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High Anxiety

I woke this morning around 5am and couldn’t catch my breath. To my left, Kerry, my husband, slept soundly and still. To my right, the plastic shoe box wiggled with three puppies, one of whom whined the warning, “almost time to eat.” It’s kind of them, I think, to wake slowly, giving me a chance to heat the bottles. I realize it’s rather fantastic to think they have a sense of courtesy, but I’m the one whose heart is racing in the groggy, pre-dawn hours, so I can think what I like.
Shuffling across the cold, white tile to the kitchen, I breathe slowly and deeply, dismissing the odd bit of panic to focus on the task at hand. Alfa, Bravo and Charlie only have so much patience and I have to teach in a couple of hours. Returning to bed, I snuggle each puppy individually and offer the warm mix of formula and pumpkin — feeding has become quick and sweet now the pups’ motor skills have improved.
So, why the panic? What nagging subconscious thought came bubbling to the surface to dispel my dreams?
The blog, of late, has been mostly about progress made, about fuzzy-love moments of puppy breath, ounces gained and wobbly steps taken. But it hasn’t been all sunshine these last few weeks. A storm has been brewing and I realize, after a handful of days where weather has forced us inside more than usual, that some changes need to be made. I am feeling a sharp and forceful measure of both rock and hard place.
If you’ve been following the blog, you know there are seven dogs in the house: Bailey, Mick, Duke, Mike, Alfa, Bravo and Charlie. Granted, the ABC’s are tiny and not at all under foot. Their total combined weight is less than half that of a “real” dog, as Kerry would describe it (he is of the strong opinion real dogs weigh more than eleven pounds – less than that is a rat). Bailey and Mick are the “home dogs,” while Duke and Mike are fosters – these four are all grown and well under foot — often.
It’s not the presence of the dogs, however, that presents a problem. It’s becoming an issue of chemistry. When Duke first arrived, he presented the greatest threat to Mick’s sense of home ownership. Mick had taken his time learning to share his space with us and with Bailey (who is more than double his size, but a fairly gentle and patient soul), and, though he wasn’t thrilled with Mike’s presence, he accepted it. Molly, of course, had been so ill she’d gone unnoticed. But Duke seemed to set off something in the Basenji — some trigger. Mick exploded into furious little tirades at the sight of Duke, occasionally waiting for the big dog to pass before lunging and striking his back haunches.
Duke was relatively tolerant at first and seemed almost confused at the angry attention being paid him. He was much more interested in the toys and food, both of which he was inclined to protect and hoard, a habit which we noted and have tried to discourage. Duke is very easy-going fella, playful and extremely smart. As Mick’s behavior became more pesky and intrusive, Duke avoided him unless attacked, at which point, he would slap the little dog down, sometimes giving him a nip. Bailey picked up on the tension, her herding instincts shifting into gear, and began “moving” Mick away from Duke, pushing him with her chest and shouting the odd warning growl. “Don’t make me pull this car over,” she seems to say.
That was the first month or so. Over the last few weeks, while Mick wants to mother the puppies, he has become increasingly aggressive toward all the other dogs, snapping even at Bailey. A few days ago, when I’d slipped away to the kitchen for a midnight puppy feeding, he got sideways with Duke in my bedroom — one of the only places besides the back yard that had an air of neutrality — and started a fight. Kerry stopped them, but not before Duke had put a rather large hole in Mick’s neck.
Since then, Mick grumbles around the house, working himself to fever pitch with even a peripheral glimpse of Duke. He has snapped at Mike, leaving a mark on his chest, and no longer backs down when Bailey intervenes. The two-legged family members are on edge, as well, and I worry that Lily will be bitten should she attempt to stop a quarrel. Mike and Duke are ready for adoption. I realize that will ease the current situation, but then what? Are my fostering days to end because of Mick’s territorial and intractable nature? Is it fair to consider adopting Mick out to someone who will understand him — not test his patience? I want to do what’s right, fair and best, but is it possible to accomplish all three?
“Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you are doing the impossible.” St. Francis of Assissi

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Another Day in the Dog House

Ah, where to begin . . .

It’s been a very busy week around the dog house. The puppies have grown SO much, their eyes are now open and they can no longer be trusted to stay in their nest. Alfa is tipping the scales at a hefty 264 grams and little Charlie’s not far behind at 260 grams. Bravo seems the steady gainer at 256 grams. As I said, all eyes are open – the milky baby blue that will likely turn to some shade of brown – and after hours of googling puppy pics, I can say the tinies look a bit like the “designer” dog Ratshire Chihuahua. Yes, there are people who breed and sell puppies that take the Rat Terrier/Yorkshire Terrier mix and add in a dash of Chihuahua. The dogs are adorable, but I am currently constructing a soap box from which to rant about the foolishness of such breedings. When I was a kid, there were pure breeds and mutts and you could find both at the local shelter. The same is true today.

Mick, our Basenji, still struggles to accept the presence of the two adult fosters, Mike and Duke, but shows an odd tenderness to the babies, issuing a warning growl to the other dogs when they draw too close at bottle feedings. The scrappy little fellow has picked fights with massive Duke, but gently cleans the little ones, enjoying the warm, sweet mix of milk and pumpkin that spills from the corners of their mouths (at some point, I’ll create a page on my neonatal experience, explaining the pumpkin, but suffice it to say, the pumpkin was a lifesaver).

Bailey and Duke show little interest in the puppies and, unfortunately, Mike is indiscriminate in his taste and I have to keep all the soiled bedding well out of reach. To switch gears a bit, however, Mike is showing loads of progress in his fearfulness. Though he seems to meet Dylan, my teenager, with new eyes every day, he has finally allowed Dylan to approach and will, on occasion, lick his hand and accept a scratch behind the ears. Duke is still the showboat. He will need a very smart owner. Last night, I gathered all the toys (which Duke loves to hoard) and placed them in a little lidded basket I keep by the back door for pet supplies. I’ve done it before, but not in his presence. I wanted them out of the way so I could vacuum. In a moment of distraction commonly described as ADHD, I began unloading the dishwasher and making a cup of tea rather than sticking to the task at hand. As I stood at the counter, cradling my warm mug and enjoying the waft of rooibos, fruit and vanilla spice, I spied Duke lurking in the shadow of the pool table. Slinking around a table leg, he craned his neck to the right to locate me and, apparently not realizing I can see, tip-toed Scooby Doo-style to the basket where he gently nosed the lid, discovering he could retrieve his toys. He made trip after trip to the basket, removing one toy at a time, hiding each under the pool table and finding, to his delight, a NEW toy, a plush I’d stored because Mike enjoys nothing more than disemboweling stuffies. Once again, I am astounded at Duke’s genius and determination. His problem-solving ability is such a pleasure to watch and I know I will miss his antics.

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Gallery II

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The Naming of Things

As an avid reader, a writer, a traveler and a bonafide Geek, I have always been intrigued by the naming of things. I ponder the various connections between the person, place or thing and its given name. How do they relate? After all, some of us sentimental humans can be downright prosaic when naming our children. Garth Brooks named his daughter “Taylor Maine” after James Taylor (a favorite of his  – and why not? Sweet Baby James is quite a force) and the state of Maine where she had been conceived. Kinda cool in this case, the same scenario may have been sad had she been conceived in, say Saskatoon – really fun to say, but perhaps challenging at best on the school yard.
And then there are street names or odonyms (seriously, there’s a name for street names and it’s probably an SAT favorite). Some areas are themed, while others could be named for a child of the folks who first owned the land where the street was first given signage. There are streets named by or for town legends, such as Flaming Lips Boulevard in Oklahoma City. I know I am not alone in my fascination because there’s a Wikipedia article about street names.
My point is, naming the dogs was a big deal to me. Kerry named Mike because he “looks like a Mike” and I had no argument for that – well, no appealing argument. But Mike stuck rather easily to the big-eyed, restless fella and soon he’s Big Mike and Mikey, as well. Perhaps the litmus of suitable naming is the comfortable application of nicknames.
Molly was equally easy once we got her home. When I’d first met her at the shelter, another volunteer and I had shared the same thought (an eery psychic moment): Penelope. I like that name, but it’s not conducive to dog training. Penny would have been sweet and short enough, but she’s a sleek black Border Collie and I thought of shiny copper penny, so no go. We have Bailey and Mick: fine, Irish-inspired names for our family dogs of Belgian and Congolese origin respectively. Molly fit the family tradition and, in Ireland, on our honeymoon, Kerry and I had been enticed to play fetch (with a rock!) by a gorgeous, whipsmart BC on the Island of Inisheer/Inis Oirr.
Where the politicking and staking of claims got intense was over the naming of Duke. He was Rex, Jake, Hondo, Othello, Butch, Buster, Mulder (sorry, Sara), Ace, Rocky, Spike and a handful of other names over the course of two days. I preferred Rex (an homage to my very first dog, King, a stunning Samoyed Husky), but Lily (the 8-year-old) and Kerry liked Duke. So, in my mind, Duke is John Wayne in The Quiet Man, a dog who doesn’t want to fight and just wants to go home.

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