Introducing Blue

Introducing Blue; our yellow Lab who has not missed one day’s walk since last November. The only day we didn’t take our regular route saw us tramping up a small text-book shaped mountain, 5 kilometres outside the city. The ascent took an hour and fifteen, and even though Blue was looking a little puffed, she cleared the summit, and even walked down the trail untethered–a first, since she normally runs off. Having said that, there was only one clear path down, and I don’t think she entertained the thought of running back uphill.

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Kanga & Shadow

Update: Both dogs are doing well. I’ve softened a little toward Shadow since I’ve discovered he’s a total, unmitigated coward. During Blue’s last period, we grabbed his attention. Bad timing for me; growing tired of being tailed and almost tripping over Blue’s suitors, I stamped my foot loudly in Shadow’s direction. He yelped as if physically struck, then whimpered off, tail flat against his belly. Kanga, the red-head, stole opportunities to eat some of my proffered biscuits during Shadow’s love quest; his attention had been raptly caught, and Kanga made lots of hay while that sun shone. He also acted as aggressor, chasing other dogs off so Shadow could have first dibs on Blue (which, incidentally, he never did since he was too timid). It’s fascinating what a longer telling of the story can help unfold. They really work as a team, these two. My initial reading of Kanga as abject victim has been rebooted.

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Over the next few posts, I’m going to introduce some of the dogs I meet daily. First, there’s Peggy. Of all the dogs I come across, Pegs is the only one who isn’t bothered about the biscuits. She’s after a quick massage (she’s often stiff from early-morning dampness), and some good old-fashioned time. And don’t think I’m under any delusions regarding my specialness as far as Pegs is concerned; I’ve seen her pimping the same sort of attention off most passersby who show any brand of interest.

We had an adventure with Peggy the other day. She has, it appears, hooked onto a family at the very rim of the city who might be trying to “get shot” of her. We found her wandering the streets about 2 kilometres from her “home”, and enticed her back to our place so that we could drive her back to her spot. Took quite a bit of coaxing to get her into the car, but once inside, and very much a-tremble from the novelty, we dropped her off. Without a backward glance (the movies can be very misleading) she shot off over the wall into the property she has adopted as home. It’s ingenious how she does it: first she springs onto the bonnet of an old wrecked car, then up onto its roof. Next, she’s perched on the column of a wall, then down in two bounds onto grass. Last I saw her was two days ago when she reversed this journey to greet me from the wreck’s roof. Yesterday and today, no sight, plus the owners of said property have blocked off some of her access to its garden. They’ve just had some building work done, maybe plan on some tenants, and Pegs might be a small hitch. I’m thinking that we returned a dog that got “lost” with some help. Tomorrow, hopefully, will prove me wrong, but the signs are not looking good. I’ll keep you posted.

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The Pack

On one of the walks last year, I met a small, tan stray, and named him Kangaroo (Kanga for short). I’ve mentioned him before: He was the jittery, springy/playful teeth-chatterer during Blue’s last heat cycle. Her waft drove him into a delirium of behaviour devoid of anything close to proud canine decorum; my guess is that it was his first encounter with the mood-altering drug called ‘lust’. I bumped into him from time to time after that, and he’d bound up the hill to prance and bounce around Blue, too jittery to get anywhere near her. He was fresh-faced, one of the naive newly-dumped. At some point over the Christmas holidays, Kanga teamed up with a black and tan Rottweiler mix, whom I quickly dubbed Shadow. Shadow is the alpha male in the two-some, a dark, brooding, self-possessed type, that jealously guards Kanga’s every move, and shuns human contact. It’s been disturbing to witness, over a matter of days, the character bleed out of a dog at hemorrhage speed, a dog that was inherently vivacious and social (despite its dire circumstances), but that is exactly what has happened to Kanga. When I take human emotion and anthropomorphism out of the picture, I understand that his chances of survival on the muddy slopes at the city’s edge have improved ten-fold since Shadow’s arrival, but the way he gets stalked and attacked by his “keeper” feels like plain bad kismet. I wonder why Kanga doesn’t split, but know, of course, his lack of ‘free will’ prevents it, his hard-wired instincts keep him bowed and loyal. That’s the reality of being a street dog; nothing romantic about notions like freedom in the urban wild. It’s a harsh daily struggle, and brutal pack-company tops being alone.

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“Everyone should have dogs, and walk a lot.”

In 1990, Audrey Hepburn was interviewed by Phil Donahue on his then-popular show. During that interview, and in response to an audience member’s question about how she looked so good, she said:

“…[I] walk my dogs. Lots of fresh air. Dogs keep you well. Everyone should have dogs, and walk a lot.”

She took good care of herself, she said, by getting ample sleep, and eating vast quantities of spaghetti. I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched that video, how simple her advice was: Eat carbohydrates for energy, use that energy to take dog and self for walk, sleep well on the fresh air and the exercise. It’s a cause and effect chain that makes so much sense because of its common-sense logic.

I used to spend 400 euros a year to be a member of a gym in my neighbourhood. The first thing that hit me on entering the gym was its vile smell. I don’t know at what frequency sweat molecules vibrate, but they can collide with the back of the nasal passage like a truck. Then there were the sounds from the serious lifters, the men whose arms were easily the circumference of a volleyball, and not too far off its shape. Now, here’s the thing: I would never lie under someone’s bed to be privy to their grunty sex, nor would I stand behind their shower curtain while they emptied their bowels, yet I let myself work out in the same space as both of these ear-assaulting noises, or their evil twin, at least. Last September, I quit the gym. It had nothing to do with the sounds/smells, and everything to do with the fee (which went up, despite the recession), and now that I’m following (albeit unwittingly) the Hepburn regime, the whole gym scene looks quite pitiful. So here’s the pudding test: If the gym offered me free membership, would I return? I believe I’d have to graciously decline, for the hour I spend with Blue in the air, under a sky (not picky about colour or precipitation levels) is more valuable. I can call up Billy Blanks on YouTube if I want some area fine-tuning. Billy can sweat, soaks through his clothing within minutes of exercising, but herein lies the beauty of the street and the Internet: I’m not forced to breathe any sweat-gland secretions.

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Procrastination is my name. Instead of sticking to the plan not to make the blog a task, thereby sustaining its rhythm in the thicket of a burgeoning programme, I have fallen off the wagon, and am making copious excuses not to write. I’m still walking Blue, have not had one day off since last November, so that resolution is in the swing. Time issues abound, of course, but there always seems to be the odd hour to snuffle for truffles on the Internet, so it’s a thinly-veiled, frankly shoddy excuse. Another thing about using procrastination as an alibi is that it’s akin to hiding behind your finger: not very successful (since the curvy bits will stick out), and one that you could live off very comfortably, while not writing. So, that explains the gap, a gap of rich sightings and ideas that have now gone down the shoot because they weren’t freshly recorded.

Blue has been exhibiting some strange behaviour these last two days, and I just cottoned on to its full meaning half way through today’s walk. Instead of pulling the lead taut in front of me, she’s been lurking around my heels. At first I thought she was tired. Some days, I feel less chipper than others. When I asked her, mentally-disturbed style, what she was up to, she kept giving me these squint-eyed, salacious, side-ways glances, that put me in mind of the artist’s impression of Big Bad Wolf in the Ladybird series. Then it occurred: I was being stalked. I stopped in front of her, and my suspicions were instantly proven. Her forelegs curled off the ground, ready to lock around my leg, but I thwarted the full-lock hump by stepping back and slapping her muzzle. It made me think of the power of hormones, the body’s tireless messengers that effect nigh on everything. The word hormone comes from the ancient Greek hormon, and means to set in motion, to urge on. Even though everything in Blue’s cowering, learned-behaviour mode was saying no, don’t do it, her hormone-driven side was full-throttle. She’s three months off being in heat again, so it may be that she’s entering a midlife phase. The formula is: 10.5 dog years per human year for the first 2 years, then 4 dog years per human year for each year after, which puts Blue at the equivalent of 40 human years.

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Bad Bones

Labradors are famous for their appetites. Somewhere along their development line, the “I’m full” gene got bred out of them, and Blue is no exception. About a week ago, she ate a bone that was lying by one of those communal bins I’ve written about. (It was probably a cat reject, with a good dusting of lime powder, to boot.) That night, she hacked and coughed like a veteran smoker, to the point where we considered taking her to the vet the next morning. When morning arrived, though, she seemed fine, eager as ever to head out on her walk. As a consequence of the above, I have been actively trying to steer her clear of cartilage and bone during our voltas, but her sense of smell always one-ups my sense of sight, and once in the mouth, there is no extracting the undesired (my word choice, not hers) object (with clearly no lesson learned from the last dodgy ingestion). I’ve been talking to her about “bad bones” and how non-compliance with the new no-bone rule will spell employment of the dreaded “muzzle” (a word that gives her the serious willies). Still the bones have been getting past customs, so last Tuesday, out came the muzzle. People stared, a child pointed, and Blue wore her sad eyes for heightened effect. Coupled with feeling like a cruel owner, I realized she couldn’t pant, and would overheat unless I conceded to remove the thing. Alright, you win, I said. But no more bad bones, or muzzle again, mu-zzle, I repeated, for effect. Big threat; fat chance.

It’s funny when you catch yourself on, as my aunt Bernie would say, talking to an animal, but some words definitely do get channeled. One term I know works well is among her favourites: Chewy stick, a pungent, fake-meat-smelling doggy snack. While we’re walking along companionably, Blue has an air of “I’m definitely not with her“. Witness yesterday. I decided to load up with a couple of the treats for some of the strays we greet en route. Then, in a flash, the idea of rewarding Blue for not eating any bad bones came to mind. When I said the words, she actually looked up–a first, and proof that she has been listening all this time, just not deeming to acknowledge. I was so taken with the power of the term that I used up a whole stick in the first kilometer. Then, another Labrador and Yorkshire Terrier, whose yard we pass, got the second. Everything was going well until the last part of the walk when Blue grabbed a child’s fist-sized knuckle of bone from a puddle of water. I’d totally missed it, and had no more chewy sticks to bribe it out of her mouth. First, I tried running; surely the exertion would make her spit it out. Nothing. It was locked in tight. Then I picked up some mandarin skin off the floor and squeezed some of its zest at her snout. Nothing. Okay, hard-ball time: I snapped off a small piece of hedge, and lied: Chewy stick. Blue dropped the knuckle, I popped the shaft of leaves into her expectant mouth, then kicked the gross gnarl of bone into the road. Ha! Got ya!

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