An update on the herd…

Editorial Note: I stumbled on a few “Ask Me Anything” questions I got a few months ago and had completely forgotten about. Over the next week or two, I’ll do my best to work them in to the schedule.

Tonight’s AMA question comes from someone I’ll Identify as LS. LS asks, “Update on the pet situation, please! Now that the intro period is over, how are Maggie and Winston and Hershel getting along? How have you and the dogs had to adjust your routines for the cat? Is there a pecking order? How can you tell?”

Maggie, although the youngest of the two dogs, is generally the pace setter. She’s the one who most often engages the cat – although it’s not so much an effort to play as an ongoing uncertainty and fascination with the creature that has access not just to the horizontal space in the house, but also operates on the vertical axis. Her main role seems to be one of investigating all the things that go “bump” when Hershel is up and moving. By contrast, Winston is his truly ambivalent self in their interactions.

I should say that Winston is ambivalent up to a point. He’s the grand old man of the house – with arthritic joints and plates and pins holding him together, he doesn’t generally appreciate the rough and tumble moments. That hasn’t stopped Hershel from wanting to pounce and play, but his efforts are usually met with a growl or with Winston’s best impression of a charging bull. I don’t expect that’s surprising from a very senior bulldog.

For all of his innate cat tendencies, Hershel has very much assumed the role of “third dog” in the household and is often found following along behind the other two. The best example probably comes each morning when I’m leaving for work. Maggie and Winston have always gotten a treat – a peanut butter Kong or other tasty morsel – when I leave. It became such a fixture of the schedule that they sit patiently at the laundry room door until it’s disbursed. It took a few months for Hershel to catch on to the program, but now he’s sitting right along with them waiting for his. I didn’t set out to turn him doggo, but at least in some respects that’s what’s become of him.

At best, they get along like all three have been together all their lives. At worst, they tolerate each other. Generally I’ve come to the conclusion that they’ve all more or less decided that they’re part of the same pack. Mercifully, there’s been minimal adjustment to the household routine – the only exception being the baby gate that keeps the litter box from becoming an open buffet for a particularly ill-disciplined chocolate lab. The gate is a nuisance, but what it prevents is undoubtedly worth the effort.

Is there a moral to the story? Hard to say, really. Dogs and cats can apparently live together just fine. I’m sure that has as much to do with the temperament of the individual animals as it does with anything else so I won’t take any credit there. The whole lot of them are badly trained and entirely spoiled – which is 100% my fault, of course. I find, though, that each one of them is completely endearing for their own particular set of reasons and take absolutely no steps to correct their behavior in any way.

Animal kingdom…

The homestead is something of an animal kingdom. The squirrels and birds get plied with all the nuts and seeds they can eat, the resident deer get the occasional handful of corn, and all manner of morsels from the kitchen feed whatever creatures will eat them. The critters inside pretty much have the run of the place. As often as not it feels like the whole household is designed around them. Given the amount of time I spent shifting furniture yesterday that’s not quite an understatement.
Until Hershel the cat came along, George the tortoise lived happily in his open topped enclosure in the office. With the addition of a cat, who wasn’t so IMG_6401.JPGmuch interested in the tortoise as he was in jumping into and out of the enclosure and spinning ground coconut onto every flat surface in the room with every leap in and out. Between the never-ending cycle of vacuuming up coconut shell and the threat of tipping over various heat lamps, the two had to be separated.

That was easy enough in the winter – close up the doors to the sunroom/office and go on about the day. With spring setting in and inability to satisfactorily control the ambient air temperature coming to a head, George had to move… Which is why I spent most of the day yesterday getting him installed in his own bedroom. Yes, I understand how perfectly ridiculous that sounds, but I suspect we’ll all be happier with this arrangement. Well, the cat may not be as pleased since I seem to have taken away one of his favorite toys. I supposed he’ll just have to satisfy himself with other less messy options for the foreseeable future.

I’m well satisfied with out new arrangement, but perhaps more satisfied that the furniture is all back in place and the hand carts and other implements of moving are back in the garage. Around here the biggest enemies to a happy life are chaos and disorder. Spending the better part of a day bringing those to heel feels like time awfully well spent.

Baby steps…

Until two and a half weeks ago, I’d lived for a little over eight years in a canine only household. I’m not counting the tortoise because mostly he’s just a sunlamp loving rock that
needs daily greens and fresh water. Being cat free wasn’t because I harbor instinctive ill will towards. There was always a cat around growing up and I had one myself in the past. Adding another mouth to the herd was just never all that FullSizeRender (27).jpgmuch a priority.

Since I haven’t given our new addition a proper introduction on the blog, it felt like something I needed to do. The nice folks at my vet’s office had been fostering Hershel since he was dropped off on their doorstep at about two weeks old. He ended up being the sole survivor of his litter-mates. They were looking for a permanent position for him so they could take on the next troubled animal… which of course paved the way for me to bring him home to Fortress Jeff.

I’ve never been particularly sympathetic to people, but animals, man, they seem to manage to find all my feels. I’m happy to report that he’s integrating even better than I had expected. I think what we’re all getting use to is having a youngling around the house again. With both the dogs well into advanced middle age and me being the youngest old man on the planet, the level of energy a kitten has is something to behold… even if it is occasionally troublesome for the rest of us.

Really, though, we’re all still getting to know one another and figure out where we all fit in. The dogs have been remarkably tolerant of this small creature that seems determined to pounce on them from every direction simultaneously. I’ve also learned just how many electrical cords I have strung around this house. Tonight’s project is coating as many of them as possible in soap, which he doesn’t seem to enjoy chewing on at all.

My initial assessment is that we’re going to enjoy having this little fuzzball around… especially once he decides there are better things to gnaw on than my fingers in the middle of the night. For now it’s all baby steps.

Gotcha…

Hard as it might be to believe, seven years have passed since I brought home a diminutive chocolate Labrador puppy that had spent the first weeks of her life in a Millington, Tennessee garage. Mama didn’t make it through the birthing process and the room full of pups was bound for the local shelter sooner rather than later. Hand feeding and the constant upkeep of the small herd had proved too much for the resident humans to manage any longer.

MaggieAs these stories so often start, I wasn’t planning on getting another dog. Actually I was, but I wanted to get through Christmas before starting the search in earnest. Dragging a two month old dog on one of my transcontinental road trips wasn’t high on my list of things to do. Or it wasn’t until a colleague of mine at the time posted a sign offering “free to a good home” and then proceeded to tell me the backstory.

In one of the better snap decisions I’ve ever made, I told the boss I was going to have a look at these dogs and I might be late coming back from lunch. Even at that I hadn’t planned to come back with a dog that day. I really just wanted to look things over. It was supposed to be a start to the “looking” process, not an acquisition. That’s what it was, or rather what it started out as – right up to the point where the door to the garage opened and an army of wagging tails charged out.

There was a lone chocolate in that sea of black. Unlike the others, she didn’t rush out into the room. While her litter-mates sought to occupy every bit of space simultaneously, she hung back – not quite cowering in the presence of the unfamiliar, but in no hurry to greet it either. She was satisfied to find a quiet spot away from the maelstrom and observe. Maybe that’s why the tumblers clicked home. I scooped her up for a closer inspection. With a sniff she seemed satisfied and promptly fell asleep tucked under my arm like a fuzzy football. Some decisions are made for you.

My lunch that day ended up taking a bit longer than planned, although the boss didn’t seem to mind since he went home with a lab of his own later that afternoon. All told, I think my office ended up taking in four or five pups from that litter, but I’ll forever think that my girl was the best of them.

A tale of two dogs…

Winston, as many of you will know, is prone to all manner of medical problems. Such is life in a bulldog household. My advice to anyone before they go to pick out such a project dog is to first deposit $10,000 into a savings account. Do’t be tempted to touch it for such “emergencies” as a new furnace or fixing your car’s transmission. You’re going to need it as a downpayment on the future medical bills you are going to ring up.

As we progress through the process of treating Winston’s second blown cruciate, I’ll be filling everyone in on the details of everything from diagnostics to treatment to recovery. It’s a record I played before – almost exactly three years ago to be exact. It’s less intimidating because I know more or less what to expect, but that only makes it slightly less of an ordeal. What can I say, I take a hurting critter very personally.

On the other hand, there’s Maggie, the unsinkable chocolate lab. I was just commenting a few hours ago how thankful I was that at least one of the beasts is healthy. The gods being the fickle asshats that they are, of course, that was a few hours before she started drooling all over herself and exhibiting what looks to me like the textbook definition of “lethargy.” I’m going out on a metaphoric limb and assuming she scrounged a stomach full of acorns while I was busy working on the yard and is now paying the price for it.

Just as I ended that last paragraph, my suspicion was at least partially confirmed as I had to pause and clean up the remnants of dinner mixed with an obviously stupid amount of acorns. Sigh. So there you have it. Two dogs both sick in their own special way. I am in no way prepared to deal with Monday after a weekend that was defined almost exclusively by dealing with sick critters.

Working dog…

I’ve read countless times that dogs behave better when they have a job. Some are trained to sniff out bombs or drugs, others pull carts, a few, the happiest probably, carry drums of liquor to skiers stranded somewhere on an Alp.

My Maggie never trained to do any of those things. She’s the definitive house pet… mostly well behaved, but possessed of a few bad habits that I’ve simply allowed to develop over time because they didn’t bother me enough to correct.

This chocolate lab of mine has always taken her patrol duties in the yard seriously – birds, squirrels, and cats have all felt her wrath at one time or another. Interlopers are less welcome by her than they are by me. That’s saying something. Since we moved, though, she’s taken on a whole new role.

The front windows aren’t quite floor to ceiling but they’re big enough to give her an unobstructed view of the front yard and the street beyond. Her domain is all she surveys. My working dog has appointed herself protector of the cul-de-sac. Every living thing that moves upon it is fair game for her hell-hound-like bark and ferocious snarl. Children on small motorized scooters are particularly hated enemies. The barking for them is the loudest and most long lived.

Technically I should probably be correcting her at every opportunity… but if I’m really dead honest about it, I’m not sure I hate the idea of everyone who drives, walks, or otherwise wanders past having a thought that herein lives one of the most vicious dogs on the face of the earth. It’s not a job for your typical working dog, but it fits in just fine around here.

Masters of adaptation…

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – the dogs are even more creatures of habit than I am myself. That’s no small accomplishment. Watching them wander from room to room trying to sort out what to make of the stacks of boxes was fun for the first 30 minutes. Now it’s just sort of sad.

These two southern dogs have been here now longer than they were in Memphis so it’s as much or more home to them as anywhere else. Conveniently, dogs are masters of adaptation and will settle in to the new and different far more quickly than I will. Well, they’ll adjust quickly enough to everything except not having a fence. I know I’m going to miss that far more than they will, but it’s a mercifully easy fix – in theory.

I love these little hoodlums, but having one under each foot every time I move is wearing a little thin. I’ll be glad of getting them introduced to the house a bit this weekend so we can start getting back to our own warped version of normal. If we keep up the current routine much longer there’s a fair chance I’ll accidentally kill myself while tripping over one of them, falling into a sea of cardboard, and never being heard from again.