Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Fun

As autumn is setting in, we are really seeing some interesting depth of colors. I like this picture of Little Brett Buckwalter.

While the leaves do their thing, I continue to train the dogs. HT has pretty much mastered the agility obstacles that I have constructed. Thus, I have been trying to make things a bit more difficult for her. Lately I have been making her fetch a ball and then run through the course before dropping it. She is doing very well.

Here she is doing the see-saw while still holding the ball:

Here, she is taking a moment's break to reposition the ball in her mouth while on top of the A-frame.

Petunia has not yet mastered all of the obstacles. She was having some difficulties with the contact equipment, the A-frame and the see-saw. She also does not always like to jump the high jumps. Thus, I generally run her through the course using two bars on the jumps.

This week, however, Pea decided that she would conquer the A-frame. It was a proud moment for both of us. I need to move a bit slower with Pea, but sometimes, out of nowhere, she will decide she wants to make progress in her training. Thus, I just roll with it and take advantage of her positive outlook.

She also has started to make a bit of progress on the see-saw this week. She will run up to the fulcrum and then jump off to the side when the see-saw starts to tilt. Still, progress is progress and I happily reward her for it. Often, when working with a shy dog, you will not get the dog to perfectly perform a behavior at first. Thus, you just reward a close proximity and slowly become a bit more demanding until the dog gets it right. This keeps the dog engaged and happy while overcoming its fears.

As always, both HT and Pitter-P enjoy a good romp through the agility course.

Note, Pea is pretty focused, hoping that I will be giving her a treat for her good work. I actually work to keep their attention by tossing food to them from time to time.

Note the differences in technique. Pea will actually lift herself off the ground to snatch the food out of the air. HT, just opens her sizeable maw and lets the food drop in her mouth. It actually mirrors their different personalities pretty well.

Dog training is always a good time.

Friday, October 23, 2009


And so begins another day on Bully Hill Farm:

The air is crisp, it has finally stopped raining after a long and very wet week, and the leaves are changing colors.

OK, I guess the sun had not come up all the way yet. Here is another:

As you can see, everything is quite muddy. You might also notice that the offending, killer yew tree/bush thing is gone. Snow is still here though. Note the backwards ears which say, "I'm angry because it has been raining for days and the sun is coming up too late." She declined to discuss things further, preferring to go eat some hay. She's being a little piss-monkey.

If you wonder why we call her monkey sometimes, it's because she tends to let her bottom lip droop when she is relaxed. Thus, compare:


I don't want to belabor the point, but they are practically twins! Thankfully Snow can't throw her feces.

Where was I? Ahhh yes, so as the air grows crisp and the leaves begin to change colors, so does my Ellie Mae. She is growing her thick, wooly, winter coat and although in the summer months she is very much a strawberry roan, she becomes almost entirely chestnut in the winter, save for a spotted blanket:

So Ellie Mae, unlike a leopard, can change her spots. I guess that is a good thing because leopards and monkeys probably don't mix well.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Trash Day?

I'm still getting caught back up on some old happenings. A few Sundays ago, I had set out on my normal morning routine. The dogs were fed and tired, the chickens were out, and I was spending some quality time with the horses up in the barn. I was speaking with my therapist, Ellie Mae, while picking poop out of her hooves, when I heard the familiar jangle and squeak of the fence gate. My lovely wife appeared moments later in a bit of a huff. She apparently was cleaning the kitchen and discarding old/expired foodstuffs when my dogs got into the trash. Whereas I did not recall getting any new animals without her consent, I assumed that she meant Petunia and HT. Frankly, it did not really surprise me even though trash consumption is not generally part of their normal M.O. My wife, however, was concerned that she had discarded some old baking chocolate and she could not find it in the trash. Obviously, dogs should not be eating any chocolate, but baking chocolate is generally the big problem.

Since it was a Sunday, I had my wife call the nearest emergency vet clinic. We basically just hang out at emergency vet clinics on the weekends. Since we moved, we switched to a new place which we like a lot. It has a vending machine, coffee, and a big flat screen t.v. which is nice if you are spending hours upon hours there. They told us to come on in, so we loaded up the dogs and set out on our all too familiar Sunday drive.

The funniest thing happens when the doors to a vet clinic open. Happy-go-lucky HT freezes up, drops to the ground with legs splayed for extra stability, and becomes a furry, blue, anchor; weird, uncomfortable, unsure of herself Petunia, becomes the life of the party. Petunia will run about finding anyone in scrubs and will greet them with a doggy "smile." Now, the teeth-bared sort of snarling, "smile" is generally a sign of submission in dogs. The head is down, the eyes look up, but Petunia keeps a very level tail wag with big, swooping strokes, and will sometimes almost wag her head. She bounds about and greets everyone this way, the folks at the reception desk, passing vets and vet techs, other patrons, it just doesn't matter. Harriet, meanwhile, is a rigid mass stuck in the doorway, keeping the automatic doors from closing.

Two very nice vet techs came out and took the dogs "to the back." Petunia happily pranced away with her caregiver. HT had to be carried. Her legs were still splayed out as if she was still on the floor, as the young woman heaved and strained under the unweildy bulk.

They eventually came back with red eyes and tired looks on their faces. The doctors had obviously induced vomitting as is the norm when a dog eats chocolate. We were informed that they were both very good patients and had actually performed a syncronized purging.

I like to keep track of behavior, so I was pleased to learn that HT was not reactive. Dogs with chocolate poisoning will present with some hyperactivity, increased heart rate, and panting. Neither dog was really symptomatic (indeed HT was more catatonic than hyperactive) but I asked if they checked heart rates. They had.

I have been tracking HT's heart rate since she arrived. Her resting heart rate falls around 88 bpm (beats per minute). Light exercise will increase her heart rate to about 120 bpm. If she is nervous, she will climb to about 145 bpm. When we lived in the city, this is generally when I became a vigilant and defensive dog walker. A growling dog or some other sudden and unwelcomed stimuli would result in a heart rate spike to over 200 bpm and HT would be a spinning and growling mess of nerves. She probably had never been exposed to this much stimuli and she could not handle the stress. She felt threatened and defensive. This contributed to our decision to move to the country and it has made a huge impact on HT's life. She is much happier and much more secure. With the move and consistent training, we have not seen those sorts of outbursts.

Thus, I was happy to learn that HT had been a good patient despite the fact that her heart rate had risen to over 200 bpm. I'm not sure if chocolate consumption contributed to the increased heart rate, but she was clearly stressed... just not defensive.

When it was all said and done, we received the following document entitled, "Discharge Instructions."

The document noted, "Harriet was seen for eating garbage with her sister." Phrased in this manner, it almost sounds kind of nice. Awwww, the sisters were enjoying some quality time together, bonding over a heaping helping of refuse. The document continued, "She did eat the chocolate, as well as a bee." Well, I've learned something new about my dog. Given the opportunity, she will eat bees. Thankfully, the dogs were able to "empty" their stomachs, so "no further treatment [was] needed."

My two little monsters were apparently quite a hit with staff. As we discussed their condition in the lobby, folks came by greeting the dogs by name. They picked up the moniker "double trouble." A vet tech came out and put red bandanas on them which had the clinics logo brightly emblazoned in white. A nice way to tell the world that they had gotten into trouble.

HT was noticeable more relaxed and even gave the vet tech a nice, wet, vomit-kiss. In a strange sort of way, it was a fun Sunday adventure.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Memory of...

I have been dreading this post for a while. In mid-September, my Old Mer passed away. She had been battling health issues for a long time and she just became very ill. She was ready to go, I just wish I was a little more ready to let her. In the end, I knew that I did not want her to suffer so we had to let her pass. Three days later, our cat, Holly, also passed away. Thus, it has been a pretty crappy month.


I don't even know where to begin talking about her. Everyone that does pit bull rescue has their dog... the one that changed their perception of the breed. A dog so good that they were forced to try to convince the rest of the world that they are wrong about pit bulls. Gracie was my dog.

I never wanted a pit bull dog, it just sort of happened. She was my best friend and truly one of the most remarkable dogs I have ever known. She was crazy smart and could pick-up behaviors with limited repetitions. She had the kind of smarts I generally only see in herding dogs. She learned to open up the fridge and fetch drinks in two weeks. If she was sick, she would vomit in the toilet... she would simply wake me up and then walk into the bathroom and wait for me to lift the lid. (She went through a puppy phase where she ate a lot of grass and threw-up a lot). She retained the names of all of her dog friends. She knew left from right... but not always right from wrong. She used her intellect to get into trouble when she was a pup. There was "the incident" when my old roommate Brett (yes that Brett) went to the grocery store. Gracie got into the groceries and had quite a feast. She ate half of loaf of pumpernickel bread, opened a box of Fruit Loops and helped herself to half the box, bit off the top of a V-8 container and consumed a bit of juice, and then she apparently was running about the kitchen with a gallon container of white grape juice. It was thrown into the corner of the stove. I found the kitchen in disarray, opened boxes, food bits everywhere, white grape juice slowly emptying onto the floor, and a small yellow dog who had put herself in the bathroom for a well-deserved time out. She was pooping purple for two days.

She also knew how to make me late for work. She often stole another dog's toy just as we were leaving the park and then played keep away. I either had to wait her out (chasing her only added to the fun) or give her a king's ransom to bring it back. On one occasion, as I was dressing for work, she actually took my dress shoes and hid them under a blanket in her crate. I actually had to change suits so I could wear different shoes. I found the shoes the next day. They still have tiny teeth marks in them from her needley puppy teeth.

Not only was she smart, but she was strong, agile, and determined. She had brains and brawn. When I was younger, I used to take her mountain biking. She would run just behind my bike for hours and not get tired. Most of the time, I started to fade before she did. She would start pulling away from me after 30 miles or so. She would stop and look back over her shoulder, a bit annoyed that we were not going faster. I paced her at 29 mph once on a slight hill and I'm pretty certain that she could have gone faster... I could not at that point.

On top of all of this, she was one of the kindest most maternal dogs I've known. When I was a foppish dandy, living in the city, we spent hours at our local dog park. Gracie ruled the park with an iron paw. She was competative and played quite rough, but it was always good natured play. She never was really involved in a dog fight. There was one occasion when a German Shephard dog we had never seen before was attacking other dogs in the park. That dog was crazy, in a bad way. The park was a mess of flying fur as dogs ran every which way. Gracie marched over, knocked the dog to the ground, stood over it, and growled in a very serious manner. Before I could even get to her, she walked away and the Shephard was left laying on the ground dazed. It would not the last time she broke up a dog fight. She frequently threw herself between combative dogs and would bark at them, throwing her head from side to side with each bark for emphasis. She was a fierce defender of "her" puppies. If there was a squeal or yipe, Gracie was at the scene, either reprimanding the offending dog or playing "nurse-Gracie." She was a fantastic foster mom and probably taught most of our foster dogs as much as I ever did. She was a dog that made my life easier.

Unfortunately, her maternal instincts were not limited to puppies. She liked nothing more than to sit with children and she simply loved little girls. That posed a problem when Gracie would decide to jump the fence which divided the park from the children's playground. (She could clear a 4 foot fence from a stand still). I still have a clear image of Gracie clearing the fence while new mothers frantically ran about grabbing their children. The large red-nose pit bull dog eventually turned attitudes around. There were a few children that were afraid of dogs but were happy to see Gracie. She would just lay down and children would pet her or even beat on her like a drum. She didn't care one bit, as long as children were paying attention to her.

Best of all, I got to reap the benefits of her mothering. If I was sick, upset, angry, whatever, Gracie was there to make me feel better. She would not leave my side. I was the apple of her eye and vice versa. I wish I could be as good of a person as she was a dog. I really miss her.

Holly Cat

My wife brought Holly into our relationship. She was a pretty ideal cat. She never scratched the furniture, she was a good mouser, and she was not only entertaining, but emotionally supportive. She always had a good sense of when someone needed cheering up. She would simply come over and put a friendly paw on your arm and give you a look. I know she offered my wife a lot of solice and her passing has been difficult on both of us.
I know things will get better as time passes, but some things will just never be the same.