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Posts Tagged ‘A Celebration of Dogs’


Our in-town neighbors. These two fine-looking llamas live in a pasture along a country-like lane a few blocks from our new home. We have a new address is in a small, but still-rural, town. Our  house may be suburban in style, but all around looks and feels like country. So we feel right at home.

For awhile, our cats went into hiding, because we moved their cheese. Well, actually, their food bowls — and their address. Ours, too.

We’ve spent the last month moving from the country into town. I worried a lot about how the stress of moving our household would impact our two felines, especially old, black Shadow, who’s 19.

As expected, the cats crept out of their crates into the new garage with great anxiety, then hid in plain sight in the maze of boxes. I expected them to be covert for days.

After only a day of coaxing with tuna, Shadow sullied forth. I made a trail of treats to help him find his food and water bowls.

When I peeked into the garage later that day, the younger, gray-striped cat, Mama, was there at the food bowl alongside the old gent. His presence had reassured her.

Now, a few weeks later, the cats are allowed into the backyard where they look and sniff around with timid curiosity.

Mama scrambles the fence, peeks over, then crawl-jumps back down and heads for the new back door. She’s sporting a pink collar with a bell and a name tag, so if she does wander, we have a good chance of tracking her down.

Mama cat has turned playful since we’ve begun to settle in – something we didn’t see a lot of when we lived in the sticks. Perhaps she feels safer here without all that forest — and coyotes — around.

Shadow simply curls up on the soft rug in the new living room and sleeps, or finds a windowsill and worships the rays when he can find them. (This June the sun is so rare that when it does poke through the clouds, it seems rather guilty, like a finger drawn though frosting on a just-made cake.)

Our two Labradors are enjoying the new backyard, too. The sturdy fence means we no longer have to supervise their outdoor time. Out in the country there was always the worry they’d take off chasing a deer or a duck. The hens are laying again, so all is well in their world, too.

The pets have been the leaders and teachers in our new living situation. At first, we pined for the countryside with its far-reaching views and woodland hush.

But we’re loving our new digs in this small rural town of 1,750. It’s four minutes from things instead of 40.

It turns out the country is actually only two blocks away. We hear nearby geese, a rooster and cows. And deer wander into the grassy lot next door.

Each time I walk, I try a new path in order to get to know the neighborhood. This morning Kobe and I discovered a path where pavement gives way to dirt and gravel. Around a turn in the lane is a lush and lovely spot called Half-Ass Ranch. There, we stopped to watch two llamas as they watched us back with curiosity and caution. It felt like coming home.

For my family, the recent weeks have been filled with a recurring animal lesson: Adapt and thrive. And we are.

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Callie, too, says thank you for being a fan of AnimalsOurEVERYTHING!

I LAUNCHED MY BLOG a year ago this month.

Today’s post  was my 66th. During this year, AnimalsOurEVERYTHING! has enjoyed more than 4,000 views.

I’d like to say thanks to all of my followers, subscribers, visitors, blogging and writing colleagues for taking an interest in my blog. The animals and I are more than a little grateful. We wanted you to know.

Here’s to another year of learning from animals — the  best of  teachers.

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African American Ghost Dogs

When my son was young, I was on a mission to find children’s books that would help him learn about other countries, their cultures and customs. This was in the early 1990s, and that genre was still pretty sparse. Once the publishing industry acknowledged the vacuum, they were on it:  Pretty quickly, more and more culturally sensitive and culturally accurate books for youngsters and young adults began to appear in bookstores and catalogs; at least that’s how I remember it.

Ghost dog Lucy comforts young Daniel in this sweet story written by Jo Ellen Bogart. "Daniel's Dog" was published by Scholastic, Inc. in 1990. Image from: http://www.scholastic.com/

I felt as though I’d found a buried treasure the day I stumbled on, “Daniel’s Dog,” at a book fair at my son’s school. Published by Scholastic, Inc. in 1990, it’s an illustrated children’s book by Jo Ellen Bogart about an African American boy and his dog, Lucy. I’m glad “Daniel’s Dog” found its way home with us, because it became a favorite with my son the first time we read it. For weeks, story time included flipping through the pages again and again to see if we could spot where the translucent spaniel-like Lucy was hiding in the enchanting illustrations.

Lucy was the kind of dog you could see right through; because she was a ghost dog. My son and I learned that ghost dogs frequent black American folklore. Children’s books have been some of my best teachers.

I wish I’d had a ghost dog instead of my imaginary friend, Betty. I think I was about five when Betty showed up. It hadn’t been a very good day, so I called on Betty for some help. I told my mom and dad it was my friend Betty who’d thrown chewing gum into the fireplace. I also told them it was Betty who’d spilled the milk and not cleaned it up. An imaginary dog would have made the scolding easier – and maybe lapped up the milk.

Lucy was more than a playmate for Daniel. She was his solution to feeling left out and lonely when his baby sister arrived and captured nearly all of his mom’s attention. Lucy was a ghost, but she wasn’t a secret. Daniel describes the faithful Lucy in detail to his mom and his best friend. Soon enough, Lucy becomes a prop for Daniel to tell his mom how ignored he’s been feeling.

“ ‘Who is Lucy?’ his mother asked?

‘Lucy is my dog,’ Daniel explained. ‘My  ghost dog. She always has time for me, no matter what.’

‘Oh, I see,’ Daniel’s mother said. ‘Is she here now?’

‘Right here next to my feet. She’s nice and warm, and she likes it when I read stories to her.’ “

Daniel tells his pal, Norman, that Lucy was sent from Heaven by his late grandfather for comfort and company. When Grandfather was a boy, Daniel explains, Lucy had been his ghost dog.

Ghost dogs happen along in adult literature, too. Critically acclaimed novelist Randall Kenan, an African American, remembered the ghost dogs of his childhood in an article in “US Policy” magazine in 2009.  He met them in stories told in the North Carolina town where he grew up.

Like Superman, the ghost dogs Kenan knew always showed up just in time to rescue someone from death or destruction. His great-great aunt told of a white dog that had led her to safety when she’d become lost in the woods. Kenan’s great-great grandmother recounted the tale of a woman who was about to be attacked by wild dogs when a ghost dog leapt to her rescue and guided her home. Eventually, ghost dogs became Kenan’s muse and led him to write his first novel, “A Visitation of Spirits,” published in 1989.

The South and Its Ghost Dogs

Many a ghost dog tale is recounted by Randy Russell and Janet Barrett in their book, "Ghost Dogs of the South," published by John F. Blair in 2001. Image from http://www.blairpub.com.

Ghost dogs, it seems, followed folks all over the American South. Award-winning folklorists Randy Russell and Janet Barrett recount many ghost dog tales in their book, “Ghost Dogs of the South,” published by John F. Blair in 2001. Complete with photos of dogs and/or their owners, this book captures the stories of several dogs that passed-over yet remained in their owner’s earthly life in invisible yet significant ways. Dog lovers won’t be surprised by claims of bonds this strong between persons and pups.

Russell and Barrett differentiate between dog ghosts — dogs that have become ghosts; and ghost dogs –humans who return as ghosts in the shape of dogs. Then, they say, there are dogs that see ghosts as well as dogs that are afraid of ghosts.

Each type shows up in “Ghost Dogs of the South.” The 20 tales recounted by Russell and Barnett introduce: a stray dog that warns coal miners of impending disaster; a Tennessee dog that returns home every year to go trick-or-treating; and a butterfly dog that eases a young girl’s pain.

Britain’s Phantom Dogs

Local superstition and ethereal dogs seem leashed together in British lore. They are most commonly described as being calf-size and black with saucer eyes. British tradition and tale have it that black phantom dog sightings occur most often along old tracks and roads: And a street called Black Dog Lane is surely haunted by one.

Another renowned scholar and Britain-Ireland folklorist, Katharine Briggs (1898-1980), also described two kinds of phantom dogs: those that are the ghosts of human beings returned as dogs and the ghosts of dogs in their own right. They are, generally, benevolent. In Scotland, phantom black dogs are said to guard buried treasure; while other tales applaud phantom black dogs for scaring away would-be robbers.

Author Daniel Parkinson lists these among the names for ghost dogs in Britain:
Bogey Beast, Bargheust, Black Shuck, Capelthwaite, Cu Sith, Gallytrot, Gurt Dog, Hairy Jack, Mauthe Dog, Old Shock, Padfoot, Pooka, and Skriker.

The infamous phantom dog in Andrew Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes classic crime story, "Hound of the Baskervilles," is likely the best-known ghost dog. Or is it a dog ghost? Image from http://www.flickr.com.

We must not forget the infamous phantom hound in ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Arthur Conan Doyle. This Sherlock Holmes crime mystery begins with lecherous Hugo Baskerville imprisoning a young lass at his country estate. The night she manages to escape, Hugo chases her across the moors. Before he reaches the young woman, Hugo is set upon and killed by a “marauding hound of hell.”

This brings a curse on the Baskerville family; a curse that includes being plagued by a mysterious and supernatural black hound. Consider reading, or re-reading, this classic as you burrow in for winter.

If you know any ghost dogs or stories about them, I’d love to hear from you.

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BREAKING NEWS: This article just won first place in the Nonfiction, Essay by an Adult, Category at the Yamhill County Fair 2011.

I’ve always been an animal lover, so I take it quite personally when an animal gives me the cold shoulder. That happened three times this past winter and spring. Now, it’s like Christmas in July, because the two aloof dogs and horse have warmed up to me enough to permit a touch or two.  I can’t say that I did anything special to earn their trust. I just waited them out. It was an exercise in patience.

NEKOTA

Nekota, a bearded collie from champion lines, is sometimes aloof with newcomers, especially when her owner is not present to offer encouragement.

Nekota, a young  bearded collie from champion lines, was the first to allow me a touch. She came around about two weeks after I started seeing and feeding her twice a day. My friend and Nekota’s owner, Tish, was out of town on dog and family business.  I was pet sitting three of her bearded collies: Nekota, her mother Kiwi, and another female, Bubbles.

The jovial trio always greeted me with enthusiasm and barks of delight. I’d ruffle the long, silky hair of Bubbles and Kiwi; then they’d set off to romp and tumble on the winter-wet green lawns. I wanted to pet and hug Nekota, too. But she kept her distance even when I offered her treats.

After a few days, I was feeling slighted, so I quit pursuing her affections. I stopped trying to make eye contact with Nekota, too.  This wasn’t too hard since bearded collies have long, bushy eyebrow hair that covers their eyes to protect them from stickers and debris when doing the livestock herding for which they were initially bred.

One evening, as I was preparing their dinner in Tish’s kitchen, the three dogs came in from outside and gathered around me. Truth be told, they were more interested in having me throw the raggedy toy they’d dropped at my feet than they were in their meal. Nonchalantly, yet deliberately, I let my hand slowly drop to Nekota’s head — for an instant. She didn’t recoil. I was wowed, making it nearly impossible not to look at her, but I refrained: Doing so might have made her feel challenged, hence retreat.

I repeated similar gestures over the next few days. In time, I could pet Nekota at will and even glance at her while at it. By the time Tish returned home, Nekota was curling at my feet and allowing me to stroke her head and scratch her chin for as long as I liked. I lavished praise on her in a very subdued manner: She didn’t seem to mind that either. She liked me after all.

The new accord between us meant more to me than many other successes in my life. Good Girl, Nekota!! Thanks for considering me a member of  your pack for awhile.

STELLA

Stella, a shy, uncertain mastiff when rescued, has gained confidence while settling in at her new forever home. She's become trusting enough to include some humans among her friends.

I’d known Stella, a shy and aloof rescued mastiff, much longer than I had known Nekota when her stand-offishness  began to ebb. Quite possibly, Stella knew abuse and /or neglect in her past. Once settled in a safe, quiet environment, it still took the big taupe-colored dog months to stop evading me when I visited the farm where she lives with her new owners, Stacy and Russell. She couldn’t be bribed with treats, toys or praise. Cats terrified her, too. She was wary of all that moved – even the wind, it sometimes seemed.

When my husband, son and I have acquired rescue dogs in the past, we’ve been cautioned that it can take as long as a year for a dog to really feel secure with a new place and unfamiliar faces. So I waited on Stella, and waited some more.

It’s all too easy to envision Stella having been cloistered away and used for the single purpose of making  babies in a puppy mill setting. If that was the case, it explains why she’s still afraid to be in dark, tight places. It may also be the reason beneath her demureness: It’s possible she’d never known affection at the hand of man, or woman, prior to her rescue by English mastiff guardian angels Sue and Gary May of McMinnville, Oregon. (The couple founded Mastiff Rescue Oregon and has placed more than 80 of these cougar-size gentle giants in loving, permanent homes.)

For the longest time, when  Stacy and Russell had guests, four-year-old Stella would retreat to a spot where she could rest her chin on her giant paws and observe the movements of all those folks she didn’t know. Her eyebrows seemed  to do a sort of line dance, moving side to side with each quick, constant, wary eye movement. A few other dog-loving friends and I started letting a hand dangle whenever we sat and chatted with our hosts. We hoped our hands would serve as bait for the lonely Stella, who appeared a little braver each  week.

One night, a collection of us were having a group lesson in making pot-stickers. I was preparing to slice and dice celery at the island in Stacy’s kitchen when I felt a cold nose bump the hand I had resting on my hip. (That’s about eye level for big-and-tall Stella.)  Purposefully, I kept talking about chestnuts and pinching pasta and barely acknowledged the now-curious dog. A few visits later, Stella approached me from behind and stood at my side. The next time, she let me stroke her head as I stood talking with Stacy, a coffee mug in my hand.

The encouragement Stella has received in her new forever home has given her the confidence to trust, perhaps for the first time in her adult dog life. She even gives the new kittens clattering about a curious sniff instead of immediately trotting away.

Nowadays, when I arrive at the farm, Stella lopes out to meet my car instead of racing off to hide behind the free-range chickens or miniature pinscher tap-dancing about. Stella’s long tail, no longer tucked between her powerful back legs, is carried more naturally and, most of the time, swings lazily from side to side. If I linger over the new kittens too long, Stella actually nudges her way into our little crowd to claim some petting for herself.

Oh yes, the “min pin,” small enough to be a lap dog, isn’t a snuggler or a cuddler. But loving, lanky Stella is.

BOBBY

It was nearly a year before Bobby, a cutting horse, felt safe enough with me to take treats I offered to him. Photo by Adam Sherman.

Bobby was the last hold-out: He took nearly a year. Bobby is a chestnut-colored, top-performing cutting horse that belongs to the owner of the barn where I stable my horse, Callie. This athletic gelding, too, may have been mishandled in his youth, long before he came to the loving home where he is now the star.

At first it was tempting to think Bobby was stuck-up, even vain; then I remembered those were traits exclusive to humans. He’d move to another part of his stall whenever I entered to clean it or feed him. I didn’t dare try to remove his fly mask at night. He reminded me of a cat. Everything had to be on his terms and in his time. I’d offer Bobby a carrot or apple slice, and he’d turn his head away. I’d never experienced a horse refusing things that were like candy to them. I was flabbergasted and, yes, my feelings were hurt.

“Bobby’s just like that,” his owner assured me. “It’s not you. He’s even more skittish around men.” That would make sense if he’d been corrected too harshly or ridden too hard by a man somewhere along the line; however, I was determined to befriend him. Every time I’d pass Bobby’s stall or paddock on the way to catch Callie, I’d stop to offer him a treat. He’d look me right in the eye, then pivot away. That left me feeling like the wallflower kid who never gets asked to the floor at a junior high school dance.

One afternoon, I offered Bobby a treat on the way back from the pasture with my horse at the end of a lead rope. Instead of shunning  me and turning tail, Bobby remained still. When my horse tried to angle in and snatch the treat for herself, Bobby grabbed it from the palm of my hand! I repeated that approach day in and day out — with varying degrees of success.

Then the farrier arrived ahead of schedule one day.  Bobby’s owner, unable to leave work early, sent me a text message and asked if I would please halter Bobby and bring him to the main barn for his session with the horseshoer.

“Me?” I thought as I responded, “Yes, sure, no problem.” Once inside Bobby’s run, his halter slung over my arm, I talked softly and approached him slowly, but with confidence. Next thing I knew, I was buckling the blue halter alongside his ear, and he stood perfectly calm as I did so!  Since then, he’s taken to following me around his stall, hoping for more of the treats stashed in my pocket. I wouldn’t say were BFFs (best friends forever), but Bobby and I are working on it.

THIS WEEK’S ANIMAL LESSON: Nekota, Stella, Bobby — When they finally befriended me, I was reminded of a slogan 12-step programs use. It goes something like this:   When we try to force solutions, we become irritable and unreasonable without knowing it. As in, I let one dog hurt my feelings; another make me feel unworthy; and I thought of a horse as being a snob. Change takes time, so be patient” The animals are.

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NON-FICTION

“Born Free: A Lioness of  Two Worlds,”  by Joy Adamson; the story of a lion cub in transition between the captivity in which she is raised and the fearsome wild to which she is returned.

“A Celebration of Dogs,” by Roger Caras; a mix of facts and feelings about dogs, and a look at the roots of the bond so strong between dogs and humans today

“Chicken Soup for the Horse  Lover’s Soul,” by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marty Becker, DVM, Gary Seidler, Peter Vegso and Thersa Pelusa; true and inspiring stories about horses and people who love them.

“Good, Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood,” by Sy Montgomery;  a scrawny, orphaned piglet survives and thrives with the love of the couple who pamper him for 14 years.

“A Good Horse Is Never A Bad Color,” by Mark Rashid; memoir, horse training.

“Love Heels,” by Patricia Dibsie, true stories about Canine  Companions for Independence dogs. Trained to work alongside people with disabilities —  these canines forever alter  the course of their “person’s”  life.

“Through Animal Eyes: True Stories from a Wildlife Sanctuary,”
by Lynn Cuny; factual, sympathetic, but unsentimental, stories of rescued animals.


FICTION

“FUP” by Jim Dodge; a Mark-Twain-like novel about a duck. And a boar. And Tiny, who builds fences. And Grandaddy Jake Santee, with his Ol’ Death Whisper whiskey.

A big, ugly, happy dog helps 10-year-old Opal make friends in her new hometown, find her place in the world, and let go of some of the sadness left by her mother’s abandonment.

“Sight Hound,” by Pam Houston; fiction – the story of  a woman, a wolfhound, and the covenant between them.

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