Friday, March 8, 2013

Doggy Bullies

Lately, poor Tess cannot seem to walk down the street or go to the dog park without someone's nasty little dog trying to take a bite out of her.  A couple of weeks ago it was two different dogs, two different times, both with blue heeler mixed in there somewhere. Tess does not like heelers.  She had a very bad experience with one I misguidedly adopted a couple years ago with the naive idea that "Hey, Tess would love a little sister!"

I tend to fall for the big brown eyes and floppy ears and wet nose a lot.  That's how I ended up with several of my ex-boyfriends.  Upon visiting the animal shelter a couple years ago I ended up adopting a thirty pound blue heeler/pit bull mix that was completely adorable and completely impossible.  I named her Harley.  After she tried to kill Tess (a fight she initiated and then lost badly) I named her "Out of Here."  There is nothing more frightening than witnessing one's baby with her throat between the jaws of an animals that one minute was fine and the next minute went into a psychotic frenzy for no reason.  The only reason I managed to loosen Harley's jaws from the throat of my beloved was because she loosened a bit in order to get a better grip and I managed to yank her away, a practice I would not recommend to rational people.  A red zone dog can very easily switch its attack from the dog between its teeth to your hands, but when one sees one's baby being so viciously bullied by another nasty brat, one goes into the red zone herself.  The next ten minutes I was sure the cops would show up, alerted by one or other of my neighbors as I sat on Harley's head telling her what exactly she could expect if she ever touched my baby again.

She never did touch Tess again, though after that first incident Tess wanted nothing more to do with her and acted like she didn't exist despite her efforts to engage Tess in play and "sisterly bonding."  She also taught Tess how to chase cows and nip heels, a practice which almost got Harley shot by one of my aforementioned exes.  Picking fights, stealing food, leading a normally "good kid" down the path of self-destruction...Harley was the proverbial school bully right down to starting the trouble and then pinning it on Tess.  Harley also did not get along with the other dogs at the dog park and she began picking on Percy too, so eventually she found her way back to the animal shelter.  As per Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, one should not take a dog's behavior personally.  After seeing Harley's jaws locked around Tess' throat, I was no longer able to not take it personally and there was no hope of Harley and I ever forming a bond.  I make no excuses for this.  It is what it is.  I returned her to the shelter where she was adopted by another family that was strictly told "No other dogs, no cats, and watch out for young children."  As heartless as it sounds, I'm just glad she's not my problem anymore.

For some reason when it comes to insecure aggressive dogs, Tess just becomes a target.  A couple of weeks ago at the dog park, poor Tess just wanted to lope around the enclosure and chase the cars through the fence, maybe play with a dog here, sniff a dog there.  She is an extremely well adjusted dog who gets along with all people, other well adjusted dogs, and cats.  I have never seen her get aggressive.  If she tries to make friends and the other dog wants none of it, she goes along her way, no worse for wear.  For some dogs, however, this is  not enough.  They need to dominate her as well and as their human counterparts, they do not like being ignored.  So as Tess was doing her thing, she had this small insecure creature with a Napoleon complex follow her everywhere, barking, and trying to block her path.  If she weaved around said dog, it would jump straight in her path, bark some more, and try to shove her with its shoulder.  Finally Tess turned and snarled, snapping her teeth at the dog and turned in another direction.  Her warning went unheeded as small and yappy ran right back up to her and this time tried to mount her.  It did not end well for small and yappy and even then it did not get the point.  This happened on two different occasions, with two different dogs that behaved in a similar way.  Where are the owners you ask?  Both the owners of these two dogs just said that it was fine if Tess taught their dogs "a lesson" as their dogs didn't get out and socialize much.  At least I wasn't dealing with angry dog owners but at the same time if your dog is being a nuisance, perhaps you should intervene.  The "lesson" clearly is not being taught.  And I have warned several dog owners if your dog gets up on Tess and tries to hump her I will not stop her from putting the dog in the ground.   Tess does not like being mounted or humped and she will not tolerate it.  The culprit usually ends up in the ground with Tess' teeth in its face, though she never makes contact and she never bites.

I figured such behavior happens at the dog park from time to time because there are a mess of dogs who are off lead, don't see each other very often, and are in a frenzy of excitement.  So of course tempers will flare and dominance will have to be established.  I didn't expect the same on a walk.  Saturday I was walking my dog down a rather busy street and suddenly this black lab launched itself from the bed of a pickup truck, taking me totally by surprise, and ran right up to Tess and tried to take a bite out of her hindquarters.  Tess snapped back and then tried to keep walking.  The dog attacked again and I stomped my boot and hollered at it.  It immediately backed up and cowered away from me, yet still continued to try to get at Tess.  When I hollered at it again it back up and we were already walking away.  Tess doesn't start fights but when engaged she will try to finish them as I was witness to when Harley decided it was a good idea to try to rip her throat out.  A black lab is more her size though and the last thing I wanted on my leisurely walk was to try to pull apart two dogs, one of which I didn't know and wasn't sure how it felt about attacking people.  I was pretty mad though.  Part of me wanted to call the police, give them the license plate number of the truck and the exact location, and tell them what transpired just out spite.  Once again I had the burning thought of "No one goes after MY baby like that!"  I decided to let it go though since the dog caused no real damage and at the most scared the living daylights out of the both of us.  It is dangerous, however, to leave one's unbound dog in the bed of a truck if it is prone to act this way.  For future safety's sake I probably should have called the police.  If it happens again, I will.

This was not the end of it, unfortunately.  Monday, I was walking Tess again, back from the dog park.  We were two blocks from home when a tiny brown rat terrier came barrelling into the street yapping and growling like a demon possessed.  The lady who was obviously its mistress yelled from the yard "Billy, come here!  Come here now!"  The dog, of course, paid her no attention, ran right up to Tess, and tried to take a bite out of her leg.  I yelled "Get!" at him and he backed up a little.  He finally turned and ran back to the house and the (ineffectively screaming) woman.  We continued.  A moment later, here he came again, barking, growling, throwing the biggest fit for such a small dog.  Tess looked at it like he was completely insane.  She didn't even snarl or growl back, just stared at him in amazement.  Once again I heard "Billy, get over here now!" and off he went.  Suddenly a third time, he was back, with the same tired act as if the first two times weren't enough to drive home his point.  I might have felt sorry for him if we hadn't been across the street, nowhere near his "territory" and he hadn't been such an ass towards my dog who was doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Tess is secure enough and big enough that she can handle the bullying.  As her parent, I have a little less tolerance for it as no parent likes to see their child get picked on.  Tess has plenty of other friends next door and at the dog park that are as happy and well adjusted as she is and she's not afraid to stand up for herself when challenged.  It does make for an interesting afternoon when a walk to the dog park turns into a warzone and the dog park itself turns into a schoolyard teeming with bullies.  For now I'll let Tess handle most of her squabbles but if she comes home with a black eye, I may have to start calling other parents.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Queen

My cat, Puckett, has this unnerving habit of sitting in plain view and staring at me with extremely large unblinking green eyes.  If you hold up a finger and move it back and forth she will continue to stare at your face.  Her expression will then take on something along the lines of "What on Earth are you doing, you ridiculous mortal?"  And the unblinking green stare will stay fixed on your face.  I played a game with her once where I would stare back.  Then look away.  Then look back at her and she would immediately snap her head back in the previous position and once again fix her eyeballs on me.  I rarely see her blink.  It's as if she's thinking as long as I'm looking at her she will stare back at me with an expression of either contempt or curiosity.  It is not a staring contest one would win.  She will only look away when you do.  She occasionally gets the other two cats involved.  Once I felt like that picture that circulates on Facebook - the one that depicts a staircase with three black cats perched at the top, their eyes glowing.  The caption reads "That awkward moment when you realize...You don't own any cats."

Puckett is a formidable twenty pounds of tabby and she will use her bulk to get what she wants.  She was named for the chef, Wolfgang Puck, apparently because he was the fattest chef the animal shelter staff could think of when naming her.  When I first found her at the animal shelter she raised such pity in me as to prompt me to volunteer fostering her - I didn't want to adopt another cat at the time because I felt like Tess, Percy, and I were happy as can be just the three of us.  We made a good trio.  Adding a fourth might cause an upset in the balance.  However, I couldn't just leave Puckett at the shelter.  She was so large she didn't fit in the cat bed she had tried to force herself into.  Tabby fur overflowed the sides of the cat bed and one tiny orange kitten was wedged up against her back, snuggled into her warmth.  Puckett's nose and eyes were runny and all her fur from the shoulders back had been shaved off.  The staff told me it was because she had been found under a bush full of mats and burrs.  A little paperwork, one interview with the "Volunteer Coordinator," and I took Puckett home where I stuck her in the guest room with a litterbox and food in order to keep her away from the other animals.

This lasted approximately four days.  By the middle of the week Puckett had had it with being locked up and began scratching the guest room bed (loudly enough that she could be heard throughout the house) and meowing her pitiful high pitched squeak at the door.  For fear of her destroying my house, I let her out.  She gave Percy a sniff and stalked off, uninterested.  He'd spent the last four days outside the guest room door, wild with curiosity about what was behind door number three.  Him I wasn't worried about, as Percy gets along with everything.  I was more apprehensive about the dog.  Many cats just have no experience with dogs and upon seeing such a large and overzealous creature as my Tess, they tend to panic.  I was expecting the customary fluffy tail, hissing, and baring of teeth.  Puckett marched up to Tess, gave her a sniff as well, rubbed her head under Tess' chin, and then went to investigate the community food bowl.  Clearly nothing fazed her, not even a dog she had never seen.  I especially love watching the dynamic between Puckett and Tess now.  Last night I was in the bathroom and I saw Tess come out of the bedroom.  Puckett was coming the other direction.  They stopped briefly.  Puckett rubbed her head under Tess' chin and Tess licked her ears.  Then both continued on their way.  It was such a simple and casual show of the bond these two have formed.

Puckett has thrived in a home setting.  I sometimes wonder if her little "act" at the shelter was just that - an act.  When I would pet her she would roll over and over in enthusiasm and drag herself across the floor by her front paws.  In the beginning I wasn't sure she walked.  She seemed to prefer rolling from place to place.  But her affectionate nature and her pitiful origins were not to overshadow her personality of complete confidence and authority.  She definitely rules the other animals.  They all defer to her, even Percy who fancies himself the master of the house.  If Puckett wants pet, she gets pet.  When she chirps for food, food gets poured in her bowl.  She MUST eat out of a tiny green ceramic bowl.  If the larger food bowl is full of food and the small ceramic bowl has nothing in it, she will not eat, but sit on the kitchen floor staring with her wide eyes and chirp her almost nonexistent meow.  The other two cats have tried to eat out of this bowl at mealtimes and she will sit next to them for a moment, watching, then take her paw and swat them across the ears.  Both will immediately move over to the next bowl.  If she wants to sit on the bed, only heaven and earth can move her off it.  I have tried to gently push her off the bed before in order to make room for my feet.  She digs in with her claws and will not budge.  Where a mere tap will send the other two cats jumping to the floor, Puckett will establish her spot and nothing will induce her to give it up.  The harder one pushes, the more she digs in her claws and plants her twenty pound mass in place.  I have tried to pick her up bodily before in order to place her on the floor.  This results in all four claws gripping the duvet, anchoring her to the bed.  On nights when the Cowboy comes over to stay, he will leave his jacket on the floor over the shoes so as to give Her Majesty a bed to sleep on.  The one night he failed to do this, she pooped in my shoe, as if it were my fault.  When I scolded her she gave me such a baleful look as if to say "Well, train that boyfriend of yours better, Missy!  I have the others under control!"

This morning I got up to shower and Puckett was sitting in the hallway outside my bedroom facing the doorway, her paws crossed delicately in front of her.  Willow was in her cage by the window.  Tess and Percy were in the bedroom with me.  The queen was patiently and quietly surveying her kingdom and waiting for everyone to arise so that she could once again subtly assert her authority and fool everyone into thinking they are choosing to follow her lead.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just Love Me!

My little black angel has been rather demanding lately. Percy - affectionately dubbed Sir Percival after the character in The Scarlet Pimpernel - has always been an extremely loving, affectionate cat to the point of annoyance when he wants your attention NOW. However, lately, it's just gotten ridiculous. The Cowboy gets up on weekday mornings at five and usually when his alarm goes off we wake up to a twelve pound black bundle cuddled up on his left side. Percy doesn't sleep by our feet the way the other cat, Puckett, will. He has to be wedged right up against the Cowboy's side, as close as is physically possible.

Then the fun begins.

The Cowboy has to maneuver and navigate himself up and over the cat in order to get out of bed without disturbing His Royal Highness. It wouldn't matter though. Even if one were to scoot right over Percy's head, nearly shaving off his ears, he wouldn't budge. As soon as the Cowboy is out of bed, Percy gets up and moves closer to me where the warmth still is. The other morning we found him burrowed under the covers with only his tail sticking out and his motor rumbling away. On weekend mornings, Percy will wake us up by 8:30 and start attacking our feet or other odd shaped lumps in the blankets and bat at our hands if we happen to push him away. This morning the Cowboy got up earlier than usual as he couldn't sleep and left to go to work. By the time I woke up around 7:30, Percy was still sprawled on the bed, curled up beside him and purring away. I got up to go take a shower. No sooner had I stepped into the shower when a black nose poked its way through the shower curtain.


I pulled the shower curtain back a little and there was Percy sitting on the toilet and glaring at me. "MEOW!" he screamed again. I flicked some water at him which caused him to jump from the toilet in a huff and went back to my shower. When I was finished, I stepped out of the tub and Percy was once again seated on the toilet. His green eyes glared at me with the most accusatory look and his sharp little canines were bared in all their glory as he once again opened his mouth wide and screeched his displeasure at me.

"What the hell is your problem?"


"Well, excuse me. Now get lost." I flicked some more water at him and he jumped down and tore out of the bathroom. I heard him barrel down the stairs to the kitchen. A moment later he barreled back up the stairs, down the hallway past the bathroom, and charged into the bedroom. I went into the bedroom to get dressed and started to make my bed. The Cowboy is the most ridiculous tumblebug so in the mornings my bed looks like a war zone. Blankets everywhere. One is half on the floor. The other one is draped off the other side of the bed. The third one is hanging off the bottom. Its a mess. I shoved all the blankets to the floor to start anew and Percy leaped up onto the bed with only its fitted sheet and began rolling around, making his little happy chirping noise. I picked up the flat sheet and snapped it into the air in order to lay it flat. Percy attacked it, dragged part of it down with his claws, and started to chew on it. I removed the sheet gently from him and straightened it. He attacked my hand. I picked him up and put him on the floor and finished smoothing the sheet. He jumped back up onto the bed and began batting at absolutely nothing on the sheet. I took the blanket and dropped it on the bed to lay it flat as well. Percy was now a Percy shaped lump underneath the blanket. Peaks of blanket started to move this way and that as he batted and pawed underneath. A tail poked out. I started to laugh. Then a head poked out and he looked at me from upside down. I pulled back the blanket and picked him up yet again to put him on the floor. He stayed on the floor long enough for me to straighten the blanket and then jumped up again and began rolling across the blanket. I have one of those plush blankets with a wolf splashed across the front so he must have felt like he was rubbing against a stuffed animal. Finally, as I shook my duvet out over the bed, he reached up with one mitten and swiped at the duvet's coverlet, catching a claw in an already existing tear, and got hung up.

That's what acting silly gets you.

I dropped the duvet on top of him and left the room as the lump that was Percy tried to figure out who turned out the lights. He beat me downstairs to the kitchen anyway where he proceeded to sit with annoyance by the place where his food bowl usually sits. I had put it up on the counter the night before to keep Tess from Hoovering it, which she is wont to do when I turn my back. I filled the bowl and placed it on the floor where he and Puckett proceeded to pig out. I once again got the green eyed glare when I started to put my boots and coat on to go to work. I picked Percy up and got a huge snuggle right under the chin.

Oh, I apologize, precious center of my universe. I didn't realize that all you wanted was for me to cuddle you from the moment I got up. This will be remedied in the future I am quite certain.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It's Raining Cats and Dogs

Tess, my German shepherd, was an only child for about six months after she came to live with me.  For the first four months she did share her space with my three-legged "torby" cat, Micky, but Micky was old, sick, and obese, and one day she passed on.  I wasn't ready for another cat right away, but when I was finally ready to add a buddy for Tess, I ended up with something not quite a cat, but not really anything else either.

My boyfriend, the Cowboy, likes to joke that my house should host a reality show.  As I have no serious work drama, friend drama, family drama, or boyfriend drama (he hopes), my drama lies among my furry four-legged companions.  I currently have three cats and Tess, and all four of them are neurotic and codependent to the nth degree.  I have had pets before.  I grew up with pets.  As a teenager, I worked at the Humane Society and at one point my family owned two dogs, three cats, two ferrets, and a pony.  They were all simultaneously wonderful and irritating in their own way, but I have never owned animals like the ones I have now.  They are something else.  People that come over including my boyfriend say the same thing.  The Cowboy often tells me (and often tells others when it comes up in conversation) "I have never seen animals like yours.  They are so different from any other pets I've ever encountered."

Tess is one thing.  She, like all dogs, believes she is human.  Percy, my black male cat, believes he is above human, like most cats.  But he also has split personalities, I think.  Sometimes he thinks he's a dog (which could have come from his living with Tess for a year and never seeing another cat), sometimes he thinks he's a cat, and sometimes he thinks he's an elephant and behaves accordingly as he gallops through the house on feet that were never designed to make so much noise.  Most of the time he believes he is the sun and that all things grow and bask in his awesomeness.

Percy arrived exactly a year after Tess and from the very beginning he had an attitude that was larger than life.  They tell you at the animal shelter where I adopted him that you don't choose your pet, they choose you.  Percy and I chose each other.  Upon entering the animal shelter at this point in my life I decided that I was definitely getting a black cat this time.  I had wanted one since I was a teenager.  I always got sidetracked by other more needy kitties (or bewitching ones in the case of my beloved, late Mindi, a blue point Himalayan with personality to spare) so my dream never came true.  This time, however, the black would prevail.  I entered the cat room and was immediately attacked by an adorable tabby who would not stop winding around my legs and trying to jump on my shoulders.  I carried some around, cuddled others, bent down to pet more and then my eye was caught by a black lump on a cat bed.  The black lump did not stir, did not even raise its head at the entrance of a potential new friend, and I decided to go check it out, hoping that not only was the lump all black, it was also female, as that was another of my criteria.  I reached over to touch the head of the black lump and it immediately sprung to its feet, rumbled in its throat and began rubbing on my hand with its beautiful black head, purring all the while.  I checked the collar and name tag - name was "Bo."  A male, the shelter staff told me, about two years old, who had been picked up just wandering down Fifth Street, one of the busiest streets in town.  Once I had his attention he would not leave me alone.  I picked him up and he snuggled so hard under my chin I thought I might get whiplash.  No doubt about it, this was the one I was taking home.  My only concern then was how well he got along with dogs.  The staff had no idea, had never seen him with a dog.  No worries, he seemed friendly enough.  When I got him home and let him out of his little box, Tess' nose all over the place as she tried to figure out what I'd brought home for her, he immediately walked up to Tess, sniffed her, and flopped on his side.  He rolled over, allowed her to sniff him all over, and purred loudly and contentedly.  From that day on he and Tess were inseparable.  They ate together, shared each other's food dishes, slept together, and played together.  They didn't play normally either.  Tess would "mouth wrestle" with Percy, where she used her muzzle to encourage him to attack her with his paws and he would literally launch himself at her, paws spread, ears back, and clamp her around the neck then proceed to ride her like a bull.  She loved it.  He loved it.  They never hurt each other though.  Tess' teeth are formidable, long white canines that could easily inflict damage, with the capability of the typical "German shepherd bite" at 750 pounds per square inch pressure.  But she was very gentle.  And Percy has these tiny mitts with ridiculously long, sharp claws that no amount of clipping keeps under control.  My favorite feature of his besides his large green eyes are his canines which hang from the roof of his mouth and extend past his bottom lip giving him the appearance of a tiny black sabertooth tiger.  I call him my little vampire kitty knowing full well that if he had about 20 extra pounds on him he would try to have ME for dinner regardless of how lovable he is.

Unfortunately Percy and Tess' dynamic has changed a little with the arrival of two more cats, tuning Percy into the fact that he may be more like these two new strange creatures instead of the one he's been sharing a bed and food bowl with for a year.  They are still best friends, but the two other cats definitely throw some drama and color into the living arrangements, and as with all siblings, there are squabbles, rivalry, and the competition of each of the four's certainty that he or she is the center of the universe.

Alert the observatory. 

But more on that later.