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.

What Doesn’t Annoy Jeff this Week?

What Annoys Jeff this Week is usually the place where I vent my spleen each week. Most of the time it’s easy enough to cull the “top three” things from the list and give them each a little paragraph of exposition. Some weeks, this one included, offer what I can only describe as an embarrassment of riches. In fact this week it would be easier to discuss the few things that have not annoyed me in some way.

1. The critters. Despite the bills for care, feeding, and entertainment, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever begrudged one of my animals anything. Regardless of the stupidity going on “out there” beyond the four walls of the house, they’re consistent in their affection and pleasure at seeing me every afternoon. Even the cat. Walking through the door to be greeted by a wave of fur and slobber is the high water mark of each and every day.

2. Living rural. Every time I switch on the television I find myself faced with an endless amount of stupid things happening. For the most part that coverage is dedicated to the things happening in major cities here at home and around the globe. Now I’m tuned in to the local news outlets closely enough to know that there’s plenty of stupidity happening in Cecil County, too. Fortunately, my little corner of the place is remarkably serene. Now there may still be plenty of stupidity happening nearby, but we have the common decency to (mostly) keep in behind closed doors.

3. Blood. You don’t get to pick your family. What you end up with seems to be mostly be left up to the luck of the draw. Let me say that knowing that, I feel like I’ve been given a very fortunate hand to play. I’m looking forward to that rare opportunity of spending some quality time with them this weekend.

If there’s anything else you can think of this week, it’s safe to just go ahead and assume that it has annoyed me at some point.

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.

Work is work…

I’m still settling in to the whole idea of working from home. Not schlepping through the pre-dawn darkness to sit in a badly lit room with thirty other people doesn’t really suck. I like the view and my coworkers are appreciative of ear rubs and the occasional milkbone. Honestly it’s a whole lot of up side and not much down, at least so far.

It’s a learning process for sure and what I’ve learned this week is:

1. Dogs make the best coworkers. They’re content to find a convenient spot on the floor, preferably in the sun, and stay put until you want them for something.

2. Cats are attention-seeking little hoodlums who want to interrupt you 47 times a day. So basically, working while a cat is in residence is a lot like having actual human coworkers.

3. Happy hour begins promptly at 4:00. Getting that tasty beverage to start the evening an hour earlier is an awfully effective way to put a fork in Monday.

4. There’s something to be said for a lunch that doesn’t come out of a cooler bag / paper bag or from the hands of a sandwich artist.

5. The availability and freshness of the coffee / tea selection is way, way better. It’s hard to underestimate just how much better life is when you can fresh brew all day long.

I wish I could offer up something a little more insightful, but work is work no matter where it’s getting done. The best we can seem to hope for is improving the venue where we spend our eight hours.

Cats are jerks…

I have a morning routine. I don’t know that anyone reading this will be surprised by that factoid. Once the morning necessities are taken care of (and while my heathen animals stay comfortable in bed) the dogs go out. Then we come in and the dogs get fed and watered. Then I turn on the sunlamps and feed and water the tortoise. Then I circle back to the bathroom and put out fresh water for the cat (He gets fed at night because he seems to sleep more readily on a full stomach). Usually the cat follows me around through this entire routine. Today he didn’t. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed he wasn’t in his usual spot underfoot while I was fixing my coffee. Then I backtracked. He wasn’t scrounging for dropped dog food. He wasn’t curled up on a favored chair in the living room or sprawled across my bed.

Where he was, however, was stretched out happily in the middle of my indoor tortoise habitat, enjoying the sun lamps, and thoroughly annoying the resident tortoise. Of course that’s where my daily routine came off the rails… because now I have to close off the office, which means moving the 8-foot long, dirt-filled container holding the tortoise, because when I built it in place needing to close off the room wasn’t a consideration. After some effort, a dolly and managing not to spill the entire set up onto the floor, I was able to move it far enough to swing the door closed. The doors don’t so much lock as they “catch” closed using a tab, but I judged them secure enough that a small cat poking at the bottom of them wouldn’t be an issue.

Finally, desperately behind schedule, I was able to depart Fortress Jeff for my day job. Twenty minutes later, the alarm company calls to report “interior motion sensors are active”. I rolled the dice that finding a way to set off the motion sensors was the cat’s version of retribution for shutting him out of the office and I was not, in fact, being robbed blind only a few minutes after leaving for the day… and was proven right. Mercifully. But not before spending the entire day wondering if I shouldn’t have set a course for home at best possible speed and fearing what I’d find when I arrived.

Living with small creatures can be exhausting… and yeah, cats are jerks.

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.

Dog’s life…

I’ve been a dog person basically forever. I had dogs as a kid, but they were mostly the outside chained to a box variety rather than the sleek, clean lay at your feet kind. One of the first things I did when I moved out on my own was get a dog… admittedly, a dog that would soon develop a brain tumor and go quite mad, so perhaps that’s not a great first foray into pet ownership. After that false start of my life as a dog owner, I had a long stretch of apartment living and a cat who was much more suited to the long hours I was working and commuting into the city every day. She never looked at you disapprovingly when you didn’t get home on time.

With the move to Memphis and a job that didn’t involve a ridiculously long commute and the overhanging threat of spur of the moment trips to whatever disaster ravaged part of the country was the hot topic of the week, the natural thing to do was get another dog. That’s where Winston came into the picture… because lets be honest, that’s a face you can’t say no to, right? If one dog is good, of course, then two dogs must be better. I had planning on bringing home a second dog after Christmas. Having a puppy amidst the chaos of the holiday and the accompanying 30 hours on the road didn’t seem like a great idea. That was before the flyer went up on the office wall. A local family had an “accidental” litter of labs, mama didn’t survive, they were being hand fed by the owners, and eating them out of house and home. If the pups weren’t taken by the end of the week, they’d be going to the shelter the following Monday. The Shelby County shelter isn’t one of the nice ones you hear about and since I like animals much more than I like people as a rule, I thought I’d just go have a look at the litter. Just a look. I don’t want a puppy until after Christmas after all. Of course I came out of the house with a 12 pound lab tucked in my coat. She was the only chocolate in the litter and stayed on my lap until we pulled into the garage. I wasn’t set up for a puppy, didn’t have the toys, gates, food – any of it – but that’s when Maggie made her arrival. A Lady Margaret to go along with Sir Winston.

That’s a long way of getting to my point, but it’s important to understand the context here. After another $250 vet bill yesterday, another round of ear drops, another follow up later in the month, sometimes I wonder why we put up with these animals that leave hair everywhere, occasionally poop in the floor, cost a small fortune in medical bills, and eat a holistic blend of all-natural, hypoallergenic food. I live here and pay the bills, but the place has mostly gone to the dogs. They might run me into the poorhouse, but these Memphis dogs are probably the best thing I’ll take away from my time here.