A family History of Pets II

my aunt, and the dog before Mippy.  I suspect the conversation here would be, "Do you think we'll see santa?"... "santa?  I thought we were waiting for the butcher's truck!"

my aunt, and the dog before Mippy. I suspect the conversation here would be, “Do you think we’ll see santa?”… “santa? I thought we were waiting for the butcher’s truck!”

When my mom was very young, my grandfather got her a British bulldog with a pedigree and the papers to prove it.  His name was Mippy, and he was definitely not a bulldog.  I don’t think my grandfather had much experience in bulldogs.  I bet he thought their previous dog had been a ‘British bulldog’ too.  I never met him, but clearly he had a keen interest in knowing dog breeds.  They probably  guessed that he was a pit bull type dog when the police officer who came to their door jumped backwards off their porch and halfway across their lawn upon being met at the door by a small child restraining a loudly barking Mippy by the collar.

even in black and white - it's definitely the 'we got a dog!' pic

even in black and white – it’s definitely the ‘we got a dog!’ pic

In the rural south, at that time, you let your dog out in the morning and he roamed the fence-less neighbourhood in a pack of dogs until sometime around supper.  He had firm ideas of who he did and did not like, and he was very protective of the family.  Years and years later, my uncle found out that his friend, who Mippy wouldn’t allow into the house at all, had been in and out of prison for various assault charges since shortly after they’d lost touch in their teens.  Mippy seemed a bit fierce, but he loved his family just as fiercely, and, typical of a ‘nanny dog’ (an old term for pitties), kept the kids from playing too close to the street and kept watch over them.  He also trapped a would-be burglar by the hand in the door of their home for over two hours before the family returned home one time.  Looking at old pictures of my mom and Mippy, it is very clear that he was a lot more pit than brit… and that he was a wonderful family pet.

not to derail this post into an anti breed-specific-legislation post or anything like that... but you can tell those kids are in danger for their lives with that vicious animal at their feet, right?

not to derail this post into an anti breed-specific-legislation post or anything like that… but you can tell those kids are in danger for their lives with that vicious animal at their feet, right?

In a somewhat incomprehensible Easter tradition, my mother and aunt got goslings one year.  I don’t know if it’s still like that, but you could, at the time, give your kids chicks that had been dyed pink or blue as well, though thankfully theirs were not coloured.  Unlike most of the chicks given to children for Easter, theirs grew happily and healthily into adulthood, and eventually lived out their lives in the pond at a nearby park.  The family also raised and bred siamese cats, who, being southern, were adressed by the children as Miss May and Miss Lily, and Miss-whatever.  Because you don’t just address an adult by their first name, that would be impolite.

a few of the 'misses cat' and my mum

a few of the ‘misses cat’ and my mum

Growing up, my mother and her siblings always had cats, along with a variety of caught-lizards, frogs, chipmunks, and, very briefly, a snapping turtle that barely fit into the old bathtub they’d found for him.  That particular adoption of the wildlife ended when my grandmother demonstrated how easily the turtle could snap up an entire frozen sausage (aka finger).

Mippy and a kitten

Mippy and a kitten

My uncle got his scout badge for snake bite treatment when he had to actually treat my mother’s rattler bite.  She’s still got a scar on her knee from the teeth.  They all paid far too little attention to the seriousness of poisonous snakes in their barefoot romps through the bamboo swamp out back of their house, the one whose owner waded through the murky waters in hip-waders and used a shotgun to kill the Copperheads that lived there.  My mother is now terrified of all snakes.  We once found a tiny snake under one of our tents.  She became convinced (despite the tent’s being in Northern Ontario) that it was a copperhead.  A baby copperhead.  On the plus side, she let us catch it to bring to the nature center, and she never usually let us catch snakes.  We found out that Southern Ringneck Snakes are harmless and quite unusual to spot.

Moving to Canada, my mother’s family continued to breed Siamese cats.  When they went on a monthlong trip to Europe, they filled a massive trough in the basement with cat food and left the cat doors open. They came home to a mostly empty trough and the remains of a variety of small birds and rodents the cats had been supplementing their diet with.  Different times.

my mum and a calf.  She claims she never tipped any of the cows - she only watched as her cousins did so.

my mum and a calf. She claims she never tipped any of the cows – she only watched as her cousins did so.

My grandmother’s family has a farm in northern Manitoba, cattle.  Once they were up in Canada, my mother spent a number of her summers at the farm.  The family farm, as you’d expect, had a dog.  Hector.  As you might also imagine, there have been many farm dogs since the first dog to be acquired by the first farmer.  But still, Hector.



Also Hector... just a different one

Also Hector… just a different one.  My mom’s on the right, holding a cat.

Hector - though they usually do stick to border collies, so this guy (or gal... they didn't have an alternate girl name) was an exception to the usual rule

Hector – though they usually do stick to border collies, so this guy (or gal… they didn’t have an alternate girl name) was an exception to the usual rule

One of my favourite stories growing up was about my mother and aunt showing up at the farm for a funeral, the first time they’d been there in quite a few years.  No-one was home, so they found the hidden key, went in, and hung around until someone came home.  They didn’t think anything of this until a few days later when the present Hector wouldn’t let a person out of the car until a family member came out to greet them.  They still didn’t think anything of this until they found out that this wasn’t the Hector that had been around last time they were at the farm.  Hectors recognize family.

This grim couple are my a few greats-relatives.  And their little white fluffy dog.

This grim couple are my a few greats-relatives. And their little white fluffy dog.

When I hear stories of my mother’s childhood, I kind of imagine a cross between Indiana Jones, the early years, and Dr. Dolittle.

<— A Family History of Pets I ||| A Family History of Pets III —>

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:


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.

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?!!!

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'