chickens, wodents, and dog iq tests

1. Chickens.

One of my neighbors keeps chickens. This isn’t anything new, back in the day Riley and then Logan were fascinated by the Chicken House. I’ve met the Lady of the Chickens before, she’s entertaining people. She’s got a husband (I assume that’s what he is, or a livein, or something) and a German Shepherd who go tearing about the neighborhood, man on a bicycle and dog on its own four feet. The Shepherd is very interested in my yard, for some reason.

So are Chicken Lady’s newest chickens. There are three of them, very pretty; their feathers are a lovely reddish shade of brown with black edging, giving them a scalloped appearance. They don’t cluck, which surprised me: they whistle, and it’s a charming sound.

It should say something about my life that I went out, got the mail, noticed the chickens, came in, and said to the dog, “Josie, why are there chickens in our yard?” — and then proceeded to do nothing else about it, except for try to get photos when I could.



The Wild Chicken Gang is three individuals, and I can’t tell whether they’re roosters or hens: they have wattles and the… forehead wattle… and they stick close together. They won’t let me near, though I’ve tried.

They are, as I mentioned, quite pretty.

pretty chicken!

pretty chicken!

While getting the mail (this seems like some kind of adventure and not merely walking twenty feet from my front door to the sidewalk) I saw the chickens and I heard, in the distance, a little ringing bell. I looked around and spotted the Chicken Lady, ringing a small bell, and walking around the streetcorner outside her house.

I decided she might want to know where her flock had gone, so I went to tell her. I told her that I did not mind the chickens’ presence, and they are welcome to scratch for bugs in my yard if they want. I don’t mind, truly, though I have learned chicken scratchings are a messy business. It makes things more entertaining to have Suddenly Chickens in one’s front yard.

“I try to call them back,” she said – she is a little old Southeastern Asian lady with a delightful accent I can’t place; we’ve spoken before, years ago, and I think she mentioned family in Indonesia — anyway, “I try to call them home,” she said, holding up the black-handled brass bell she kept ringing, “I have food for them, but they don’t want it! Good chicken food, they rather hunt for themselves!” I repeated that I didn’t mind — some people would, I expect. Boring people. She’s not boring people; her whole front yard is a wild rambling container garden under a huge shaded tree, and she has chickens in the back, and a Volkswagen bus besides. I try to be not-boring in ways like that. Sometimes I manage, I hope.

So now she knows that sometimes her chickens are here, but I haven’t seen them in a few days and I am worried that something may have happened to them. Hopefully, she’s just managed to keep them home — we have wandering cats and raccoons and hawks, it’s not a good place for a chicken or three to be on their own.

Fun thing though, the chickens do have to cross a road to get to my house, and again to get back home. Why do the chickens cross the road? Good hunting. Grubs in the dirt.



2. Wodent Wheels.

On to smaller animals: hamsters. Weee Myshka died at two and a half years old, and after a few weeks I decided that a hamsterless house is just Not Done and sought a replacement, who turned out to be a sweet black-bear Syrian. I have named him Blink because I never see him do it. Don’t get into staring contests with prey animals, you’ll lose. Blink proves to me that black-bear hams indeed have some genetic edge when it comes to tameness; I could handle him the same day he came home, and though he’s a youngster and full of scrambly beans, he doesn’t mind being held.

Blink’s arrival necessitated an upgrade of some of the cage furnishings: specifically, the exercise wheels, which after two adult Syrians’ worth of miles were showing a bit of wear. The Comfort Wheel was misshapen somehow, only able to propel a hamster along at a leisurely stroll. The Silent Spinner, which I love, only comes in a six-inch version and not an eight-inch version, so it’s too small for adult Syrians. Too, after years of taking it apart to soak hamster pee off it, the outer ring no longer fit tightly, and wrapping it in masking tape was not a good solution.

I decided to splash out on a Wodent Wheel, which I’ve wanted since One Eyed Jack, and it arrived yesterday. I set it up, then encouraged Blink in with a cheese-flavored yogurt drop. He dutifully strolled in it for a minute or two, then retreated to his house once I was no longer hovering nearby. Hamsters do not take well to change.

Last night, though, was a different story. I’d read the website, and though it recommended lubricating the axles, I spun the thing and assumed it would be fine.

Big mistake.

I woke around three in the morning to an insistent skree, skree, skree which, in my hazy sleepy state, I think I tried to solve in a dream before I fully woke up. The noise didn’t stop, so it was coming from reality. Josie danced around, confused by my unexpected awakeness and the noise.

skree, skree, skree went Blink, running a hamarathon in his swank new wheel.

I took it out of the cage – with difficulty; now that Blink decided he liked it he wasn’t easily dislodged – and sat there staring at it, sleep-fuzzed and stupid. I took it apart and saw the problem: the metal ring which connects the solid back to the axle had been scraping against the axle. There were little scratch marks in the enameled paint on the metal.

I wrapped it with more of the painter’s tape and put it back. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it’ll do for now. Blink adores the thing, and hamsters are like any other pet: a happily tired one is a well-behaved one.

3. Dog IQ. (This bit is copied from a lengthy Mefi comment and slightly edited.)

I just gave Josie this dog IQ test. She scored a total of 22, which makes her smart, but not Border Collie smart.

The tests were:

1. Put a treat under a cup, encourage dog to get it. Josie sniffed around a bit, looked up at me as if to say “But you always get mad when I bother cups?” and then knocked it over to get the treat. 4 points, according to the test.

2. Dog Under Blanket. I threw a large bath towel over her and started counting. She wiggled her head free pretty quickly and then stood there staring at me, confused. Since the test only mentioned head and shoulders, I gave her 4 points, though she still had the rest of the towel on her. I think I did this wrong, since the test said to just put the towel over her head. Putting the towel away turned into a bit of a tug game because YAY TOWEL.

3. Dog Responds To Smile. I had to wait for her to settle down after all the excitement. I gave her a good gaze and then smiled, and she stared at me like I had lost my mind. No other response. Scored 1 point out of 5. I started laughing and she came right up, so I think she should get extra points for that, but I’ll stick with what the test says.

4. Food Under Towel. See the cookie. See the cookie on the floor. See the towel on the cookie. Whatcha gonna do Josie? Get it! Get it! Josie’s solution to this was to locate the lump indicating the biscuit, then grab it and the towel and take it into another room to solve at her leisure. She did it in thirty-one seconds, which got her three points.

5. Retrieval From Under A Barrier. This was difficult, since Josie shoveled her head under the first few stacks of things and got to the treat without her paws. She is a very strong dog.  Once I built a solid structure out of her bowl, a shoe, and a storage bin full of yarn, she pawed the cookie out in under a minute. Five points. I am not surprised; she is very good at pawing me to great (painful) effect.

6. Does Dog Know Its Name. Using the Happy Voice, I dutifully called, “Refrigerator!” Josie looked at me, confused. I then said, “Movies!” Josie was baffled. “Josie!” She barreled towards me. DAT ME! Five points.

She is giving me curious looks, as if wondering what madness I am going to inflict on her next. Nothing, kid. We’re done, you’re smart.


responsibility makes me pathetic

This is an old story and I probably should have shared it earlier, but.. I didn’t. And I will now because the object of this story has been alternating between pawing at me, nudging me, trying to stand on me, and wedging her horrible claws into the delicate spaces between my toes.

Josie must hate my feet, as much as she steps on them. Of course, she leaves big red welts from her claws. I am not allowed to clip her claws.

As is the done thing with puppies, when Josie turned about six months old I had her spayed. I have handled plenty of spays before, and other than the awkward silence and “well, ONE of us has to rub the ointment into the incision on his THERE” with the Lab-Chihuahua mix, no sterilization has ever gone awry.

But Josie is always special.

I brought her in for the surgery bright and early; as a precaution with anaesthesia I’d kept her NPO since her dinner the evening previous.

Nil per os. Nothing by mouth.

So in we went, Josie and I, and I conspired with the techs. “Can you clip her nails while she’s under?” I asked. Because that’s the only time anybody can do it.

Josie will not be having with people removing her attack talons. She uses them to color on me. I look better in red, apparently.

I left the place content that I would come back to a muzzy stoned dog with an incision in her belly and wonderfully short claws. That afternoon I did things, I can’t remember what. Something with the car, maybe? It wasn’t important.

When I came back to retrieve my pup, I brought my camera because everybody wanted to see Stoned Josie. Here you go.

cone of shame

Yep. She’s aces at peeing on the floor — or was, at the time. As adorable as she was I like her better large and housebroken.

We toddled carefully through what I suddenly realized was a very large pet store, me leading her encouragingly and Josie weaving like the cutest littlest town drunk. People seeing this smiled and laughed. To prove how out of it she was, Josie did not demand attention from any part of her rightful audience.

We made it out of the store, when Josie had a problem. She’d completely forgotten everything about her entire life. She had no idea who she was, where she was, who I was, what was going on, what we were doing, and how her body was assembled.

where iz body?It took a while to remind her that she had legs.

not like carDriving home was also difficult.

Once we got home I gave up and carried her inside, where she slept off the anaesthetics and awoke herself once more: spring-loaded and determined to undo everything I create.

Two days later I brought her back because her incision had become inflamed. We went home armed with antibiotics and dire instructions for me to Keep Her Out Of It. I was baffled, because she’d been kept properly coned the entire time — if I’d managed to take the damned thing off I’d never get it back ON — and it took some careful observation before I figured out the trouble.

Josie was trying to remove her stitches by scratching with her hind feet. That should be anatomically impossible, but — this is Josie. Impossible is her bag.

Thus it was that to keep the incision fully protected from Josie’s blunted but still fearsome talons, I rigged up a wrap made of a loose ace bandage and a maxi-pad, cut in half, to cover the incision and prevent it from injury.

Imagine it, one steamy Florida morning: late summer, humid as dog’s breath. The butterflies and lizards lie quiet in the lianas, waiting for the heat to strengthen. Josie and I slip out into the front yard, where the stairs are smaller and easier for her. I am in my pajamas and my hair probably resembles a discarded Harryhausen sketch of Medusa. My dog has a cone on her head, a leash around her neck, and an ace bandage around her surprisingly tiny waist, holding what is obviously half a maxi-pad.

Down the street walk two people, out to enjoy the morning with their two dogs. All four look wonderful. The people are well-dressed, coiffed, put together. The dogs, a pair of Pits, have gleaming coats over wonderfully thick muscle, and walk beautifully on leash.

I see them.

They see me.

“Oh god,” I say.

They laugh, but gently. “Oh, we’ve been there.”

the ear glop of doom

Sometimes when you take your pet to the vet it’s like a modern re-enactment of a Herriot story: everyone is confident and capable, the animals are charming, the treatments are easily handled, and everyone laughs happily when the pet does something cute.

The rest of the time when you take your pet to the vet it’s like a modern re-enactment of the other Herriot stories: someone gets injured, there’s mysterious muck everywhere, nothing happens the way it should, and the laughter is forced if anyone even tries because what the hell a puppy should not do that.

Josie’s vet visit last week was the second kind, unfortunately, starting with some other dog bleeding on her on its way out of the groomer, and going downhill from there.

I like to think that if Danes could talk they would sound like Andre the Giant. "Hello!"

I like to think that if Danes could talk they would sound like Andre the Giant. “Hello!”

But we did meet a sweet and beautiful Great Dane, which makes up for a lot of trauma and drama. (Note: Josie has a tail. When she gets really excited it becomes invisible from wagging.)

Everything that could go wrong in an exam did. She flipped out and turned into a Feral Hellbeast when they tried to clip her claws. They tried taking her into the back, because sometimes the fight goes right out of a dog when the owner is not in the room. No dice; I heard her from the exam room. It sounded like someone was wrestling with an angry Jawa. They came out defeated and removed the claw-clip from the bill. The temperature and fecal loop somehow released a bad rawhide-induced case of splatterbutt all over the floor.

I asked for a microchip to be installed, although they recommended doing it during the spay while she would be unconscious, because I felt worlds of uneasy with an unchipped puppy scampering around. Besides, I reasoned — and explained — I’d had plenty of dogs chipped during exams and they all took it fine, even Buster of the Terrible Howling. That.. that didn’t go so well either, though they got it in once they reassembled the needle. The ear exam went well, as far as damage or befoulment, but it turned out the pup’s got a yeast infection in her ears.

I’m sure they were happy to see the back of us, leaving armed with a paper bag full of printouts and otic medication.

There were two medications: one small foil tube of ooze that is to be squeezed deep into her ear, and then one big bottle of stuff that smells like vinegar and artificial apple scent, which I figure is supposed to mask the vinegar but doesn’t do it at all.

I figured that, at least, would be okay; I’ve had to dose many a dog’s ear (and cat’s too) in my time, and aside from the inevitable bit where they shake it off and get it in my eye or up my nose, there’s never been a real problem.

Not so, said little Josie. She’d been prodded, asculcated, injected multiple times — kid, I didn’t say while they were chipping her, but I was thinking this, kid I’ve had bigger needles put through my ears and I didn’t yell about it — and, of course, the indignity of things being put up her butt. Josie wanted revenge.

I thought it would be so easy. Flip her ears up, hold her head, squirt glop into each ear, flip ears back down, massage to get it deep into the inner workings of her recording apparatus. Nope. Josie did her rabid Jawa impression again. I think it was fear or panic, not pure I KEEL YOU aggression; once I backed off she was calm and contrite, licking my fingers, licking her nose, rolling her eyes away to placate me, flattening her ears, pawing at the air, making herself small while edging near me for comfort.

Here’s the weird thing: I can put my hands in her ears up to the shoulder and she doesn’t care. I can swab in there with cotton balls until I am massaging her little peanut brain and her eyes roll back in her head because it feels good. But a bottle — or a foil tube — with an applicator, that makes noises? Panic. Biting, clawing, snarling, weasels-in-a-sack panic.

The worst thing you can do with a scared dog is escalate, so brute force was out. I had to get tricky about this. I needed a pleasant way to distract her while I deftly put the glop in her ears. This way she would learn that otic medicine is not the end of her life, and also that it comes with some kind of delicious reward. Hopefully, I thought, it would desensitize her to the feeling until I could dig around in those ears with salad spoons if I wanted.

I don’t know about that last part, yet, but I’ve hit a system that works. I will detail it here.

1. Get good sized glob of peanut butter out of jar with right pinky finger.
2. Close jar while puppy climbs on me; prepare Remicin for quick deployment.
3. Smear peanut butter all over roof of Josie’s mouth. The more it’s spread, the more she has to work on it.
4. With pinky outstretched like I’m making tea, grab Remicin tube.
5. Grab/scruff pup with left hand.
6. Ninja-dose her ears with Remicin while she works on the NOM NOM PEANUT BUTTER DELICIOUS OM NOM NOM.
7. Put cap back on Remicin—
7.1. Retrieve cap from puppy.
7.2. Stop puppy from licking peanut buttery hands.
7.3. Stop puppy from licking Remicin tube because it goes in the ears and not in the mouth, dummy.
7.4 Put cap back on Remicin, put it and peanut butter jar away.
8. Give up and let puppy lick my whole hand up to the elbow just in case she missed any of the peanut butter that was only ever on my little finger.
9. Wash. Thoroughly.
10. Rub puppy’s ears which create the most delightfully nasty icky-squishy noises. She likes that part. MMM. EARSQUISHY.
11. Wash hands again because that stuff gets everywhere.

The good news is that now my bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen are now protected from otic yeast infections.  The bad news is that my deck smells like fake green-apple douche.

You're lucky you're so cute, kid.

You’re lucky you’re so cute, kid.

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.



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.