How to Handle a Day

I love that the animals don’t need a weather report to know how to handle the day. They went out for their morning constitutional‘s, scanned or sniffed the sky, and were back at the window in less than five minutes, waiting to come in.

They’ve been curled up next to and on the couch in my office for hours. Some mystical meteorologist has told them that something big may be on the way, and a good, solid nap is the only way to handle this kind of day.

Leading with Love

Every morning when we bring out the checks, Katie follows us. She watches and whines, urging us to be careful as we move the growing babies from indoor enclosure to box to the chicken tractor outside. She trails the Big Guy from room to outdoors and hovers as he releases the checks into the tractor.

When the chicks are settled in their outdoor home, she’ll sniff on all four sides, inspect the sky to see if any predators are selling above, and then give a pointed look at Jim-Bob, as if to say, “Don’t mess with my chicks”.

most mornings she’ll lie down next to the coop, watching the chicks scratch and argue over who gets this would chip in that white fluffy flower. To be sure, Katie has her explorations in the woods. From the moment the chicks are in the tractor, however, until the moment we begin moving them back into the house, she lets us and them –and even the cats – know that she is there to protect and serve.

She never growls or bares her teeth at anyone. when she sees Princess Jane get too close to the coop, she will physically move herself between the chicks and arrow little gray huntress, but there are no snarls or parks. When it counts, she firm but always as loving with Princess Jane as she is with the chicks.

No one will ever mistake Katie for a huntress or vicious guard dog, but as a vigilant and caring protector, she’s becoming quite good at keeping the peace.

Katie’s Chicks

Katie settles in from a comfortable distance to watch the chicks. She makes a practice of checking on them whenever they move from their indoor house to the outdoor home. She lolls in the grass as Jim tries and talk the chickens into squeezing through the holes in the wire.

The chicks love to visit with Jim, chirping that they’d be only too happy to show him their feathers up close if only they could get through. Visibly cursing the physics of chicken wire, Jim pretends to be distracted by a chipmunk under the car and left.

Jane watches for a while and then decides it’s time for the pro from Dover to put the fear of the Warrior Princess into the chicks. This is when, Katie, recognizing a true huntress, gets to her feet, shadowing her Royal Highness before she gets within 6 feet of the coop.

Karie takes a fair amount of teasing for being a bit of a wimp. It’s safe to say chicks are usually less afraid of the cats than the she is. Ultimately, though, she lives by one overriding philosophy of ”Don’t mess with my chicks.”

I can sympathize.

Are You Our Mama?

It was almost uncomfortably warm on Saturday so we let the chicks into the chicken tractor to play while they’re current enclosure was cleaned. It was a good chance for them to really meet Jim, Princess Jane, and Katie.

Jane and Jim inspected the chirping babies and, discovering that the tractor was secured by wiremesh at all sides, spent most of the day feigning interest in a chipmunk hunt.

I sat with the chicks for a while, cleaning some garden implements and getting them used to the idea of me as Mother Hen. Eternally loyal, Katie sat with me. As she moved, the chicks often moved with her. She would sniff at them and wag her tail a little as they chirped at her.

The chicks came out of their eggs at the feed store, so the only “mamas“ they’ve ever known are a heat lamp and the changing hands that feed them. Katie was abandoned to a kill shelter as a puppy, and I doubt she had much contact with her mama.

Something in her past or her nature, however, made her loyal and gentle, more than a little bit of a pushover, and, when she has to be, brave. It seemed fitting that, for the moment, they saw her as the “Mother Hen.“

What Us Worry?

Most of our house is buried to save on energy bills. When the wind tears through in the spring and fall, however, I find myself wishing we’d buried the entire thing until I look at the sleeping Sisters from a Different Litter.  

The wind and rain have completely blurred the view from our cave at times this morning. It howls through the mountains, making 100 year old trees dance and sway like a bunch of twenty-somethings doing the Batusi — and it’s just as hypnotic (and occasionally horrifying) to watch. I play Monday morning sportscaster, wondering which tree will twist too hard and go down and which one will live to play another day. Anything that could fly into a window is secured against the house, but every once in a while a gust will come from the south, actually pushing on the glass. A gust will come through the forest at the north end of the house making us wonder if that massive pine tree is too close to the part of the house that isn’t buried. 

But then Monday morning sports turns from Tree Dancing to the Sleeping Sisters competition. Today’s event – who will move from their cushy spot last (with no cheating by the refs by opening the food bucket lid in the kitchen)? Popular wisdom has it that animals can sense when something is wrong, so when the gusts make the entire forest seem to bow to the ground, I always expect a response from at least one of the Sleeping Sisters.

The wind has made the windows heave at least three times, and, so far, the Sleeping Sisters are in a dead heat.  Literally.

So, for the moment, I’m listening to popular wisdom and putting my faith in their instincts over my over-active imagination. 

Sounds of Scribbling

When grading papers or doing homework, I always have music or reruns on in the background. I want white noise.

When I write early in the morning, the only soundtrack I need is the sound of scribbling which, surprisingly, sounds like two cats purring and a little dog happily groaning as light starts to fill my office and they realize that they are sleeping in the sun.

Portrait of an Old Dog and Her New Tricks

Secretly, she thinks, Katie-the-Wonder-dog has always wondered if it would not be better to have been born a cat. That curiosity is never more obvious than when she thinks she won’t get caught sleeping on the spot on the bed where Jim, our orange tabby, sleeps, on the couch which belongs to Princess Jane, or, as in this case, on the poof, dominion over which Jim and Jane have recently launched a cold war.

The cats are hunting outside, and, well they’re not exactly “away“, Katie seems to be channeling her inner mouse and taking advantage of thei absence to play. That seems more inline with her personality anyway.

My Mile, Her Moccasins

I got my lab/beagle/take-your-pick mix on the spur of the moment. I had been working at home for several months and wanted a companion during the workday when the kids were at school.

Katie now goes everywhere with me. From the minute I wake up in the morning, she’s there. She positions herself right at the head of the bed so she’s often the first face I see when I wake up in the  morning (the big guy is long gone for work by then).  By the time I’m loading the kids into the car school, she’s there in the parking circle at the bottom of our driveway waiting for us.

“You want to go for a ride?”  I’ll ask, and she’ll wag her tail and hop in the car. Sometimes she’ll race us to the top of the driveway before wagging her tail and jumping in. When the weather’s not too hot, she and I will continue on after I drop off the kids and run my errands before work.  For the the longest time I thought she just enjoyed sleeping on the seat by my side, but the last week or two got me questioning not just what I know about dogs (which isn’t much admittedly) but also how I might be dealing with human animals in my life.

It started a few weeks ago when we approached the park after dropping off Thing2.   She was sitting on the seat next to me, watching the town go by, and suddenly her whole body started to quake. When it became evident that we were going to pass the park instead of turning in go for a walk, she began to whimper. I couldn’t understand it we hadn’t been there in months.  Then I remembered an unplanned play date she’d had with another dog there back in June.  Could she be remembering it too?  I shook the idea out of my head and drove on.

Today, however, as we were driving the short trip between the middle school and the bank, I got a clearer picture what it is to travel that mile on her paws.

We’d dropped off the kids as usual, and as usual Katie jumped from the seat next to Thing2 into the seat next to mine.  She curled up and seemed to fall asleep for a few minutes.  Then we turned into the bank.

I pushed the talk button to ask for a deposit slip, and I saw her ears perk up slightly.  When I pushed the button to send the canister to the teller, she sat right up.  The tail started thumping just a tiny bit, and then I noticed that she was staring right through the glass at the teller with the limpid bedroom eyes she uses when she’s begging for scraps from the kids at the dinner table.  That was when I noticed the bowl of dog biscuits on the counter next to the teller.

Then it hit me that, even though she had only been here once before, she had put in on her mental map faster than Pavlov’s dog. The teller nodded and waved and popped a biscuit into the canister before sending it back. Katie’s tail was now on full speed.

I don’t know much about dog behavior; everything I know comes from growing up with my parents dog labrador retriever and from raising Katie, and that ain’t much. Early in Katie’s life I did read advice from dog experts warning about the fallacy of projecting human emotions onto dogs.  But as Katie’s thumping tail reminded me not to underestimate her memory, I wondered if our projection of those human emotions says more about us than it does about the animals in our care.  And it got me wondering how often in human relationships, I project my preconceptions ,rather than widening my perceptions.