Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pooch Profile: Meet Bailey

Name: Bailey

Owner: Scott

Nicknames: Biggie

Age: 3

Breed(s): Rottweiler (Scott says, "But don't let that scare you.")

How Scott Found Her: "An exhausted puppy wandered up to a City of Austin swimming pool on a hot June day and collapsed by the pool. A girl working there as a lifeguard took her home. When her boyfriend's adult Doberman kept picking on the sickly puppy, the girl took her to her parents' house, which happens to be on my street. From there, Bailey got out one rainy night and followed me and Bandit home."

BDPFs (Best Dog Park Friends): Maggie ("her little sister and annoying sidekick"), Muzzy, Wilson, Frankie (Bailey is the largest member of the "Black and Tan Club" composed of Bailey, Muzzy, Wilson, and Frankie—three of whom are shown to the left; from left: Wilson, Muzzy, Bailey—I think. When they start running together, none of their owners can tell which dog is which.)

Mortal Enemies: Mail carriers, squirrels, cats

Loveliest Features: Scott says, her "perfect markings; slender figure; and a long, undocked tail atypical for a Rottweiler" (Zia adds that because of her size and breed, people freak when they see Bailey coming, but she is one of the sweetest dogs at the Park.)

Favorite Treat: Dried chicken breast pieces

Signature Moves: Flopping over on her back at the slightest provocation to invite a chest/belly rub (Zia notes: This move is suitable for WWF, complete with rib-crunching thud on impact. Another memorable move is one I call "the T-Rex," from the movie Jurassic Park. Bailey waits while Muzzy and Maggie are too distracted wrestling each other [like the velociraptors]; then she swoops in and takes out both of them. Pow!) 


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Literary Dog

I have never been a great fan of stories about dogs. The storylines inevitably involve a dog's endangerment or death, which makes me cry copious tears. I was traumatized by Sounder in the seventh grade. All I remember is the image of the kid sleeping with a leathery fragment of a dog's ear under his pillow. Years later, I tried The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst, about a linguist who teaches his Rhodesian Ridgeback to speak so that she can tell him how his wife died. I finished reading it, but I don't remember anything after the dog disappears under mysterious circumstances. So stressful! So forget about Marlee and Me.

Exceptions include Gary Paulsen's Wood-Song, a nonfiction account of Paulsen's experience raising and training sled dogs in Minnesota. I found his descriptions of his dogs' personalities and their impact on his life to be moving. The book is considered young adult material, but the writing is engaging, almost Hemingway-esque. Jack London's Call of the Wild is another exception—all of his dog stories are. Even though there is dog endangerment, London gets inside his dog characters' minds, treating them with much more respect than he does his human characters, making the stories worth the stress. 

With all that in mind, I thought it might be fun to regularly share excerpts from stories, novels, poems, and nonfiction that describe or involve dogs. This scene from Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd stopped me cold when I read the novel for the first time a couple of summers ago. The unnamed character is a poor servant girl (pregnant, but readers don't know that yet) who has walked miles in search of her lover, a rakish soldier who has abandoned her. She has fallen at the roadside from exhaustion. 

She became conscious of something touching her hand; it was softness and it was warmth. She opened her eyes, and the substance touched her face. A dog was licking her cheek. 
He was a huge, heavy, and quiet creature, standing darkly against the low horizon, and at least two feet higher than the present position of her eyes. Whether Newfoundland, mastiff, bloodhound, or what not, it was impossible to say. He seemed to be of too strange and mysterious a nature to belong to any variety among those of popular nomenclature. Being thus assignable to no breed, he was the ideal embodiment of canine greatness—a generalization from what was common to all. Night, in its sad, solemn, and benevolent aspect, apart from its stealthy and cruel side, was personified in this form. Darkness endows the small and ordinary ones among mankind with poetical power, and even the suffering woman threw her idea into the figure.
In her reclining position, she looked up to him just as in earlier times she had, when standing, looked up to a man. The animal, who was as homeless as she, respectfully withdrew a step or two when the woman moved, and, seeing that she did not repulse him, he licked her hand again. 
A thought moved through her like lightning. "Perhaps I can make use of him—I might do it then!"
She pointed in the direction of Casterbridge, and the dog seemed to misunderstand: he trotted on. Then, finding she could not follow, he came back and whined.
The ultimate and saddest singularity of woman's effort and invention was reached when, with a quickened breathing, she rose to a stooping posture, and, resting her two little arms upon the shoulders of the dog, leant firmly thereon, and murmured stimulating words. . . . Her friend moved forward slowly, and she with small mincing steps moved forward beside him, half her weight being thrown upon the animal. . . . The dog, who now thoroughly understood her desire and her incapacity, was frantic in his distress on these occasions; he would tug at her dress and run forward. She always called him back and it was now to be observed that the woman listened for human sounds only to avoid them. It was evident that she had an object in keeping her presence on the road and her forlorn state unknown.
Their progress was necessarily very slow. . . .   [The dog and the woman crawl through the town and reach a building on its outskirts.] 
It was getting on towards six o'clock, and sounds of movement were to be heard inside the building which was the haven of rest to the wearied soul. A little door by the large one was opened, and a man appeared inside. He discerned the panting heap of clothes, went back for a light, and came again. He entered a second time, and returned with two women.
These lifted the prostrate figure and assisted her in through the doorway. The man then closed the door. 
"How did she get here?" said one of the women.
"The Lord knows," said the other.
"There is a dog outside," murmured the overcome traveller. "Where is he gone? He helped me."
"I stoned him away," said the man.
The little procession then moved forward—the man in front bearing the light, the two bony women next, supporting between them the small and supple one. Thus they entered the house and disappeared.

As in most Victorian literature, the dog is the noblest creature in the book. That part about the man throwing stones at the dog nearly killed me. So sad! 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Dog by Any Other Name

Dog Park at "rush hour"

I almost never forget a dog or its name. People, however, are a little more troublesome. I'll have to ask at least several before I get a human name set in my internal hard drive. After the third time, I am too embarrassed to ask the actual person, so I ask around: "What's Poochie's owner's name again?" 

I love the variety of names of the dogs at Dog Park, so I started making a list. You will see themes--little-old-lady names, food and drink names, place names, tough-guy names. (Yo, Tony! Funny, I've never met a dog named Todd--though I once knew a cat with that name.) Here is what I've come up with so far, in alphabetical order:

Abby or Abbie
Charley or Charlie
Coco or Cocoa
Kerby or Kirby
Little Dog
Mattie or Maddie 
Maya or Maia
Naya (spelling?)
Nikko (spelling?)
Niso (spelling?)
Sidda Lee
Sidney or Sydney

I am certain that I have forgotten somebody. Please let me know! --zia

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Condo Conundrum

Across the street from Dog Park is the site of an enormous condominium complex under construction. I was out of town for only a week, but the building is progressing rapidly. We Dog Parkers have been trying to gauge the effect that the condos, once opened, will have on our little community, and we are not optimistic.

The view of the condo project from Dog Park

Before the condos, there were two little apartment complexes on the site, filled mostly with college students and the recently divorced, folks who needed a cheap, convenient place to live. A handful of those folks had dogs and were Dog Park regulars. I hate to fall into that trap that long-term Austinites often do of reminiscing about how things were better back when; but the folks who lived in those apartments were usually interesting, and they understood what a great resource Dog Park was. (I, too, once lived across the street from Dog Park, though not in those apartments. Dog Park is one of the reasons I chose to buy a house just half a mile north.) 

In talking to people about the condos, I discover two distinct fears—one is that the people who move into those expensive condos will not be the kind of people we want at Dog Park, and the other is that in a complex as huge as this new one, we will be overrun by hundreds of new people and their animals. This fear of new people is old news at Dog Park. When I first started coming to DP, I was often asked how I found out about it, as if it it were an exclusive restaurant. I never felt unwanted, but I heard talk that some of the more established Dog Parkers were upset by the introduction of new people and animals and wanted to somehow limit or screen new attendees. 

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, Dog Park is an organic, free-flowing community. Like a river, it is never the same park twice. People and dogs come and go as they wish. To suggest that there ought to be a gate on our community offends me, even as I cross my fingers in hope that any new people from the condominiums are "like us"—smart, responsible dog owners who pick up poop and make sure their dogs behave. We like to think of ourselves as a liberal-minded group, not only or strictly in the political sense, but in the sense that we all know that we need to get along. Minor differences of opinion and dog-owning practices we can deal with through dialogue and, when that does not work, snubbing. (Dog Park is like high school, remember?) 

To enforce dog park rules is impossible because we don't officially have any. We are not an official park. Yet there are surprisingly few disputes or troubles at DP because most of us respect three unspoken principles: 
1) Pick up the poop. 
2) Keep an eye on your dog at all times. (Cell phone users, you are not as attentive as  you think!) 
3) Leash up or leave if your dog is a biter, a serious trouble-maker, or a runner. 

So, I guess the question is, if we current Parkers figured out these basic principles, why won't the new arrivals from the condos do so, too—especially when the DP is already full of old-school Parkers like ourselves to set them straight? Please let me know what you think, Fellow Parkers. More on this later. . . --zia

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Muzzy Hearts Tony

This is Tony. Isn't he dreamy? Isn't this the face of a creature that you would bust out into a full-speed run across Dog Park just to lick his face? That's what my Muzzy does. I only have to say the magic syllables "Toe-Nee," and her ears perk up and she does that wiggle-waggle dance. Sigh. They call it puppy love. Of course, just as in the human world, Muzzy's feelings are unrequited. Tony thinks Muzzy is okay, I guess, but jeez, she's so young and obnoxious and kind of a dork. Tony likes smaller, fuzzier dogs, also boys. And so it goes. Believe me, I hear you, sister.

"Do dogs have feelings?" ask the uninitiated. The answer is so obvious to us dog people. Duh. Just watch their little faces and see yearning, delight, annoyance, frustration, concentration, jealousy, celebration, worry, and adoration pass over them like clouds on a windy day. They are sentient beings  at once so logical ("It is gross; ergo I must roll in it, then eat it.") and maddeningly irrational ("I hate baths; however I do enjoy a good soak in filthy ditch water.") They are not so different from 4-year-old children, just better behaved and quieter. So of course they have sudden and deep feelings—both love and aversion—for us humans and for other dogs. 

Muzzy is a perfect case in point. She loves Tony but loathes a Basenji named Teddy. Why? Who knows. He just gets to her.  She also gets tough with Dog Park newbies. (So embarrassing. "Welcome to the Park. Sorry my dog is such a bitch.") Yet, when our neighbor's dog, Sophie, tries to tear Muzzy a new one, she looks at me with an expression that says, "What did I ever do to her?" And when Paco, the three-legged dog, comes looking for a Muzzy-flavored chew toy, Muzz heads for the car. She's obviously not stupid, just not in control of her emotions or her vibe. And hooray for her. I wish I could be as at ease with my own dorkiness and unrequited passions. Perhaps with enough study at the paws of the Muzz master, I will. What is the sound of one tail wagging? 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Does This Collar Make My Tail Look Big?

Ah, it's spring. And talk at the Dog Park is of bluebonnets and pollen counts and how long we can hold out before we turn on the air conditioners in our homes. Then there is a pause and inevitably someone mentions that bathing suit season is approaching (which, as you know, in Austin, is about nine months long). Another pause follows. As I've mentioned in previous posts, most of the Dog Parkers I hang with are women—smart, independent, capable, and, let's be honest, seasoned women—but of course we all have body issues, and so we are grateful when this particular conversational thread is clipped short by a dog throwing up grass or dropping a disgusting, drool-sodden tennis ball at our feet. 

After one such conversation recently, it occurred to me that one of the many wonderful things about dogs is that they simply don't care what they look like. They just roll with it (or in it). Unlike cats, dogs don't groom themselves in any organized or effective way. And unlike us primates, they don't even recognize themselves in a mirror. (Surely I'm not the only owner whose dog has barked in alarm at her own reflection in the dishwasher door. Or am I mistaken? Is it her way of saying, "Holy crap! Look at how big my tail is? She makes me wear that collar, with my fur color? I'm a freaking disaster!") Are they naturally self-confident? I spend many idle moments every day telling my girls how beautiful they are. (And smart! I don't want them to think that I value them for beauty alone--what kind of mother would I be—so of course I mention their intelligence and sense of humor, also their unfailing appetites and squirrel-spotting capabilities.)  But really the boost is all for my own benefit. 

Is self-confidence even the right word? Surely it's simply the lack of self-awareness shared by most smaller brained mammals (which includes my ex-husband, to be sure). But a quick check of the dictionary makes me think that it is. Confidence comes from word parts that mean "with trust." Trust is what dogs do--sometimes at their peril. They trust in us, and they trust themselves. They wake up every morning with nothing else to do except follow their instincts. Hungry? Thirsty? Find the food and water bowls. Tired? Take a nap. Need some excitement? Trace the scent of a possum along the fence. Or bark at the neighbor's yard guy. Dogs spend their whole lives in problem-solution mode. How they look while doing it doesn't even enter the picture. They just get stuff done. Which, of course, is a point I try to remind myself of every morning—especially on bad hair days, during PMS, on days where my nose is pink from allergies or my back and ass muscles hurt so much that I can't stand up straight. That is, just put on your game face, walk out the door, and do what you need to do. 

So, ladies of Dog Park, I implore you to remember this simple dog-tested lesson: Trust your instincts and forget about bathing suits. Chase those squirrels. Hunt down those treats. Bark at the mailman. Make that @#$%ing chew toy squeak for its very life. Then, go take a nap. You deserve it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Break: Oklahoma Style

I think we can add these bad boys to Muzzy's list of mortal enemies. The interesting thing was that she didn't even notice them until they moved or mooed. Then she charged and barked at them like an idiot. She had no concept that each of these beasts weighs as much as a car and could squish her like a bug—not to mention that they were the source of the patties that she found so delish. These enormous animals are amazingly stealthy. They could vanish in an instant and suddenly appear on the other side of the field--without anyone seeing or hearing them move. 

Here's our Roma grazing in a field of young wheat. As you can see, our Dog Park seems puny in comparison. 

Here is Muzzy at the edge of a field of clover. Behind her is the creek, the source of those pesky ticks. I have yet to find a tick on either of the dogs. I put their flea & tick prevention stuff on them before our trip, just by chance. 

That stuff really works. I wish I had had some for myself.  Instead, I found myself jumping around like a marionette in a little tea shop in town after discovering ticks crawling up my neck and pant leg. Sorry, there is no photographic evidence of the ticks. Imagine lentils with legs.

The girls and Gracie, age 4, are heading down the driveway to check the mail and also the squished rabbit. A lot things can get squished on a ranch, but we managed to remain intact on this trip, thanks in great part to well made fences.

This visit to Oklahoma was Roma's first road trip in almost seven years—since I moved back to Texas in 2002. I really thought that at 13 she would have trouble with the long hours in the car and the unfamiliar surroundings. As you can see, I was wrong. The Old Girl had a great time.