carpe canem

I decided, after losing Logan, that that was it. I was done. No more dogs. I’d lost two in ten months. I know that cancer is common in Boxers, and I know that sudden cardiac failure happens to dogs of any breed much more often than we’d expect, but to hit both in so short a time? No. I was fucking done being shredded by love of dogs.

I was mad as hell. Fate, The Universe, God Herself, whatever — we were again not on speaking terms. But worse than after Riley, because Logan was so young, and so hurt, and deserved more life than that. We’d just gotten started, I kept saying and thinking, we were only getting started.

So I decided: no more. I wasn’t going to look for a Third Dog. I didn’t check Craigslist or the HSTB website or the Falkenburg shelter. No. That was it. If Fate or The Universe or God Herself wanted me to have another dog, it/she was going to have to put this third dog right in my face with the equivalent of neon signs and angels holding trumpets and anvils dropping and sky writing and everything else I couldn’t possibly ignore, because: Fuck. This. Loss. Thing.

You don't want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

You don’t want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

Let me tell you about Fate, The Universe, God Herself: it/she is always up for a dare. Because a week or so after coming to this decision (which was a while after thinking it over) and then the day after expressing it to a friend of mine, I got my message. On Facebook, of all places. A friend of mine had sent her dog to a trainer; that trainer shared a photo sent in by another client of a puppy in need of a home.

THAT. FAAAACE.

THAT. FAAAACE.

I looked at this picture and thought, my god, she reminds me of Riley. Not a pure Boxer, no, but there is so much Boxer in that pup, especially in the face. All right, Fate, The Universe, God Herself — consider that anvil dropped. So I inquired.

I didn’t expect to hear back, but I did.

This puppy had been found wandering on her lonesome on a road out in Sarasota, with no people or dogs or anything else around. She was very young, still had her milk teeth, playful and affectionate, liked to sleep on pillows, responsive to people. They had checked her for a microchip, called in at local shelters and vets, posted found ads, but nobody contacted them. Sounds to me as though the pup had been dumped out there.

I told the woman about Riley and Logan, the whole time expecting the conversation to end there, because like I said before I was feeling marked somehow, like I was an unwilling Killer Of Dogs. Instead she listened to it all and told me: “You sound like you need a puppy!”

It did make sense. Here was a puppy in need of a home. There I was with a home in sudden need of a dog.

I thought about the million ways this could be wrong (thanks ever so, anxiety) and the other ways it could be right. A puppy. A puppy. A fresh little dog-mind without all the trauma Logan had, and me bolstered with all of the good new training methods I learned with Riley and then Logan. Another rescue, like Logan; another dog in need of a second chance and a real home.

There was something else to it, too; something about Logan, that encouraged me to go for it. Our time together was so short, but so important. If I’d dithered and hesitated when I first met him, his story might have ended in that shelter while I was trying to make up my mind. We didn’t have long; we didn’t bond as closely as Riley and I had done, no. But there was a lesson to learn from Logan, that life is short and time is precious and go ahead and DO something before your chance is gone. Seize the moment. Seize the dog-moment. Maybe just seize the dog. Not carpe diem, but carpe canem.

So I would carpe the hell out of this wee little canem, for Logan and Riley and for her own self too, because she needed a person and I needed a dog.

I thought long and hard about names, finally settling on Josie, because she so resembles a friend’s dog, named Curly Joe, and Josie seemed a logical feminization of that. It’s a cute name, a happy name, a friendly upbeat name, for what sounded like a happy pup.

We met up on a rainy Sunday, and without anywhere sheltered to get out and talk, I hopped into Josie’s rescuers’ car to talk to them and meet my new dog. She was so small, and so sweet, and so friendly. I loved her immediately. We talked a bit — we were already in touch and Friended and whatnot on facebook — and along with the pup I was given a big bag of kibble, and another bag with a bowl, rawhide chews, pee-pads, treats… everything you need. Just add puppy. There she was, suddenly mine on that rainy day, ready to come home.

We're home, Josie.

We’re home, Josie.

It doesn’t make Logan’s loss hurt less, having this puppy here. It doesn’t make that pain go away. But what Josie does is help me bear it, remind me (quite forcefully, if necessary) that okay, I may be sad, but there’s a whole fantastic world out there that needs to be sniffed and tasted and explored by her wonderful little self. I can grieve one dog while learning to love another.

I can have a dog. I can have this crazy pup, who chews my ears and steals my socks and likes to sleep on my head. I can train her with the methods I learned for and used on Riley and then Logan, and she learns quickly. I can play with her, snuggle her, walk her, feed her, be happy with her.

I can do for her the thing that was most important for Logan: I can be there with her. I can teach her that the world is okay. I can teach her to grow up without being afraid.

Today we went to the vet, for her puppy checkup and first round of boosters — since she was a stray with no prior medical history, it starts from the beginning — and there another amazing thing happened. The woman who rescued Josie got together with her boss and they paid for a year’s worth of a wellness program, which includes shots, boosters, her spay when she’s old enough, and all the clinic visits I might need. Which is good, because puppies do stupid things like eat bees. I would like to nominate these two as Dog-People Saints. When she told me over the phone today that they were covering the whole thing, I went all stuttery and stupid in my amazed gratitude. Um. Wow. I mean. I. Um. That’s, that’s, so HUGE, you’re amazing. Thank you. Thank you. So I go, sometimes.

I’m looking into psychiatric service dog training, to see if little Josie is eligible, but those seem to be like the Mystery Monkey of Pinellas: everyone’s heard of them, but nobody knows where I might find one. I’ll keep looking, and in the meantime Josie and I will figure out this crazy business of life together.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements, kid.

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introducing logan

I brought you a ball. I brought you a bone. I brought you a stuffed thing that squeaks. I brought you a rope. I brought you a bit of tissue I grabbed out of the trash can. I brought you another ball. It’s a really good ball. I’ll just climb onto your lap and put it in your ear for you. There. I brought you another stuffed thing that squeaks. You don’t want these things? Do you still love me? You still love me, right? I need to eat. I haven’t eaten in years. Decades. Also I have a ball.

This is what happens when I bring home something with Lab in it.

I counted the days down and, I am sure, annoyed the shelter staff by calling almost every day to check on the dog who became Logan. I brought my mother up to meet him, a few days before his hold expired, and she fell in love right away. I kept checking his page on the petfinder site and hoped that whoever had owned him before did not want to keep him. He’s such a good dog, I kept saying, or he will be; there’s a good dog in there and I can shine it up. Everybody thought I’d be able to do that, too. My mother took me aside and told me, with the sort of seriousness she usually reserves for asking if I’ll go to the store for her, that she had no doubt whatsoever about my ability to make this pup a Good Dog.

I tried names: Shadow, Watson, Elwood, Logan. I would experimentally shout them across the house, because a good dog name has to be easy to shout. I have a theory about dog names: the best ones are two syllables, each with a vowel, because the way we pronounce things in American English means the name will be a Happy Sound, not a Scolding Sound or an Angry Sound. Dogs don’t really know their names, not the way we do. To them, a name is “the sound the monkeys make that means me.” So it’s important to select a good sound, an enticing happy one, that they will want to respond to. My pets pick their names, more or less: I’ve never selected a name and then brought home an animal for it. I choose a few I like, and try them out, and see which one fits the animal.

The shelter names their intake, even the strays; I suppose that is a bit more personable than asking for dog A21605, or whatever. The name they’d given Next Dog was Buster. I’d already had a Buster, a wonderfully weird dog, one in a million, and that name would only ever be his. When the guy was filling in the forms on the computer, for me, and he got to the name, he asked if I’d like to keep that name or change it.

“Logan,” I said. That’s who he became, that day: Logan, a wriggly black mutt, a shelter rescue, a Lab mix with I think some Border Collie, a stray who’d been collected off the street somewhere, a funny little dog who suddenly was mine.

I forgot to ask them where he’d been picked up. Maybe I can call to find out. I did learn a few interesting things, waiting for his hold to expire. His microchip information was eventually traced to a person in Gainesville, who the shelter managed to contact; this person said they gave him to somebody else in Tampa before they moved to G’ville. They did not want him back. This second owner never turned up, and since the first owner claimed he wasn’t theirs anymore, the hold expired and he became adoptable.

There are so many things I wonder about, which happens with shelter dogs. Was Logan dumped? Did the Gainesville person know Second Owner? Had there been a third Previous Owner before the other two, who’d had a whole litter of Logans? How long was my pup wandering on his lonesome? Where was he picked up? Was he frightened, shy, aggressive, happy to be found? All of these things happened here, not long ago, and different people know it all, but I’ll never find out.

It took a while to get everything squared in the databases: on my first visit, when I applied to adopt a dog I was asked about every dog I have ever had, and for some strange reason one of the cats, too. That was a depressing recitation. Renal failure, 2002. Bad hip, arthritis, 2003. Respiratory infection, 2007. Seizures and neurological damage, 2008. Spinal tumor, inoperable, last month. All of them were euthanized at the vet when it was their time. That was okay until I got to Riley, of course. I still feel like I failed her, even though I know it was her genes and her body, not me. I probably always will.

Even with all of that done, we still had plenty to do on Logan’s Gotcha Day. Updated inoculation records for the cats (thanks, vets for, phoning that stuff in), official owner Of This Dog, proof of rabies registration number with tag and title; it went on and on. Last, the actual purchase. This is funny: they had heavy discounts during October because it is Adopt A Shelter Pet Month. My mother piped in and asked if they also offered senior discounts. (She adores getting senior discounts. She has a lot of fun with being old.) It turns out that they did, so after a moment’s work and a quick glance at her photo ID to add her to the records, my new dog cost all of five dollars, with a full vet checkup and a year’s shots.

Logan: the five dollar dog. We had enough left over for pizza.

After all of this I was given a thick wad of paper with copies of everything — which I have since lost, of course. The guy called over the intercom for a pickup for kennel 118 and told me that someone would meet us there.

The first time I went there and spotted Logan, I asked for a meet-and-greet so that I could figure out if he was a dog I wanted to have in my life. A nice older man with a short tidy white beard came up with a slip-lead and opened the kennel door. Logan was out like a shot, bolting down the kennel, while every other dog who saw this barked their fool heads off. JAIL BREAK! I dropped to my knees and called for Logan, who barreled up to me, and I grabbed him on impact, holding him still enough for the old man to get the lead around his head. The second time I visited, to introduce my mother to the pup, we got the same old guy. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for saving a life.” Aw. On Gotcha Day, of course, who did I see walking out as we were walking in? Same old guy. He wished us luck.

When we collected Logan from the kennel that last time, I dropped down by the door and made sure to catch him before he could take off. They offered me my choice of tiny nylon slip-leads, about as wide as a ribbon and slightly stronger; I picked a rainbow one, because every color goes with a black dog. I was happy I’d brought the nice big martingale along though – Logan was a bouncing fiend, pulling as hard as he could. He had a little plastic ID collar with his number written on it, but I didn’t trust that it would keep from snapping or slide off his head.

We brought him by my friend’s house, because we were in the neighborhood, and she wanted to meet Logan. He got to play with little Charlie, brave killer of frogs, and climbed onto every piece of furniture. After that, and a quick drive back across town — learning that Logan does great in cars, sits and looks out the window calmly – it was time for the pet store, to get a collar and some welcome-home toys. Finally, at the end of a very long day for a young dog, we came home. He was tired out, happy and friendly, exploring everywhere. My mom, like I said, fell in love at first sight.

For me, it took longer. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough. Despite what everyone who knows me had said about dog training, I had my doubts, because Logan has so much energy and one really bad habit: he’s the mouthiest little jerk I’d ever met. I had no idea how to handle that, because puppy nipping is one thing, but a full-grown dog (physically, anyway; mentally he’s still a snotty teenager) acting that same way is entirely different. A little scary too, considering I’ve got a fragile old lady and a fragile elderly cat in the house. Biting, with dogs, is a dealbreaker for me, and while he wasn’t doing that – play-nipping is another behavior entirely — I still worried that it would become biting, the big bad skin-breaking kind, and every day that the nipping didn’t magically stop I worried more.  I swore at the Previous Owners, whoever they were, because a dog this size with that behavior had to have been encouraged.

Dogs require lots of patience, and a pretty strong stomach sometimes, and a willingness to be made to look like an idiot on a regular basis. And then some more patience on top of that, because they are dogs. I steeled myself to give this dog patience, and firmly reprimanded him every time teeth touched skin. I don’t know when the shift happened exactly, it was so gradual, but we passed a certain point and I stopped worrying. I could train this habit out of the dog. I could train other things into him. Recall with a proper sit-front happened quickly, though I need to really drill it into his head. Walking on leash hasn’t been bad at all. Logan followed me like a clingy shadow, getting up as soon as I did, following me across the house, jumping into the empty tub when I went to the bathroom. In bed he’d drape himself across me like a blanket, or curl up in a ball under my knees. And now, even though I still have a few tooth and claw bruises on my arms (I bruise in a stiff breeze, this is not his fault) I am grudgingly fond of the guy. He grows on you. Like a rash. And he will be a good dog. He’s got it in him.

It may be that I got him too soon: I know some of that crazy despair was the IT’S NOT RILEY clamor in the back of my head, and that still pops up every once in a while when he’s being rotten. But things look good from here. He dozes in my bed when I’m at the computer, follows me like a shadow, like the name I almost gave him, tirelessly brings me toys. He puts them in my lap, on my feet, shoves them insistently in my face, tries to put them — I am not kidding about this — in my ear. Any time Logan is near I can expect to be surrounded by a drift of toys that once had been Riley’s. That makes me happy, to see him playing with toys she enjoyed.

He is shameless, this dog: there is not a dominant bone in his body. He eagerly throws himself down on my feet, rolls over to show me his belly, placates me with yawns and rolling eyes and licks of his nose. If I step on him or accidentally bump him with a knee, he’s back moments later, as close to me as possible.

Can I sleep on your feet? Can I curl up in your sweater with you? I brought you a ball and another ball and the bone and the kong and a stuffy squeak thing and a stuffy honk thing and here’s a ball. Please love me. I’ll put the ball in your lap and you can throw it. I’ll put it on your book. I’ll put it on your phone. Can I sit on your shoulder and put my face on your face?

He really does jump into the tub after following me into the bathroom. The first time he did it I laughed and petted him, and I suppose that was all the encouragement he needed. He’s great in the car, and it’s so good to have a dog riding shotgun again. Dog is my copilot. He’s got horrible separation anxiety: he watches out the window unhappily when I go get the mail, and if I have to leave him at home I can hear him yelping his unhappiness from the driveway. He thought part of the skirting on the bottom of the couch was a tug toy, and pulled it off.

I think we’ll be all right, the two of us.

behavioral conditioning in mesocricetus auratus

This is fascinating stuff, guys. I’m using what I’ve learned from Beloved Dog – adapted for an animal the size and weight of a cellphone, of course – and I’m reading up online, though most of what I’m finding there is Skinner boxes and less things like “how to teach a hamster to perform behaviors the way a dog would.”

Still, it’s really neat to see Myshka’s teeny tiny brain molding and changing itself, laying down new pathways and reflexes, in response to the things I encourage and discourage. I know animal training is Not A Big Thing, in the grand scheme of Big Things, but it always strikes me as some kind of minor miracle: I am communicating with a critter that is not human, and we are understanding each other, and accomplishing things. It’s immensely gratifying. (Before you ask: I would only be willing to do this professionally if I didn’t have to train the owners, and that’s most of what other-peoples’-pets-training IS. Animals ain’t Disney characters.)

Right now I’m working on handling and hand-taming, with little Myshka. The operant-conditioning reward system makes this really easy. I will explain how I do this, as I’m not 100% working with scientific methods here. A bit more intuition, a bit less rigidity.

I try to get the animal to perform a behavior I want. If they perform the behavior, they get a high-value reward. With Dog it’s either food or playtime with a valued toy; for a hamster it’s a particularly delicious treat. That’s the positive-reinforcement stimulus. If I don’t get the behavior, then they don’t get any reward: that’s a neutral stimulus, neither reward nor punishment. The treat is still on offer though, so the animal can try other behaviors to see if they can get it. For Dog that means she’ll roll through every trick she knows when I’m trying to shape new behavior. For the hamster… well, he’s new to this, so it mostly means confusion. But we’re working on it.

After that comes the shaping, where I reward behavior in increments until I get them from “WTF” to easily doing a complex series of tasks. For Myshka, that means: first he gets the treat when I bring it to him. Then he gets the treat when he approaches my hand. Then he has to climb onto my stationary hand to get it. Then he has to climb on my hand and eat it there while I lift him up. The end result of this would be that he’d come willingly to my hand, because that usually means food, and in the interim he would become accustomed to being touched.

There’s no force involved: either he does it and gets the treat, or he decides not to and there is no punishment. If he grabs the treat and takes off, that’s what happens. (but I round up the treats when they’re left behind, so they don’t lose their value) It’s all up to him. But delicious snacks are very tempting, and every time we do this successfully I’m a little less scary and a little more appealing.

I rarely use negative reinforcement. It’s gotta be something big and bad. For Dog, that’s mostly things like chasing possums or wedging herself under the house or pursuing cane toads – then there’s a sharp reprimand and usually a timeout, because that is what works best on her. With Myshka, there’s really not much wrong he can do — the only thing is cage-bar chewing (Jack’s favorite vice, and cause of many sleepless nights for me) which I am trying to nip in the bud. Reading and experimentation has shown that the best negative reinforcer for a hamster is blowing on them like a hot coffee. Startles them, they don’t like it, but it doesn’t hurt — which is perfect for my purposes. I don’t want him afraid in any way, I just want him to learn: “I chew bars, I get bad air startles. I will, therefore, not chew the bars.” And when he leaves the bars and goes to do anything else, he gets praise-voice and delicious snacks, which redirects that chew urge to something he can gnaw.

That’s the theory, anyway. We’ll see if it works. Though it seems to be: he’s been climbing onto my stationary hand to retrieve a treat, and a few times now (in the cage, mind) I’ve got him to walk from one hand to another. He still flinches at an unexpected touch, but they are not as much of a violent startle as they used to be, and sometimes he accepts it without reaction. It’s a start.

It really is sad how much fun I find this. I MOLD THE LITTLE ANIMAL BRAIN! YES!

the taming of the ham

For the past two years, give or take, I had a hamster: a black one-eyed Syrian, amiable and rotund like a miniature Buddha. One Eyed Jack was his name; he’d been a rescue from Craigslist, and the getting of him was one of my early victories versus The Anxiety. Driving plus new places plus strangers equals panic, unless you get a hamster out of it. Jack was more like a dog: he never bit, licked peanut butter off my fingers, never escaped, never excreted on me, came ambling up when I called for him, and was so lazy that he only took a leisurely stroll in his wheel about twice a week. His one vice was bar-chewing, late at night, for hours.

The problem with these guys is that they do not live nearly long enough. A urinary problem appeared in January, and while the trip to the vet was highly entertaining it didn’t cure anything — given his age and the rule-out of infection it meant various terminal things. About two months later a tumor appeared on his right hip. A week later he died, obliging to the last; he kept breathing until I was there to hold him when he relaxed and let life go.

An act like that is hard to follow. It was a good month before the dismantled and sterilized cage on the top of my bookshelf looked empty instead of mournful. Then I started thinking about Another Hamster. It wouldn’t be Jack, but none of them ever could be; it’d be a new little critter with a new little critter-brain to mold and shape, new behaviors to coax and condition. Eventually that sounded good, so I started checking the internet and the local shops.

What I found was a dove-grey rodent with creamy rings around his eyes and along his snoot, all of two months old and as small as a (particularly robust) mouse. I found myself asking him “So, pal, what do you say? Wanna live with me, eat the snow peas from my moo goo gai pan?” At that point there was nothing for me to do but have them box him up and bring him home.

It took a few days for the little bug to adjust; new world, no littermates. I called him ‘little mouse,’ tested out several names, and loomed benignly in the distance so that he’d get accustomed to the sight and sound and smell of me. By the time he was acclimated enough to run on the wheel even if I was standing next to the cage and talking to the dog, I’d settled on ‘Myshka’ as a name – which is “little mouse” in Russian. Interestingly, ‘Mishka’ would mean “little bear,” if I have the -ka suffix correct, and little mousebear seems like a very good way to explain a hamster.

So: I have a young impressionable hand-shy hamster, now what? Jack had come to me fully and amazingly tamed, though he wasn’t too fond of being out of the cage. I refreshed myself on How One Tames A Rodent, but privately I wondered if I’d be able to pull it off.

This morning I woke up and peered into the cage, as I do, on my way to the bathroom. No hamster. I popped the door open, dug around in the bedding, removed the furnishings. Still no hamster. I looked around on the floor. No hamster. I considered myself very fortunate to have shut Beloved Dog out of the room for the evening (she’d been more interested in prodding me and wriggling when all I wanted to do was fall asleep) so that little Myshka hadn’t become a tasty snack.

I found him by waiting in silence and then following the scuffles: he’d worked his way into my nightstand, where he was tucked into a corner and nibbling the last lonely piece of my Emergency Chocolate. I checked the cage for various points of egress (the cage was designed for rats but is perfect for a full-grown Syrian, being three square feet) and identified a few spots that Myshka’s tiny self could probably have wiggled through. If the skull can fit through, so can the rest of the rodent. I set a sheet of cardboard on the top to block the seams where everything fit together, added a nearby book to keep it in place, affixed a pair of binder rings to the door corners, and then gave that a test run, leaving ham and cage alone in the closed room all day. He stayed in, so it worked.

I couldn’t be too upset about The Great Escape. The little guy was experimenting with his environment, which meant he’d traded fear for curiosity. Some objects in the cage move, and some make sound; some are porous and good for chewing, while others are not. Some things he can fit inside, or under, or on top of. Some things involve climbing. It’s been fascinating watching him test objects: is it food? can it be chewed?  climbed into or under or on? dug in? carried? is it stable or does it move? Hamster priorities are different, and it’s interesting to see how he approaches the objects I give him.

Tonight I balanced a yogurt drop on the tip of my finger and laid my hand in the cage, near enough that he could take the treat if he wanted. He sniffed until temptation overruled shyness, took the treat, and ate it. I carefully petted him with a finger: he cowered when I stroked along his spine, but sides and belly were all right. Big moment. Big, big moment. I’d earned some major points with little Myshka; I’d gone from the potentially scary giant ape to the potentially snack-bringing giant ape.

Pretty much any animal can get to like you if you have the right snacks to offer.

After that he kept looking outside the cage, which reminded me of the way Jack used to beg for treats. So I went back over, spoke softly, let him know I was there. He’d climbed up the bars again and hung there, watching me with ink-drop eyes. I offered him a seed. He dropped it. I picked out a different seed. He dropped that one. I picked another; that got shuffled into his face-pocket.

Then we were pals. I was a potential source of delicious treats. I dutifully fed seeds, one at a time, and he stuffed them away in his pouches for later. It was like a Pez dispenser, but backwards.

I’m amazed that in five days this tiny animal went from spooking and running if I made a sound to accepting food from my gigantic scary hands. (More than that; as I type he’s climbing up into the cage corners again, likely to see if that is the correct behavior to make me give him delicious mango seeds.) Taming a hamster is not a particularly big thing, but I’m fascinated. He’s showing new behaviors, trading fear for inquisitiveness. His little brain is molding itself in response to things I do.

Clearly, the next step – after getting him used to being handled – is to see what’s been done with rodents and operant conditioning. He’s all potential and fuzz. I wonder what he can do.

karmic bathtub monsters

I asked for permission before writing the frog story. I really did. And I even got it. But still I shoulda known the universe was gonna mess with me.

Since the middle of January, the city has been digging things up and surprising me with excavators and gigantic concrete storm-drain pipes and workmen in holes and trees devouring my fiber-optic wiring. But that is another story, except to mention that, as an aside, my plumbing has been all manner of screwy since the work got going.

When the scratching and thumping under my bathtub happened the first time, a week ago, I honestly did not know if it was Beasties or Plumbing. Then it stopped, and I forgot about it, consumed in bigger worries like protests and a cat covered in glue. (No, really. That happened.)

So of course, last night, when I was seeing to my pre-sleep bathrooming, the Monster Under The Tub awoke. It scuffled, it banged, and it made noises not unlike the sound of air in the pipes. I still didn’t know what it was until the skittering started. Then, fresh from my friend’s Frog Misadventure, I ran through the usual suspects (why does this always happen when I’m so tired) and tried to reason out what was underneath my bathtub.

  • Raccoon – unlikely, they get up into high places.
  • Possum – ditto. But they’re stupid, so perhaps.
  • Armadillo – maybe. Ground only. I have seen them (and called cops on them by accident) here.
  • Snake – maybe. Feral Cat sometimes barfs up ends of snakes for me.
  • Rat or mouse – haven’t seen any, thanks to Feral Cat, but it’s possible.
  • Other cats – unlikely, Feral Cat would run them off.
  • Frogs, lizards, etc – no way, not with that noise, not unless…
  • Feral Cat hunting things? Very likely. And a comforting thought too, compared to the alternatives.

I feel I should mention that I was standing there in my underpants, with my hair all over everywhere, barefoot and vulnerable, cleaning my glasses on the hem of my shirt while I thought about this and the Mystery Wossit went bang bang slide thud skitter skritch bang.

I then did three things: I put on pants and flipflops (why that would help if a snake suddenly leapt out of the tub drain I do not know), I got a flashlight, and then I investigated the drains and places where things don’t fit properly, to see if there were any points of ingress that A Noisy Thing could use to get into my bathroom. There weren’t, as near as I could tell; my house may have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wrong and the Seven Lazy Dwarfs, but I didn’t see anything when I shone a light up or down drains, except for nasty old plumbing and the usual gack. But the noises continued: furtive now, as though aware of my investigation above.

I decided I needed backup and moral support, so I went for the dog. My dog is fantastic. She is a Boxer, nine years old, and we have reached Canine-Human Telepathy, unless there’s something for her to chase. She can read me so well that she’ll respond to a raised eyebrow, in different ways, depending on context. She is perfect and wonderful and I adore her.

She froze when I called her to the bathroom, and then made all sixty pounds of herself as small and unnoticeable as possible (tricky when you are brindle and the bedspread is navy) because Being Called Into The Bathroom only ever means Horrible Baths.

Somehow I hadn’t thought of that.

So I hauled the dog by the collar into the bathroom, and shut the door. She stared at me miserably. The Tub Wossit was silent. I held up a hand: “Wait, baby.” Dog curled herself in a small unhappy submissive way near the door. We waited the Thing out, and again it made a sound.

Suddenly all fear of Baths was gone, because Dog had heard a Thing That Should Not Be There, and this was very interesting. I called her up to the tub to listen, and she did, sniffing curiously, the hair along her spine raised, her little nub tail flickering occasionally to show me that she was focused but also still listening to me. She tilted her head one way and another, sniffed everywhere she could, tried to fit behind the toilet for better acoustics and smell – and then, for the first time since she was a baby, willingly bounced into the tub to sniff at the drain and listen.

I’m sure it was quite a sight, the two of us standing knee to shoulder and staring intently at an empty bathtub. She’d glance up at me when it made a really good sound – Boss, didja catch that? – and then go back to staring at the source of the noise. I wished she could tell me what she smelled, possum or ‘dillo or cat, so I’d know what the hell was under my tub. But she didn’t try to tear out the fixtures to get to it, so it couldn’t have been that tempting.

Later on, Feral Cat came happily trotting up from that side of the house, so I am going to take that and Dog’s lack of crazed prey drive as a sign that it was the cat hunting… whatever… under the house. Which is fine, as long as she doesn’t get glue all over herself again.