome here, but you’d better behave yourself.”  Another big difference I noticed was in equipment – simply put, male dogs in France still have it.  A British woman I walk with on occasion was baffled at the North American predilection towards neutered males.  Her female dog is altered, but her male is fully equipped.

The downside I found when I was in France was an apparent lack of responsibility on the owners’ part for dealing with business.  You know… business.  Charming cobblestone streets, beautiful treelined paths – it’s PARIS, and P is definitely for Picturesque… but also for Poop.  Watch where you step.

A friend recently returned home from a two year contract teaching English in Vietnam.  She told me about how many street dogs and street cats there were.  We have wild cats – in fact, we have a wild cat problem in Toronto – but wild, roaming, dogs is outside my realm of experience.  She told me about how many of these animals found homes with the temporary immigrants who came for limited-time contracts in Vietnam.  While it is possible to bring your beloved Vietnamese pet home with you at the end of your time there, after vet bills and vaccines and all the hoops you have to jump through, it comes out to a very expensive second plane ticket home.  A common occurence there is for more newly-arrived friends to adopt departing friends’ animals, passing that creature on when it’s time for them to depart as well.  I’m frankly not sure if I could bear the idea of parting ways, but I find it sweet that people make such a point of finding their street-dog or street-cat a replacement caregiver before they leave.

I found Mexico to be a bit like Canada, and a bit like France, and a bit all its own.  All the male dogs I saw were fully equipped, and stores didn’t seem to have a problem with dogs coming into them with their owners.  The streets were spotless.  Maybe it’s because I was mostly in areas where lots of restauranteurs and shop owners were basically right out in the street, watching you , or maybe it’s simply that the dog owners of Mexico believe in not leaving a mess behind (after my own heart).  Whatever the reason, the streets I went down in Playa Del Carmen were cleaner than my own neighbourhood, when it came to dog business.  Possibly because most of the places I saw dogs in were quite busy, most people had their dogs on-leash.  Very different from Canada, nearly every dog I saw was a naturally short coated animal.  Makes sense, considering that, visiting in the middle of their winter, I experienced the warmest of Toronto’s summer conditions.

Afghan Hound With Short Hair
Even the Afghan hound I saw there had his hair cropped shorter than this, to deal with the heat

It’s when I travel that I wish Gwynn were more travel-sized.  I miss him immensely when I’m gone, and feel a bit of irrational jealousy of people just going about their usual day with their dogs at their sides.  I love it, though – seeing those commonalities between myself and the people whose country I’ve travelled to.  It really doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll always find someone out for a walk.

Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil.

Wordless Wednesday – Searching for Cats

Every picture I present to you has at least one cat in it.  Enjoy.

IMG_20121203_170439

IMG_20121203_164531IMG_20121104_105740

Down side – Gwynn’s cat issues are still very much a work in progress.  Plus side – I am becoming a KILLER I-Spy player.

Cats: Ninja-Terrorists bent on Sleep Deprivation

The first night house-sitting, I had the brilliant idea of bringing Gwynn to stay overnight.  I figured, hey, the cats stay on the second floor pretty much 100% of the time, and I’ve yet to see hide nor hair of them in three years of dog walks and occasional house-sitting.  It’ll be fine.  No worries.

What I didn’t take into account was that these cats have an active night-life.

Two hours of Gwynn yipping and whimpering from his crate at intervals just long enough for me to believe that it was getting longer.  Two hours of the cats practicing their tap-dance routines on the second storey while Sadie paced and licked and paced and licked.

How could anyone sleep in this house?  Even without Gwynn, the amount of noise produced by three tiny felines well exceeds that of a workplace requiring hearing-protection.

I tried relocating to the basement.  The basement where the teenage son has created his personal AXE-scented nest of boydom.  I spread my sleeping bag out, lay down gingerly, ensuring that no part of me came in contact with the couch.  Gwynn’s whimpers were dying down a bit, Sadie was still restlessly pacing.

Then came what sounded like a lamp falling down, a full-grown man crashing into the tv and someone dropping pots and pans in the kitchen.  Cell-phone in one hand, bludgeoning-device in the other, I crept up the stairs, prepared to do battle against thieves.  With me in my sleep-deprived rage, those bastards stood a low chance of avoiding a trip to the hospital.

No-one was there, nothing was disturbed, and no cats were in sight.  I checked all doors, and checked upstairs to try and tell my adrenaline-high body that it’s ok to relax.

Breathing freely for the first time since I’d relocated to the AXE-swamp of a basement, I lay down on the couch, Gwynn’s leash clutched in my hand.

Sleep was within my grasp at last.  Oh sweet slumber, how I love thee.

Ten minutes later, Gwynn attempted to drag me under the side-table, where a cat sat primly just out of reach of his inquisitive nose.  Mocking me, and denying me sleep.  Terrorist.

Demon Cats

Got the cat out from under the table without interaction with dogs, tried to go back to sleep.  So. Close.

Ten minutes later, Sadie launched herself onto a chair and up the window.  Second cat bolted from behind the curtain, hissing and grumbling like marbles being ground together.  Dogs once again wide awake and wired.  Lexy half-awake and 100% not asleep, trying desperately to remember how many cats are in the house.

No apparent third cat hidden within the tiny living-room, but it’s officially 3:30 am, and I’m running on 5 minutes of light-doze, and a heaping pile of nerves.

Three?  Four?  There could be thousands of them.  Demonic Terrorist Cats… probably made of shadow and clangour.  Or maybe there’s just one.  Are there even any cats at all?  Where the hell am I?

“Here kitty kitty?  Nice kitty?”  I manage to croak out, squinting about the dark room with red-rimmed, twitching eyes.

Hearing and rejecting simultaneously, the cats began a thundering race around the upstairs, still wearing their tiny kitty tap-shoes, and dragging cans half-filled with gravel.

Evil Cat

The gravelly rrrowwwwl and simultaneous kettle-hiss of furry fury starts up again, this time from the couch.

I call the retreat.  Snatching dogs, leashes and bag, I escape the madhouse, pajama-clad and wild-haired, with the frantic energy of escape from a burning building – just another inmate running for the hills.

Can I sleep here? Please? PLEASE?!!!

Orange

My Grandfather was a giant.  He towers over me in all my memories of him, a happy and comforting presence, always ready for grandkids to join him on his rocking chair.

My Grandpa made a wagon to hook up behind the ride-on lawnmower, so he could tow us grandchildren around town.  The prime spot was, of course, on his lap up front, but with the trailer, he didn’t have to make as many runs.

He loved to build things – the entire garage was devoted to woodworking.  He built cabinets and bins, boxes, step-stools, tables, and the Hobbit House.  Well… Hobby House is what I believe it was actually called.  A tiny house with two benches facing each other inside, and handy bench-backs for us grandkids to use to hoist ourselves up on the roof (clearly the prime seating area).  Apart from that one time my cousin pulled the chimney off while trying to hoist himself up – landing square on his back on the ground with a brick of wood on his chest – and a few splinters, it was a relatively safe pastime.

I think she was looking for something more like this

He built a number of cabinets, bins, step-stools and tables over the years, most of which have been scattered amongst the children and grandchildren.  He wasn’t very interested in the planning stages – he tended to eyeball once, cut twice – but everything is sturdy and built with love.  When my mom asked him to make a butcher’s block for them – they had brought him a large piece of oak and the metal cow’s head-and-tail shapes for either end – he very carefully pared the oak down nearly half its size, forming a cow-body and legs to go between the metal pieces.

His was snowyer… and porcelain… and a failed google search of “porcelain snow leopard” has proven that it might just have been one-of-a-kind. Makes sense – my Grandpa was certainly one of a kind.

My Grandpa’s favourite colour was orange.  Orange like rust, or a pumpkin, or a construction cone – the really stand-out kinds of orange.  The Hobbit House was pumpkin orange until years after he passed.  I guess my Grandma had come to terms with all the garishly orange things in her house by that time.  That and the life-sized porcelain leopard he set proudly next to his chair in the living room.  I suppose it was less irritating to her than the way he would pop his dentures out over his lips to entertain the grandkids.  At the dinner table.

He cared for all the feral cats in the area, though we couldn’t have them inside because my Aunt L is so allergic she swells up when the wind blows from the direction of the horse farm across town.  His constant companion among them, though, was a tough old orange tomcat, whose highly original name was “Tom”.  When Tom got cut up from a fight, my grandpa would tend his wounds. His ears were like swiss cheese, and at one point, he lost an eye, but he never failed to show up and sit with my Grandpa on the porch in the evening.

my water bottle

My grandpa gave me a love of do-it-yourself projects, rock collecting, rocking chairs, dark licorice, and the colour orange.  He also gave me one of the many step-stools he made, and his billy boots fit me great – so he might not have been an actual giant

Is it really any surprise that my dog is orange too?

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My future house could just share some traits with this one…

Square 2

This winter’s theme, training-wise, was mostly nothing.

Ugh, it’s raining, let’s get this walk over with.

Ugh, it’s really that muddy… fine, go have your fun, smelly, black dog, but know that there will be consequences.  And those consequences involve you and me in a certain large oblong porcelain-coated-metal bowl, along with lots of room temperature water and something foamy.  Your black and tan will return to orange and white.

Ugh, I give up, you will never not chase cats.  I am the where’s waldo master, if waldo is a cat, and tends to hide in shadows, under shrubberies, on decks, or mockingly in the center of an empty driveway. 

Better to just get from point A to point B on-leash, and try not to think too hard about what you were rolling in just now.

I’ve been inspired, though.  Jodi has been working with Delilah after a bad incident left her feeling like she wasn’t doing so well at dog parenting.  Instead of expecting everything to come at once, she’s gone in stages, and Delilah is back to having freedom to run around, except in areas where Jodi knows there’s too much chance of failure.

That, combined with recently seeing a video on how to store your long-leads so they won’t get tangled (genius!), and a bit of inspiration of my own (use that shortened long-line as his regular leash for the walking portion of the walk = one less thing for me to carry around in my bag), has Gwynn and I back in training mode.

I tie it a bit tighter, and stop knotting it when the total is as long as my usual leash – tucking the long strand through that final loop ‘locks’ the leash in that length while freeing up the clasp for Gwynn’s collar.  It creates a bit more of an elastic version of a 6 foot leash.  for storing the leash, it works amazingly well – you entirely skip the part of pulling a long leash out of your bag when you have to untangle it.

I commented in a recent post that Sadie has a great recall.  Like – whistle her whistle and she will run to you.  All out, legs wind milling, ears flapping, giant grin, run. 

Gwynn… not so much.  Kind of silly when you consider the fact that I have him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only walk Sadie twice a week, for all of 2 hours each walk.

I generally just make sure to not let him off-leash in danger zones.  The big ones?  Near a muddy pond that I really don’t want him in.  Near the beach/creek when I don’t want him in (or at this time of year, when the beach is littered with dead things).  Somewhere cats might be.

My training goal for the spring is to improve Gwynn’s recall and walking at heel position.

some work on the long line... it is actually longer than it looks in this picture

How am I doing this so far?  If I’m somewhere I really don’t trust him off-leash, I put him on the long line, and practice sit-stays, sit at a distance, recalls, and just plain encourage him to walk near me.  Once he’s good and focused, he gets time dragging the leash.  It isn’t perfect.  For one thing, if he takes off quickly enough during ‘drag leash’ time, he can get out of leash-stomp range very easily (my leash isn’t too long… maybe 15 ft total?).  For another thing, re-knotting the leash into short-form requires a bit of focus/time.  But it’s working, and using the long line in short-form reminds me to take the time on walks to work on these things.

Wish me luck!

What’s up, Doc?

I was talking about dogs with my doctor the other day, possibly the least awkward conversation I could have with the woman who not only helped my mom give birth to me, but has seen me naked numerous times since then.

I started the conversation by asking whether someone with asthma could be allergy tested to determine if it is the cat or the dog of the house that is affecting their asthma.  As someone firmly in the dog-lover camp (she was a dachshund breeder for a number of years), she assured me it was almost guaranteed to be the cat, but that, yes, there are allergy tests for that.  The same tests, in fact, that confirmed that Doodle is somewhat allergic to dogs, very allergic to cats, extremely allergic to hamsters, and hazardously allergic to Yellow Jackets (the bee, not the fashion accessory – those, I found out in my last daytime-TV viewing session, are ‘in’ this season, in case you were wondering, and unlikely to cause Doodle to be asphyxiated), in a ‘carry around an epipen’ kind of way.

On a side-note, and with no further proof than that my doctor told me so, apparently darker coloured cats are higher in allergen.  This wasn’t a valid enough argument for me getting a fluffy white evil-mastermind cat, according to my parents.  I was going to name him Moriarty.

As we continued talking, I mentioned wishing that I could adopt a certain blonde dog, whose owners might possibly be considering getting rid of her, due to youngest child’s asthma.  Whether it’s actually the asthma that’s making them decide this, or the fact that it’s been two weeks since I’ve walked the poor thing due to ankle issues, and she might just be a whirling dervish by now, I don’t know.  More on that drama later.  It would, however, require me to get my own place in quite short order, since my parents aren’t interested in a second dog, let alone a first.

Blonde? Moi?

My doctor was a bit surprised.  Are you going to take Gwynn with you when you move out?

Well… yes.  He’s my dog.  (side note:  it is amazing how many times I’ve had that question asked of me… people seem genuinely surprised at the idea of the person who walks, feeds, grooms, takes to vet, pays for all aspects of doggy ownership, and vacuums up the mini-Gwynn tumbleweeds would be the one to keep the dog when she moves out.)

Your parents are really going to miss him.

This is when I found out that the last time my dad was in, he took advantage of using this least-awkward-conversation-topic, too.  He spent his last checkup showing the doctor pictures of a certain orange fluffy grandchild.

Added to the times I’ve approached the kitchen and stopped out of sight to listen to my Dad’s conversations with Gwynn (are you a good boy?  You are a good boy.  You get cheese!  Good boy!  Good dogs like you get cheese!  … or whatever food he happens to be chopping, if it’s dog-safe ), my dad’s rep as ‘not a dog person’ is pretty much toast.

Well, now we know who the favourite is.

a very old picture of 'the favourite'

It’s a Catastrophe!

When I first got him, he wasn’t like this.  Then again, for the first week of walks, he kept his head glued to the inside of my knee, the ultimate in walk-like-a-cowboy training.  But after that, when he came out of his paranoid-that-I’ll-leave-him shell, he wasn’t like this either.

I have a feeling that part of this is because we visited friends who have cats.  The kittens were intrigued by him that first visit, and I’m confident that, if we’d been there an entire day, they would have eventually let Gwynn sniff them, interacted a bit, and that would have been the end of the cat obsession.  Instead, what happened was that they got fairly close, Gwynn would get too excited and try to approach them, and they’d run away as fast as they could, while Gwynn remained within leash-radius of me.  We were there for less than 2 hours – he didn’t have time to learn polite cat-approach behaviour.

6 months later, we’re there again, only the kittens are cats now, and more skittish of him, because he just can’t calm down enough for them to get anywhere near them.

just... let me go! I MUST GO TO KITTY!!!

Now, his reaction to cats we see out of doors is ridiculous.  He goes apeshit, bananas, completely flips out.  He lunges with all his might at any cat he sees, wheezing and whimpering and crying and going up on his back legs, trying desperately to GET TO THE CAT.  Meanwhile, the cat (up to a block away from us) is frozen in fascinated terror, watching the bizarre antics of the giant slavering beast that is gyrating and crying at the end of his lead.

I don’t think I’d be willing to trust him near a cat, even a dog-friendly cat, right now.  There would need to be protective measures in place.  I believe that he isn’t in a hunter-prey type mode when he gets excited about them.  But he’s TOO excited about cats for me to trust him with them.  I think that’s how he’d act about dogs if it weren’t possible for him to ever meet dogs, just to smell them from a distance.  When he gets that excited about dogs, I wait for him to stop pulling, and then walk towards the dog, if it’s friendly.  I can’t do that with cats.

I’m pretty sure that if he could just meet a cat, spend a few minutes doing the sniff-sniff-ignore routine, that it would prove that he wants to be their friends, not eat them.  It would probably cure him of the excited-leaping-crying-mess reaction to cats.  But I’m not willing to risk a cat, based on my slightly biased opinion of my dog.  And I really, really want for him to be ok around cats.  And functional in the outside world when cats are near.

And the worst part is, if it were dogs he were reactive about, I COULD SOLVE IT.  Dogs are on-leash.  they are
visible, generally, coming down the street towards you.  I could use one of the many reactivity-solving techniques I’ve read about.

But how, exactly, do I ‘treat with a high-value treat starting from an unresponsive distance’ … from a cat… that I never see first.  It’s like playing Where’s Waldo.  But Waldo varies in size and colouring, can show up anywhere without warning, moves around, and likes to sit in the shrubbery.  And I don’t know anyone with a dog-friendly and leash-friendly cat, so that I could work on it with the cat and Gwynn on leash at a distance from each other.

If I carried hamburger or hotdogs or steak or a brick of cheese every walk, I’d still find myself too close to the cat
before I could start giving him treats.  They’re like Ninjas.  And once he’s seen them, even walking past as quickly as possible, he’s completely indifferent to treats and anything else for the next block or so, prancing and looking back at where he thinks the cat was, peering under cars and between houses nearby in hopes that the cat is following us in secret.  If I try waiting it out and just stand there, braced against the leash, he gets more and more worked up, barking frantically and lunging more and more against the leash.

So, I ask you – any ideas?  And which is better – continuing to walk like the cat isn’t at all interesting (and like having a berserker on the end of the leash is fine and normal), or waiting to see how long it will take for him to calm down while going berserk on the end of the leash (it hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve never fully waited it out.  Once he starts barking, I abandon the attempt and leave)?