Dogged: Why This Past Year Felt Like Seven

Adorable photo taken by the dog trainer/boarder just before Millie was kicked out.

As a die-hard cat person, I was surprised and confused to find myself adopting a dog. Not just any dog, mind you: an adult rescue dog with junkyard genes and a sordid past. How did this happen? Granted, there had been ten years of ceaseless begging, topped off with a couple of family crises, a PowerPoint presentation by household teens, and a stream of seemingly sincere promises to love, walk, and care for said canine.

All lies.

But somehow Millie and I have successfully co-existed for an entire calendar year. Proof: we are both still alive. Millie still rolls in dirt and dead things. She still scares the bejeezus out of the UPS guy. She’s been kicked out of dog parks and behavior classes and boarding. Though we’ve made a little progress, I don’t have any successful training tips to share. All I can offer is a little help navigating expectations during the first year of adoption.

What follows is a sneak peek from my upcoming imaginary book: Why This Past Year Felt Like Seven.

Chapter One: The Honeymoon

What a pleasure to be greeted at the door with tail wags instead of the eye rolls and requests for money to which I’ve grown accustomed. For forty-eight hours straight, I was promoted from uber-driving ATM into a beloved human comrade.

Chapter Two: Grieving the Dog You Thought You Had

Rescue dogs know just how to act in order to get adopted. Then—once you and your progeny are completely besotted—many, many other facets of the dog’s vivid personality become apparent. Diarrhea, destruction, and unexplained maniacal barking ensue.

Chapter Three: The Mighty, Mighty Prey Drive

Bad news. Prey drive is a thing. The first time the new pet met the incumbent, the cat’s hindquarters wound up in the dog’s jaws in three second flat. Millie would not, could not let go. Our beleaguered Elsie endures, but she is quarantined in the basement for eternity. If and when the two beasts catch sight of each other in the yard, I end up on a rickety ladder, begging and lurching precariously in the treetops for the neighbors’ entertainment.

Elsie, recalling the Golden Age of the Felinarchy—when the world revolved around her needs.

Chapter Four: When and Where to Walk Your Barmy Dog

Short answer: at night, wherever mortals fear to tread. The good news is, those lurky back alleys don’t seem so intimidating when you’re walking Cujo. To prevent shoulder dislocation, keep constant vigilance for the following: brooms, hoodies, hats, men, garage doors, shadows, ominous-looking recycling bins, and the existence of all other mammals. Be especially wary of the quadruple threat: mammals wearing hoodies while sweeping the garage. Helpful tools: two fingers of scotch for post-walk therapy.

Chapter Five: Predatory Drift, or Why Your Dog Should Never, Ever Play with Snack-Sized Dogs Named Doris

Doris lived—and nobody sued—but our dog’s name and photo were shared amongst dog walkers and owners. Millie was a community pariah for the majority of the past year.

Me too, for that matter.

Chapter Six: Welcome to the World.

Having a dog like Millie means getting to know the city from new perspectives. Where are the best places to find poop and gophers? What’s under those dumpsters behind the grocery store? Do squirrels scream? (Yes. Yes, they do.) Bonus! Get up close and personal with raccoons, skunks, a dead seal, half a rabbit. It’s like living on the friggin’ nature channel.

Image of dog playing at the beach.
Be grateful I chose this photo, and not one of the large severed head Millie tried to drag home that day.

Surprise upside: Since I can’t sip lattes and tootle around the neighborhood like a normal dog owner, my hiking boots are in heavy rotation. During the past twelve months, I’ve walked well over 1,200 miles in some of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area: parks, woods, canyons, beaches.

Plus dark alleys. Don’t forget dark alleys.

Chapter Seven: Sleep, or The Lack Thereof.

The plan was to crate the dog at night. I won’t bore you with the details surrounding the rapid demise of my principles. Suffice it to say that after a number of unforeseen circumstances, Millie wound up crying outside our bedroom door until I caved in.

Someone got a great night’s sleep, but it wasn’t me.

Now imagine sleeping with a fifty-five-pound starfish who hogs the covers and insists on pushing against a human in all five directions.

On the bright side, unlike the majority of household residents, Millie is a morning creature. The moment I open my eyes, her tail starts thumping against that pillow she stole out from under my head. Such behavior stands in marked contrast to customary morning greetings from household teens.

Chapter Eight: Dances with Coyotes

Guess who wins? On her first run-in, Millie got a bite on the ass and—despite my attempts to convince her otherwise—went back for seconds. Since then, I’ve lost count of our coyote encounters, but luckily only the first rendezvous required a trip to the vet. Side note: it doesn’t hurt to carry bits of steak in your pocket and clear the waiting room of all mammals—especially those who look litigious.

Chapter Nine: Hot Spots: Dogs Who Self-Harm

That’s right. Crazy dogs can fixate on all sorts of behaviors: not only lunging, barking, and digging, but also fussing, licking, and nibbling on themselves until they need medical attention. Whoops. Should have hung onto that cone after the coyote wounds healed.

Chapter Ten: Less is More.

Besides your cat, your time, and your bed, you may need to give up your social life in order to accommodate a rescue dog’s special needs. We learned the hard way—after Millie cornered a thirteen-year-old boy, bit a hole in a man’s shorts, and caused multiple guests to flee through the basement window. We’re slow learners, I guess. Apologies if you visited before we knew better.

Chapter Eleven: Those Oddly Charming Behaviors May Indicate Medical Issues

It seems obvious now, but dogs don’t usually combat crawl around the house. And yes, they can get poison oak. Which reminds me…

Chapter Twelve: Advanced Lessons in Poison Oak: Swabbing Your Weeping Rash While Driving, Sleeping, and Cooking

Once Millie moved in, I started sporting a little poison oak at all times. Since we’re constantly out in nature, I suppose that’s no big surprise, and usually a little Tecnu does the trick. But recently I got a doozy of a rash that swelled and oozed through mountains of laundry. This rash required medical attention as well as some interesting fashion decisions. For the home office, I wore hoodies sideways, with the “bad” arm—i.e., the one swollen to thigh-size—zipped out the neck hole. If I had to leave the house, I wrapped my arm in a towel with binder clips, and brought spare towels to swap out when the previous one was soaked through. My advice: get whatever pharmaceuticals your doctor is willing to prescribe.

Epilogue. Why She Still Lives with Us

Excellent question. With all of the crazed barking, I’m having trouble formulating a coherent answer. Still, there are a few benefits of having a dog that come to my muddled mind.

  • For starters, no one could possibly break into our house and survive.
  • I’ve gotten to the beaches, trails, and forests more in the past year than in the past twenty combined.
  • The cat is a lot more sociable now that she is half neglected.
  • Even on the 366th day, a Millie greeting is pretty spectacular. It’s like getting a standing ovation every time I come in the door.

Besides, it’s hard to hold a grudge when she is just sitting there looking adorable.

Or playing with a squeaky toy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder

Simone whacked Dexter with a broom until he dropped his cheeping treasure and slunk under the buffet. The cheeper was in rough shape–motionless for two hopeless minutes, then unable to do much beyond the occasional flutter. She searched for the means of its escape, in the end, grabbing a spatula and the real estate section of the Sunday paper.

One wing was askew, and one leg missing, leaving a small, black hole; still, she could not wring its neck. Instead, Simone placed it gently on the patio railing and turned away. She did not watch and wait, tail twitching.

Photo Credit: Matt Dale
Photo Credit: Matt Dale

How To Foster Kittens

gracita

  1. Feed them three times a day.
  2. Play with them—avoiding bloodshed when possible.
  3. Change litter frequently.
  4. Weigh them by any means necessary. Amateurs use patience and baby food. Pros pop them in shoeboxes, Tupperware, whatever.
  5. Administer oral antibiotics (see also: claws and teeth).
  6. Mop urine from a variety of surprising places.
  7. Scrub excrement off litter box, scoop, floor, toys, dishes, bedding, furnishings, and walls.
  8. Attempt to remove excrement from fur (see also: claws, teeth, fear of water).
  9. Love them anyway.
  10. Weep uncontrollably when required to return them to the shelter.

Don’t feed the behemoth twice.

fat elsie

I’ve had cats for most of my life–all short-haired, lithe creatures with dignity and self-control. I scoffed at other, substandard cats: the ones who binged and barfed, destroyed the furniture, and peed in the corner.

Then came Elsie.

At first she played endless games of fetch and slept on my neck like a tiny scarf. Such charm! Such genius! Once again, I felt pretty smug. Elsie had long hair, which which she deposited generously, and she developed odd habits that made me question her IQ–why would a black cat sleep on the floor right beside my bed, even after being stepped on thirty or forty nights in a row? I’m half-blind with a miniature bladder, and she’s nearly invisible in the dark. Think, cat, think! But then she’d bring her toys and purr in my ear, and all doubt would subside.

Now that her fetch days are over, however, I struggle to entice her with catnip mice, yarn, or even the laser pointer–a toy supposedly irresistible to our feline friends. If I’m lucky, Elsie will drag herself half a yard across the living room rug before flopping in a heap. She still sprawls on my head at night, though, kneading and purring, while dumping her ass-end on the spouse’s pillow. This explains his difficulty sleeping and my recent trips to the chiropractor.

“When did you trade your adorable cat for a giant mop?” a friend asked. A reasonable question, but I don’t really know. It must have happened infinitesimally slowly, in the midst of the chaos and clutter of daily life. We did nothing different with this one: topping up the kibble, checking the litter, letting her in and out ad nauseum. Isn’t that all you need to do with cats?

Recently, I woke in terror as an intruder ascended the stairs. “Calm down,” my bleary-eyed spouse advised. “I set the alarm; no one’s in the house.” Unconvinced, I went to investigate, but all I could find in the shaky circle of my flashlight was my beloved fur turkey. What was happening here? It took half an hour to get my heart rate down and admit that my cat made the stairs creak. Considering Carl Sandburg’s poetic line: “the fog comes on little cat feet,” it was time to do something about my corpulent pal. As a Bay Area resident, I’ve seen the fog roll in a bazillion times, and it never makes a ruckus.

Since Elsie’s unable to reach around her belly to groom herself properly, she has also developed a case of back dandruff and a small mat near her tail. I’ve tried to help. I now own a variety of supposedly life-changing tools—all with names like “The Furminator” and “The Unhairing”–but the only brushing Elsie will tolerate without retribution is on her cheeks. This doesn’t solve any of her developing issues, but man, oh man, are her sideburns soft and sleek.

As her mat grew and multiplied, I began to consider professional grooming services, which felt like some sort of personal failure. After all, I cut my kids’ hair—always have—and only recently graduated from Supercuts myself. How could I drop that kind of cash on a cat, especially since they’re supposed to groom themselves?

To make matters worse, the cat carrier scares the crap out of Elsie. Literally. Ever tried to remove diarrhea from the long fur of a pissy cat? I wasn’t about to shell out for a kitty day spa, only to arrive home with a fecal-crusted ball of claws. Not only did I need a groomer, then, I needed one to magically appear at my doorstep. Too ashamed to ask for recommendations, I rooted around on Yelp.

Apparently magic entails a lot of paperwork. After filling out four pages of disclaimers and waivers–basically assuring the legal team that I would pay for every scratch and tear my pet might inflict–I started to panic. Elsie’s not a fan of strangers, or being held, or grooming, or anything besides eating and hopping on my head in the middle of the night. But what choice did I have? So I continued. I answered all sorts of logistical questions and personal queries and checked a litany of boxes: dry shampoo, thank you very much. I’ve seen what a terror my cat is when she gets wet. Yes, yes. A thorough brushing. Nail clipping. Booty buzz. Extra fees for mats. Dang. This was adding up like a weekend in Napa.

Nine days later, help arrived in what looked like a Frito-Lay truck. Let’s call her Agatha. Agatha was friendly and fierce, with big, brawny arms. Immediately at ease, I handed Elsie over. “Please remove your cat’s claws from my flesh,” Agatha said calmly. She was so calm, in fact, that I thought I had misheard. Next, we reenacted an episode of the Three Stooges before prying my pal off because–let’s face it–Elsie has four paws, and I’ve only got two hands. She proceeded to glue herself to the exam table like a starfish. “Ah,” said Agatha. “The pancake defense.”

Agatha took this moment of paralysis to lecture extensively about reading food labels and calculating the proper caloric content for a cat of this stature. “Even an extra ¼ cup of kibble a day could have caused this,” she said sternly, pointing to Elsie’s swollen torso. She introduced me to the concept of “puzzle feeders,” devices designed to make my cat exercise in order to get her food, and gave me a pep talk about pet health and happiness. She advised me to start setting aside $2,000 for a deep dental cleaning when Elsie turns 10.

Swell.

Then she went to work. Agatha was not a pushover like me; she gave Elsie a brushing to remember. “I call it ‘making kittens,” Agatha explained, “because there’s a ball of fur big enough to make another cat.” This was no exaggeration. “Look at all that fur you won’t have to eat today,” she said to an aggrieved Elsie, as the hairy mountain continued to grow. She brushed with the fur and against it. She hauled the cat up and brushed her belly, her legs, her tail, her hindquarters. “You need to check her lady parts frequently for foxtails,” she advised.

I’m pretty sure I’ll repress that advice—just like the vet’s recommendation to brush my cat’s teeth.

Agatha clipped claws, removed all mats, and shaved the butt of my yowling cat, even managing to fasten a purple bow-tie around her neck. Elsie looked great—maybe even a few pounds lighter—but she was mad as hell.

I tipped Agatha extremely well. I couldn’t have made kittens without losing a limb.

These days I’m brushing Elsie more regularly–on more than just the cheeks–as well as feeding her more conscientiously. She’s still quite large, but I’m not worried. I’ve got Agatha’s number, so help is just a paycheck away.

Elsie dish sm
We don’t want to accidentally feed the behemoth twice.

Chicken Soup for the Goddamn Carpool

Illustration by Cece Bell (via Slate.com).
Full disclosure: my soul does not want chicken soup. My soul wants some time by the lake, listening to the loons; it wants to sit and watch the stars swing across the night sky. And maybe a tuna melt, though since it’s 5:40 pm, that might not be my soul talking. (illustration by Cece Bell)

To be honest, I’ve never read a chicken soup book; I can’t get past the cloying font on the covers. But I could see how a volume dedicated to the carpool driver might be useful. Gratitude is definitely not the focus of my consciousness while driving a carful of kids from here to eternity.

It’s not usually the kids that give me an aneurysm, though. The main problem with the carpool is the driving.

And the traffic.

And the idiots.

It’s the construction detours and backups.

It’s the sitting, the endless sitting.

It’s the feeling that my life is passing me by while I lurch from red light to red light.

It’s the premonition that if and when I finally arrive, a posse of hormonally-agitated tweens will roll their eyes and say welcoming things such as, “what took you so long?”

It’s the fact that, after ninety minutes in my gas-guzzling butt-breaker, I am unable to exit the vehicle without hoisting myself up with the car door. Apparently I have developed some sort of Saturday night palsy of the left hip. No doubt AARP is lurking in the shadows, waiting to enroll an early-adopter.

And…did I mention the sitting?

I am thankful that the carpool exists, of course. Otherwise I would be doing three times the driving. In fact, since it’s physically impossible to be two places at one time, one or both of my kids would be standing around unchaperoned on a curb somewhere. I am therefore forever indebted to those lovely parents who have teamed with me.

A carpool is a beautiful and delicate balance, thrown easily by one member making a team, or being cast in a play, or needing a retainer, or feverish. Do not sit next to me or my kids if you have a cold. You could screw up the logistics of my parenting life for the next two weeks, and my carpool buddies wouldn’t thank you, either.

I do try to combat my bad-itude. I bring snacks, a special ergonomic back pillow, and loud music of the passengers’ choosing. I’ve developed an audiobook habit for the solo runs, which helps mask the fact that I waste a shocking proportion of my waking hours behind the wheel–only to arrive exactly where I began.

Despite all of that…I f#%@ing hate it. I do.

I’m not alone, either. Carpool driving is on the shit list of parents everywhere, right next to stomach viruses, fundraising, and lunchroom duty. We are ripe for some spiritual guidance. So where is our chicken soup book?

There are 250 soup books. No lie. They have editions specifically targeting:

  • dieters
  • golfers
  • parents of twins
  • hockey lovers, and
  • country music listeners.

cover_art_31973

There are fourteen different soup books about the wisdom we can gain from our furry friends. There is even one volume mysteriously entitled, “O, Canada.”

Surely the size and desperation of the group keening for some carpool inspiration warrants the 251st book.

Bring on the soup, people.

 

How to Refinish a Dining Room Table in 43 Easy Steps

©2008 Beret Olsen
©2008 Beret Olsen

Once upon a time, we had a lovely dining room table.

Then, we had a couple of kids.

They stuck their gooey hands all over it. They spilled Campbell’s chicken soup and milk and Elmer’s glue. They pressed into its shiny top with crayons and their fat pencils, carving lurching letters and smiley faces and names and dates and numbers. Granted, there was a piece of paper between the lead point and the table below, but still.

The finish wore off here and there in large, sticky, unappetizing patches. These I pretended not to notice for as long as humanly possible.

Eventually, the kids grew older–old enough to dream of our table from days of yore. For your edification, I here include a glimpse into our household refinishing process.

How to Refinish a Table in 43 Easy Steps:

  1. Think about doing this project for a couple of years.
  2. Realize that the table project would be preferable to fixing a leaky basement or cleaning out the garage.
  3. Drag the gigantic table outside and sand it down to the bare wood.
  4. Drag it back inside.
  5. Think about finding some stain.
  6. Eat sitting on the floor at the coffee table for several weeks.
  7. Apply water-based stain.
  8. Gasp at its hideous appearance.
  9. Sulk.
  10. Drag it outside to sand down again.
  11. Do some research.
  12. Buy a lovely espresso-colored oil-based stain.
  13. Apply.
  14. Be disappointed in its overall rough and uneven appearance.
  15. Sand it down.
  16. Do more research.
  17. Use mineral spirits in an attempt to remove the former wax finish, which has apparently sequestered deep into the grain.
  18. Sand more.
  19. Stain again.
  20. And again.
  21. And again.
  22. Decide you can live with the mottled appearance. Decide to call this “character” or “visual interest” rather than “egregious error.”
  23. Apply a high-end polyurethane and cross fingers.
  24. Watch it bubble up like a fourth grade science project.
  25. Consider weeping.
  26. Sand the crap out of it.
  27. Add a little stain to hide the worst of the bare patches.
  28. Reapply poly.
  29. Watch it bubble.
  30. Pick out hairs and try not to weep.
  31. Sand more.
  32. Poly more.
  33. Pick out hairs.
  34. Lower expectations further.
  35. Apply fourth and final coat of poly and pray.
  36. Be pleasantly surprised.
  37. Go out for a celebratory glass of wine.
  38. Receive phone call from spouse: fat, hairy, horrible cat has been meandering around on the final, tacky coat of poly.

    from hotmeme.net
    from hotmeme.com
  39. Consider “doctoring” kitty’s food.
  40. Order another glass of wine instead. And cheese.
  41. Arrive home and view carnage. Worse than imagined.
  42. Sulk.
  43. Realize it’s time to repeat the whole fun-filled cycle.

My mother arrives in a couple of days. I wonder if she will prefer eating on the floor or standing over the kitchen counter?

Separated at birth?

mustached-monkey-emperor-tamarin-ii-jim-fitzpatrick

Diamond 1 flip

 

Pictured above: one of the foster kittens I had to return yesterday. Miss you, little guy. Wish I could have renamed you, since “Diamond” certainly doesn’t do you justice. (I thought maybe ‘Stache–for half a mustache–or Booger, but no one asked my opinion.) Hoping you’re feeling better soon. Maybe I’ll see you in the SPCA windows at Macy’s this season.

And for those of you who can’t stand cats, I promise not to mention them tomorrow.