Monday, January 25, 2016

Doggy Dates

I am a complete and utter love failure.   I own that.

To date I can still claim my dog, Tess - The Contessa -  as my longest most successful relationship, and just like any successful couple, we require occasional dates to restrengthen our bond and not kill each other for being cooped up in a house together with three cats.  My married friends tell me about the importance of date nights to keep their love with their husbands alive, and I don't believe that one's animal relationships are any less important. At any rate, Tess' love language is quality time so if I want to keep her happy then she requires time alone with me.

Although as soon as she sees another dog or even another human, I no longer exist in her world. Infidelity runs rampant with my dog.

Saturday mornings are our dates.  Since my last good date was three weeks ago, and my last truly awesome date with an amazing guy was last August (I love my dog, but even she can't replace the feeling of snuggling with a cutie at a fancy restaurant over a glass of wine), my idea of a great date is either a dog date with Tess, or an Artist Date (from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way).

With the snow, I've just been letting Tess run off leash throughout my neighborhood.  We go along the river, sometimes to the dog park, and then back to the park on the other side of my neighborhood where the playground is.  Dogs off leash in the park are technically against the law, but Tess sticks pretty close to me, being most concerned with sniffing every pile of unpicked dog poo (which should also be against the law) and tinkling on every rock, tree trunk, and scrub of grass because she seems to think she is male.

We usually finish up our walk in the park at the playground where I sit on the swings and act like I'm five years old, and Tess tries to attack me each time I swing by her.  It's become a bit of a dance.  She prances all around the playground, never straying far; I swing, she notices it, and comes barreling towards me at top speed.  If she can jump on me and knock me out of the swing then she wins.  If I manage to stop myself before she knocks me over, I win.  It's kind of fun (even if I do end up in the sawdust) until Tess gets overexcited and starts using her teeth.  She's never broken my skin, but she did leave a pretty good-sized welt on the Cowboy once when he teased her on the swings.

I have to be careful with that.  I don't want Tess to associate swinging with ripping someone's limb off.  Children swing for God's sake.

My dates with Tess have pretty much everything a date should have.  Walks in the park, behaving like children playing on the swings in the playground, and food as she always gets her lunch when we get home, and I stuff myself as well.  Stomping around in the snow and swinging is hard, calorie-burning work after all!  If we go later in the day and get home around five or six, then I even have a glass of wine.  And of course doggy kisses are a must.  Sometimes we even dance.  I like to rock out while making dinner, (best new song ever:  Chase Bryant's Little Bit of You) and Tess loves to dance with me.  If we ever get organized we could probably put on a fairly decent performance and do an act for Vaudeville.

This last Sunday we even almost got busted by the cops, and if Keith Urban is to be believed, a good date always ends with a run-in with the cops.  We were playing on the swings, Tess running around loose, and I noticed over on the town's busiest street beside the park, two cop cars stopped, lights flashing.  They were arresting someone, so I wasn't too worried, but you know how cops are.  They have their quotas after all.  They get in the mood to bust people for doing things they shouldn't, and they just can't seem to stop.  If the cops had glanced our way at all they probably could tell that I was sitting on the swings letting my dog run all over the park with no regard for the feelings of others (the park was completely empty). If they did notice and found themselves in an uncharitable mood, they could easily swing by and give me a ticket once they were done with their arrest.  I kept snapping the leash on Tess every time a cop car pulled off and another one showed up (in the end, at least three had gotten involved), until I finally decided that the boys in blue had plenty to do so that they probably weren't too concerned about one well-behaved German shepherd having the time of her life.

Yes, paranoia is the way of my life.

Still, once all three cop cars finally peeled off, I decided it might be better to go home and have lunch. They could show up at the park any moment if they were in the busting mood.  After all, there have been at least two other times the cops almost caught me skipping down the street with my dog trotting brazenly along beside me, no leash to keep her under control.  The last time, the officer cleverly took a side street after passing me once, but I'd already snapped the leash to Tess' collar and he could prove nothing.  He didn't stop anyway.

I swear, running around with a loose dog is worse than buzzed driving in this town.  There are cops around every corner just waiting to give you a ticket.

Again, I'm sure our finest have more important things to worry about than one well-behaved German shepherd, and really they are probably just jealous that the gorgeous creature belongs to me and not their K9 unit.  I know I would be jealous if I saw Tess with someone else.  I gawk at other people's shepherds all the time, but I always maintain, in the end, that Tess is the most beautiful of them all.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

I'm such a lawbreaker, really.  I've been known to steam a stamp off an envelope and use it again.  I dated a drug dealer, for crying out loud.  I'm crazy like that.

Okay, so, really, I'm actually so diligent about picking up my dog's poop on our walks, I even pick up other dogs' poop.  I'm developing a thing for that damn boy scout, Captain America, because he tells people to watch their language.  Let's face it, I don't like bad boys, I like super dorks.

Hey, August, if you're reading this, I'm still single...

Anyway, at least Tess can say dates with me are super exciting. Walks, food, dancing, and even a brush with the cops.  We are having some fun now.

Add in an awesome playlist (I think it's safe to say that people this last Sunday probably thought I was nuts if they saw me walking along, rocking out to my playlist - I was lip syncing and everything), and I have to say the date was more fun than the one I had last August with that last truly amazing guy I had the pleasure of dating.  Yes, he was a super dork, but super cute.  He was a total doll, but Tess is my true love.

I guess The Contessa really is the best date.  No wonder she has become my longest, most successful relationship.  I have more fun on a walk with my dog than I do going out with most people.

Should I be worried about this?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Snow Days

Snow days are supposed to be days when I get to catch up on projects and work. I've had a three-day weekend because of the holiday.  It was frigid Saturday, snowed all day Sunday, and then remained frigid, snowy,and gloomy on Monday.  Three days off, projects to work on, no need to leave the house.

At least that's what I thought.

My cats always blame nasty weather on me.  Whenever the barometric pressure does something ridiculous, the cats either race through the house like a herd of buffalo, or else they find the nearest blanket to snuggle under with paws glued firmly over their faces. They punctuate this behavior with dirty looks thrown my way as if I purposely called Jack Frost and told him to make sure to dump three feet of snow on my house.

Percy is a buffalo.  Puckett is a nester.  And Willow starts the morning off as a buffalo and then morphs into a nester.  Usually by the middle of the afternoon on a nasty day she can be found either on my bed or on the dog's bed, half her normal size - that's how tightly she curls herself - with all four paws somehow jammed into her eyeballs and her tail wrapped around the whole ensemble.

Tess just gets unbearably demanding.  She loves the snow, but she does not like to love the snow alone.  I usually put her outside to tear channels through the newly piled snow in the backyard, but instead she either sits on the porch gazing mournfully into the house, or else she disappears into her doghouse.  If I let her in, she sits by the door and looks mournfully out at the backyard.  On my days off I usually take her for a run or walk through the snow, but she doesn't understand or else she doesn't want to understand that this can't happen the absolute minute I get out of bed and my feet touch the floor.  If she has to wait a couple of hours she paces around the house, whining, sighing, staring at the wall, like her best friend has just died.  This is ridiculous since Puckett, the aforementioned best friend who clearly has not died, likes to add insult to injury by following her around, purring, and running her tail under Tess' nose.

At the moment I have just moved Tess outside because she was lying on the kitchen floor grumbling, whining, and making all kinds of irritated, frustrated noises because I'm sitting here working rather than running her outside.  Now she is howling on the porch.  She NEVER does this, by the way.  In the entire time I've had her, I have never heard her howl.

The drama.

I did manage to get a lot of work done on my classes on Saturday after I walked Her Highness the Contessa (and believe me, the walk was not nearly long enough in her mind despite the fact I about froze my ass off).

Sunday I decided shoveling the driveway and walkway of the foot of snow that graced us with its presence was a necessary activity if I was to make it to work, or at least to the grocery store sometime in the next week.  Tess loves nothing more than to get in the way when I shovel.  Her idea of helping involved chasing the shovel, grabbing the handle with her teeth while I swung shovelfuls over to side of the driveway, and growling at the snow like it was about to attack us and eat our babies.  This caused snow shoveling to take twice as long as it should and I don't have a huge driveway to begin with.  Tess especially liked it when I used the edge of the shovel to scrape the snow along the driveway rather than scooping.  The louder the scraping, the more she growled and barked.  The neighbors must have thought she was killing something in my front yard, that's how much noise she made.  Of course once the snow accumulated into a pile beside the driveway, Tess jumped right into the middle of it, snow exploding everywhere, and then the whole process began again.  Shoveling takes the Cowboy five minutes when he does it.  When I do it, because I insist on letting my dog have some fun, it takes two hours.  Of course it is partially my fault.  I screw around just as much as Tess.  Every time I scooped a huge shovelful of snow into the shovel, I dumped it on top of her instead of putting it where belongs.

I returned to the house extremely sore and spent the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing except watch Captain America: Winter Soldier, until later in the evening when I thought maybe it was time to do something else productive.

I got my quilt out of its box where it's been sitting for two years because I knew once I took it out of its box I was going to have to deal with it.

Snow days seem like the best time to deal with un-dealable projects.

The cats think so too.  This is why they love snow days.  I stay home all day, and they get a new toy to play with, though my idea of a new toy for them is not my quilt.  That thing has taken me ten years to piece together and the last thing I want is claws hooked into it.  The ten years are my own fault of course since I keep procrastinating.

Sort of like my writing.  It's no wonder I haven't finished my novel yet, but then I also usually have some kind of cat face trying to sniff around the laptop, or sit on it when they get really bold.

By the time I had spread the quilt out on the floor to mark where the quilting was to begin, three cats lolled on top of it, doing their version of Pilates.  I guess I can understand it.  Quilts have all sorts of fun things for cats:  loose threads, fabric feathers, batting sticking out in certain places.  And of course it's soft so they get to roll around on it like they do the bedspread.  At the same time when I actually want to scoop the thing up so I can take it to the sewing machine, I have three bodies to remove and one of them (Percy) likes to chew on string or thread.  This causes all kinds of other problems, usually in his digestive tract.

I yelled.

They fled.

As soon as I was done sewing one section and had once more flung the quilt on the floor to mark the next spot for work, three cats were once more sniffing around.  Puckett also decided that right then was when she wanted attention and started her purring/rubbing routine.  Trying to deter twenty pounds of bulk from her goal of getting the attention she feels she deserves right then and there is a losing battle.

Needless to say I got very little done on Sunday.  The snow shoveling was eventually accomplished and I did manage to get some work done on my quilt.  But whoever deemed snow days as the perfect time to work on projects one ordinarily doesn't have time for probably never owned three cats and a dog who are convinced the world revolves around them.  In their perfect world, if they are going to have to suffer through the cruelty of a snow day, then it should be spent outdoors all day long (for Tess) and the quilt or knitting should be there solely to amuse (the cats).

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go take the howling, grumbling, whining mess outside for a run so that she doesn't bring the neighborhood down.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Coming Home

I started the new year almost giving Willow up.  There is precedence there.  When I first adopted her, she sort of came with Puckett in a "two for one" deal.  It was Adopt-A-Cat Month and the Dog and Cat Shelter sort of tricked me into it.  "Buy one, get one free!" they said when I told them I was adopting Puckett.  "You're taking this one, too aren't you?"

I looked down at the tiny tabby that had somehow landed in my arms and that I had been carrying around for the last twenty minutes.  I almost forgot she was there and when she gazed up at me with her big green eyes, I thought, oh, what the hell.  How much harder than two cats could three be?

Willow has had the most issues fitting in.  While Tess, Percy, Puckett, and I just all sort of gel, Willow has always been the odd one out.  She is the most insecure and has random freakouts that freak out the rest of the animals.  Tess is high-strung so random freakouts make her anxious and then she picks on Willow.  Percy is a bully and Willow does not stand up for herself so he picks on her.  Puckett tolerates Willow because she is the Queen Bee and all her subjects must bow to her, but she has been know to chase Willow around the house or slap her a good one across the ears for no reason.

All of that added to the fact that Willow occasionally still pees on the floor has always kept it in the back of my mind that under the right circumstances with the right person, I could part with Willow.  I've never felt like I bonded with her the same as the other three.  Puckett is my princess, Percy chose me at the Dog and Cat Shelter, and Tess is a German shepherd who came to me a completely undisciplined one-year-old mess.  With all the time and energy I put into her, how could she not bond with me?  Shepherds tend to bond with one person.

After I'd had Willow for a year she started demonstrating a level of spaz that had a tendency to drive me up a wall.  She clawed the furniture, scratched the carpet, peed on the floor, teased Percy and then yowled like she was dying when he put her in her place.  She unleashed attacks on the dog for having the audacity of merely walking by her.  She tried to throw her weight around Puckett which only served to earn her a box on the ears as Puckett is three times her size.  She was abnormally clingy and needy, always wanting to be in my face, on my lap, or somewhere else nearby.  It took me awhile to train her to stay at the end of my bed in order to keep my allergies under control.  She would sit on my laptop if she could.  At the height of her litter box avoidance, she would go on the carpet at least twice a day until I finally bought her a kennel and started crating her to retrain her behavior.  I replaced one large section of carpeting on my ground level floor with tile, and all the carpeting on my third level with wood floors.  She still occasionally pees on the floor under her cage, but luckily there is no carpet there.

My personal opinion was that she would probably do much better in a home by herself.  I had no intention of returning her to the shelter - they have so many cats all the time and Willow stressed so badly in that atmosphere that it broke my heart to put her back in that situation - but I did make a small effort to shop around for a good potential home where she would be the only kitty and be spoiled rotten.

It's been two years at least since I made a serious attempt to rehome her.  But I always said that should the perfect person come along and fall in love with her, then they would be welcome to take her.

On New Year's Eve I went out with a friend from work who confessed that she missed her cat that had passed away a year ago.  And I just blurted out that Willow was still available to a good home.  I still believe all of her issues and behavior problems would work themselves out if she was a single kitty.  Scratching and litter box aversion are territorial.  With her own litter box, several scratching posts. and her own bowls, I think she'd do well.  My coworker would give Willow a fantastic home and spoil her.  She got pretty excited and began making plans to adopt her.  She thought she could make some preparations and then take Willow for four days as a trial for the rest of the weekend.  She came over to meet Willow and fell in love with her and said she'd call me the next day to arrange a time to pick her up.  I thought by the next day it was a done deal.

I fell apart after my coworker left.  She did call the next day to tell me that she had more preparations than she thought and that we should plan for the trial in a couple of weeks.  I was strangely relieved that I wouldn't be saying goodbye to Willow as soon as I'd thought.

Then I cried the rest of the weekend.  I kept telling myself that I had to do what was best for the cat.  If she'd be happier in a home where she rules the roost, where she is spoiled and loved, then what could be better?  Keeping her for the reason that I actually started to realize I couldn't imagine my life without her was selfish on my part.  I felt like I was going through my last breakup all over again.  I let him go for his own good too.  I did what was best for him because I knew I wasn't.  And maybe I'm not what's best for Willow either.

There is something to that saying if you love something set it free.

That same weekend I noticed a change in Willow that I had never noticed before.  She fit in.  I caught her and Tess snuggled together on the dog bed several times, sharing a nap.  I also caught her and Percy several times in an intimate moment where Percy groomed and licked her ears.  She and Puckett shared their food bowls in perfect harmony.  Willow didn't spaz out once, and the other three didn't treat her like the outsider she's always been.  This might have been going on for awhile, but that weekend was the first time I noticed that four pets gelled, not just three.  Then I started to think, oh, God, what if I give her away and she gets lonely?  She's lived with three other animals for four years now.  Will she miss her brother and sisters?

By Monday my coworker told me that when she mentioned getting another cat to her son, he seemed very disappointed as he's allergic and he stays with her when he visits.  She said it would be best she not adopt Willow.

Willow has finally found her true home.  There will be no more talk of rehoming her.  There will be no more speculation of a perfect home or owner for her.  As unconventional as her situation might be, she's happy here and somehow when I wasn't looking, I became extremely attached to her.  There are thousands of homeless cats out there deserving of loving, wonderful people willing to adopt.  Willow isn't one of them anymore.  She's home.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Age of Ultron

This past Sunday on my walk with Tess, I discovered that just when one thinks one's beloved pooch has become an obedient, robotic extension of oneself, said pooch goes and behaves so abominably that while she might still resemble a robot, she's actually gone and turned herself into Ultron.  And believe me, I did not morph into the Avengers.

Tess has been so good lately, running offleash with no incident, getting along with dogs at the dog park, coming back immediately when called from straying into people's yards.  The other night she leaped after a rabbit and as soon as I yelled her name, she froze, mid-step, then turned and ran back to me.  I was impressed.  In the past, if a deer or rabbit crossed her path, she'd take off chasing it and nothing I said could stop her.  She always came back after a minute or so, as she is not a dog to stray too far from home.  Still, I've never been able to stop her in her tracks before.

She's almost been more robot than dog, albeit an extremely intelligent one.  She operates like clockwork and follows directions with no argument.

There's nothing like an incident at the dog park to remind one that their dog is still a dog and only canine. Dogs, like people, will have their off days.  Or maybe Tess has just gone rogue and allowed her AI to take over.

We took our usual cold day route - along the snowpacked river bank and down to the dog park so she could chase a few cars through the fence.  When it's really cold, I like to cheat and let her run off her excess energy chasing cars, before taking her back home so I don't have to freeze my ass off on an hour-and-a-half long walk.  It helps that the dog park isn't very far from my house.  Tess is happy and exhausted when we get home, and I get to enjoy my hot chocolate and pretend I actually accomplished my workout for the day.

The dog park was deserted for about twenty minutes after we got there.  Tess sniffed and marked the trees, ran a few laps around the enclosure, and then went into her routine of waiting for the cars so she could take off early and cheat herself into winning.  I, meanwhile, got so grossed out by the numerous piles of dog poop littering the park that I grabbed the shovel and a handful of complimentary dog poop bags provided by the park.  Tess galloped happily along the fence and I started shoveling.

I don't like to brag, but I am a certified shit jockey.  I shovel all day long - cats, dogs, apparently other people's emotional shit.  I'm really quite good at it.

But I digress.

An older couple and their puppy soon joined us.  I actually know the older couple, as the lady used to work with me.  Tess behaved rather well with the puppy so I continued to shovel.  I never worry much about puppies because they think Tess is amazing and she can boss them around.

Then more people showed up: a man and his son with their German shepherd, and a lady with two creatures I think might have been part grizzly bear.  With new dogs I find it a good idea to leash Tess and make her watch for awhile until she is calm enough to join the fray.  She usually accepts this with no issue.  Other shepherds especially are tricky as shepherds in general are alpha.  I never know if Tess will start something to prove she is top dog, or ignore another shepherd completely because she doesn't feel like she has anything to prove.  Big, fluffy, good-natured grizzly bears usually don't bother her as they are goofy and happy-go-lucky enough not to be threatening.

This time she became utterly embarrassing.  She barked and whined and threw the doggy equivalent of a tantrum. I commanded her to sit and she ignored me completely.  One of the grizzly bears tried to come over and say hello, and she growled and then snapped at him.  He wisely backed away.  The dogs then ignored her and went about their business which usually serves to calm her down and leave her to take in the scene.  She handles dogs better when they give her a wide berth rather than getting all up in her face.  Not this time.  The more they ignored her the more her behavior escalated until she was outright barking, like she was warning away some intruder.

My dog is not a barker.

She pulled at her leash and noseguard, something she never does as she always defers to me onleash. When she showed absolutely no sign of calming back down to her usual calm-assertive personality, I decided it wise to take her out of the dog park and take her home.  the last thing I needed was to start the brand new year with a dog fight. Last year started badly enough.  Tess continued her bad behavior as I led her to the gate, going so far as stopping in her tracks, balking and resisting her leash.  Once outside the dog park she continued to lag behind, trying to pull back towards the park, whining and grumbling in her throat until we walked two blocks away and she could no longer see the other dogs.

She hasn't acted that way since I first adopted her eight years ago.  She morphed back into that one-year-old nightmare whose operating system I spent four months trying to reprogram.

She was perfectly fine by the time I got her home except for the moment when she poked her nose into the wine cabinet and tried to knock a bottle out.  Apparently she needed a drink after a stressful day.

I gave her a dog biscuit and put the wine back.

I guess the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree.