Assessing the damage.
January is definitely the dullest month around here. Hardly any UPS deliveries, for starters. And it’s fairly dreary every day. Everywhere is brown and muddy, since the forest usually doesn’t show its first signs of life until the middle of the month. It’s either overcast or rainy nearly every day. I get Heather and Mike out of a walk regardless of the weather, but we walk so early in the afternoon that when we get home I have much too much time to kill until dinner. By the time meal time finally rolls around, I’m in a deep sleep in my chair, not really wanting to be disturbed. What else is there to do but sleep? Mike will play fetch or tug for only so long, and then I’m on my own. I don’t play solitaire. I don’t watch TV or listen to music. I can’t read. Might as well get some rest.
Inspecting the job
January weather had been much warmer than normal, but it has been especially windy. We lost power twice at our house. And every time we went to Chloë’s Lane for fetch, Heather had to police the trail first to remove any wind-blown debris that might impede my mad dashes after the ball.
The strongest windstorm of the month toppled a giant Sycamore tree in the park, probably planted when the park was developed as an army base in the early 1900s. I investigated the scene later that same day, and I immediately determined the tree would be a public hazard if left there on the parade ground in its current state. Someone could be poked in the eye from one of those smaller branches. Mike said he thought it would lie there forever, as so many other fallen trees that weren’t blocking a trail.
Lo and behold! The following morning, the sun came out for the first of five days in a row. After so many days of wind and gloom, the pastel sunsets and afterglow behind the Olympic Mountains was spectacular. And within those few days, the outer extremities of that tree were cut off and removed . In my lifetime (almost nine years!), nothing else in the park had been accomplished as quickly. While nobody among us knows when (or if) the remaining pieces of the tree will be removed, the parade ground is already pretty much back to usual. Fetch is back in season, as long as the dog police don’t drive up or the next windstorm brings down another elderly Sycamore.
Fetching on the parade ground
Chloë with her treasure
I’ve always been pretty good at finding other dogs’ balls out on the trail, but normally the tattered tennis balls I rerieve with don’t in any way measure up to the higher-quality balls I have, let alone all the ones that I’ve lost. That is, the balls that Mike and Heather lost and I was unable to find. But a few days after Christmas, I hit pay dirt. Coming home from a walk with Heather, I spied a spanking new, blue-and-orange sphere that must have been in the holiday stocking of some other neighborhood hound. In the true spirit of Christmas, I scarfed it up and carried it home.
I was SO proud of my find, in fact, that I ran inside to show it to Mike, who unexpectedly decided it was small enough to play with inside the house. What fun! When I’m not happily gnawing on it, I’m parading it around the house to show it off or, even better, pushing it under some piece of furniture where I can’t retrieve myself it with my paws or snout. That’s when I get Mike. He’s always so pleased to get it for me.
Chuckit Ultra Squeaker, medium and small
My good luck only got better. When we finally got around to emptying our own Christmas stockings hanging by the fireplace, I finally got a good look at the ball that aunts Susie and Debby sent me (along with great edible gifts). It turned out to be a bigger brother of the one I had just found. It’s a Chuckit! Ultra Squeaker medium, while the one I found is a Chuckit! Ultra Squeaker small. I must confess I like them both. I can get a good gnawing grip on either one, and they are both versatile enough to use indoors or out. The best part of having two is they have different squeaks. The small one sounds like a tiny bird, the medium more like a duck. Nobody has sent me a large one to test yet, but I’m thinking crow. In this brilliant “how-to” video, I’m playing with the smaller ball.
The Leave-It Place
Whenever I drive Heather and/or Mike nuts with incessant squeaking and/or gnawing (which makes an obnoxious sucking sound), Heather puts the two balls in the drink holders of my personal camp chair. She calls them “the Leave-It Place,” because that’s where the balls sit when I’m supposed to leave them alone. This arrangement was OK for short stretches, as long as I got to keep a close eye on my trophies. Unfortunately, it only took me a few days to break the mesh on one of the drink holders by swatting at it from below, trying to pop the ball out. Sorry, Heather. Mike will fix it.
Chloë guards her balls.
The first time I found the Secret Christmas Tree in Discovery Park, just Heather and I were walking. Mike must have been at some appointment or other. It was in a fairly out-of-the-way location in the South Meadow, not far from the wooded area called Spruce Island. We had to traverse some narrow trails to get there. It was still light out, so at first we saw only its colored ornaments. Upon closer inspection, we saw it also had a string of colored lights powered by two solar collection discs wired to the trunk of the 6-foot tree. It’s actually more visible at night, when its sparkling lights can be seen from paved park road above. A sign at the base of the tree begs for benevolence toward the clearly illegal decoration and solicits comments about it. I did my part for Secret Christmas Tree preservation, leaving as quickly as possible after the photo because the recently clipped blackberry branches were doing a number on my feet.
Ouch! Those thorns !
Other than that, we enjoyed a quiet Christmas at home. My pal Charlie came over for dinner, and I hung out with him in the living room watching LeBron James while Mike and Heather were busy getting the various dishes on the table. Outside in the rain, Mike roasted beef, which usually means good things for me later. However, while I got plenty of dishes to lick after they ate dinner, I was distressed to learn that neither of those delicious rib bones from the roast were coming my way. As a recent visit to my dentist-veterinarian for a six-month, post-surgery checkup again illustrated, last spring’s root canal and the titanium crown protecting it preclude real bones from touching my lips forever. The best I can hope for from Christmas dinner will be some quality trimmings and some tasty bone broth. That and dental chews are my new normal.
Personal delivery for Chloë?
My only Christmas presents came from my old reliables. My Syracuse aunts and my pal Charlie both came through with treats and a ball, while Mike and Heather gave me a brand-new orange SU collar, just in time for the big bowl game (which we’re watching at Penny’s house). But the highlight of the gift-giving season was not a present, but rather when Donna, my favorite UPS driver, pulled her big brown truck into our next-door neighbor’s driveway. I figured she had done that because Heather’s car was in our driveway, but no, her delivery was really for the kids next door. I had to settle for Donna’s treats, but it was very exciting while it lasted. My frenzied barking to get out of the house got every dog in the neighborhood going. Sorry about that.
Chloë and Caroline track stock prices online.
My personal financial planner (and sometime hotelier) Caroline changed firms and Magnolia offices last month, and Mike and Heather finally got around to taking me to inspect her new digs. As far as I’m concerned, the new location could not possibly be better: It’s in the heart of Magnolia Village, in the same parking lot as Bartell Drugs and conveniently next door to Pet Pros, where I frequently stock up on mini cheese and salmon hearts at the help-yourself treat bar. Caroline gave us a short tour of the new layout and introduced us to everybody who was working there, which gave me the opportunity to give a good sniff-over to each and every office and conference room. It was not until I got into Caroline’s private office that I found the specific cabinet I was looking for. And let me tell you: While the name of the brokerage may have changed, the quality and quantity of the treats Caroline keeps for her doggie clients has not diminished.
Chloë joins the powerhouse financial round table.
Caroline then went over my retirement portfolio with me and Heather (Mike, unfortunately, is not financially astute enough to participate), suggesting how I might re-balance my holdings to achieve greater security and long-term growth. Made sense to me! As long as I was allowed to stay close to the treat cabinet, I was all ears. When Caroline talks, I listen, especially when I’m staying at her house and she controls the treats. The only “insider” information I really need is how to open that special cabinet that pays great dividends.
Merrie behind bars.
My good pal Charlie often brings articles for Mike and Heather to read because they are about a topic that interests them. Last week he finally gave them one that had some relevance to me. It was a column from the Wall Street Journal—on a real newsprint page, not a printout (Charlie is old school). I was immediately attracted to it because the article included a photo of a sad-eyed Basset hound who was the spitting image of my friend Merrie from down our block. Then I saw the headline, “Readers Howl Over an Insult to Canine Intelligence,” and I realized the dog in the photo couldn’t possibly be Merrie. (I like Merrie. She’s a real sweetie.)
Mike and Heather both laughed when they read the article, written by WSJ sports columnist Jason Gay, so I made Mike read it to me one afternoon when I could pry him away from Syracuse basketball on TV. The article begins: “The new issue of the scientific journal Learning and Behavior includes a paper by researchers who studied dog intelligence—and concluded that dogs are not as smart as popularly believed. ‘There is no current case for canine exceptionalism,’ the authors wrote, a line that drew swift rebuke from the canine-loving community in letters to the esteemed journal.” His article goes on to include 11 (plus one from a cat) “letters to the editors,” each purportedly written by a dog humorously pleading its personal case for mental superiority.
Really? These letter-writers show their insecurities, not their intelligence. Even if I had seen the original article in the scholarly journal, which I did not (with no pictures, not my kind of publication), I wouldn’t be tooting my own horn in rebuke or defiance. No need to bother. My blog speaks for itself.
Sniffing out Thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday, the only day of the year when the whole pack is in the kitchen all day long. From my perch in my camp chair, I can see, hear and smell everything that’s going on when Mike and Heather put dinner together. There are always lots of pots, plates, bowls and spoons to lick, from morning til night. In the late afternoon, before dinner, Charlie usually comes over, and it’s not even a Sunday. That’s how I know this must be some kind of a big deal, and when I realize I’ll be getting several weeks of chopped turkey gizzards and barbecued skin mixed in with my food. Yum.
This year after Thanksgiving, we had a lazy weekend. Only Scott came over to watch the football game on Saturday, which was fine with me. Since their team was winning for a change, they were too giddy to pay much attention to me. Which was fine, since it gave Heather and me a free morning to ourselves, which we took advantage of by running all my dirty toys through the washer and dryer. They made quite a racket in the dryer, but they all looked quite a bit cleaner when their click-clacking, bouncing ordeal was over. Lamby has never looked so good.
Lamby (top left) and friends return from the wash.
Every time my ultra-sensitive dog ears hear a UPS truck coming up our one-way street, I go nuts. Springing from bed or chair, I sprint to the front door, barking uncontrollably. Mike, who startles easily, jerks to attention. Heather yells at me to keep quiet. I could care less. I have to get outside to greet Donna, my favorite uniformed agent of a large, multinational corporation, who occasionally brings us stuff and gives me biscuits even when she doesn’t.
Waiting for brown
Usually when we meet, Donna is out of her big, brown truck with a package, so we greet each other at street level. But one day when I dragged Heather outside, Donna had parked her truck down our block and paused to eat her lunch, so she was sitting inside. Heather let me hop right up into the cab, and after Donna and I said our hellos, I investigated the back of the truck, where all the packages were stacked on shelves that went all the way to the roof. Frankly, not nearly as exciting as the vast emporium of treats I had imagined. Getting treats from Donna on the sidewalk is definitely more exciting than that. Nevertheless, when I had the opportunity to hop inside for a second look, I seized it gladly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t vastly more interesting the second time through.
Chloë gets a peek inside.
Now, of course, the busy season for package deliveries has arrived. Donna now has an assistant who helps carry packages to houses from the truck. But more often than not, when a brown truck comes up our street, it’s not Donna’s. I hate it when that happens! These extra-shift drivers never try to cultivate relationships with the customers and their canine companions. Come on guys, it’s a relationship business! Throw the dogs a bone or two. It’s that most wonderful time of the year!
Oh, well. The new drivers make me appreciate Donna even more. I’m going to have to get Heather to give her a better holiday gift this year. Just put it on my tab.