Monday, October 29, 2012

Please pay at the door

It was early. We were headed around the 'long block,' the one we rarely walk anymore because it's just not long enough to tire out the blind hound. But Hurricane Sandy was on his/her way and Gregg and I had hatches to batten so Ray was going to have take one for the team. While Gregg was out buying food and gassing up his car, Ray and I were out getting truncated exercise.
Up the street, walking toward us, was a group of three teenage girls trailed by a teenage-girl-father. They were going door-to-door trying to raise funds for the high school choral team.
"What kind of dog is that?" asked the father as Ray and I were about to pass.
We stopped and I gave him the usual spiel about Ray while the girls were giving their spiel to a person who had been unlucky enough to open their door.
The girls turned from their victim and came towards us down the walkway. Ray 'looked' their way, his ears alertly deployed in Dumbo mode, his head tilted inquisitively. The girls paused en masse. They all looked startlingly similar; the same height and shape, with long brown hair and vaguely pleasant features, but without being obviously related in any way. They looked at Ray, who was blocking their access to the sidewalk, uncertain as to what to do.
"This dog is blind," said the father.
The girls all awwwwwed but none of them made a move to pet or approach Ray, visibly uncomfortable being near such a large a dog.
I moved Ray out of the way, wished the girls good luck and walked on.
"Make sure to donate if we come to your door," yelled the father after us as we ambled away.
The girls all giggled and looked embarrassed.
"I will," I shouted back secure in the knowledge that they were headed away from my house.
Later that afternoon, Gregg and I were finishing up a late lunch and getting ready to climb the roof to our next hatch-battening chore - clearing the gutters. I glanced out the front window to see the three teenage girls coming up the walkway to my door. The teenage-girl-father was waiting on the sidewalk.
"Ray, your friends are here," I said to my hound as I reached for my purse.
Ray trotted to the door to greet the fund-raisers. They looked nervously at the dog as I opened the door and handed them my donation. I watched cautiously, ready to make a quick grab, as Ray walked slowly out the door and past the girls, making no move in their direction. He stepped off the porch, flopped on the walkway, and turned to 'look' coyly over one shoulder at the now-giggling group.
"Ray, did you want them to rub your belly?" I asked the recumbent dog.
Ray tentatively lifted his front leg to expose his belly, obviously not expecting much, knowing he was playing to a tough crowd. I saw jaws drop; an identical look of astonishment was on the faces of the three girls. The giggling intensified.
"One of you better rub his belly!" called the father, watching the show from the sidewalk.
I walked around the girls, squatted next to my dog, and scrubbed his belly. Reassured by the display, the bravest of the three approached, and watched apprehensively by the other two, bent over to gently touch Ray's belly.
Ray stayed still, relaxing, enjoying his moment of triumph.

Friday, October 26, 2012

They're baaaaaack

Well, it's been over three years and we have finally reached the milestone for which I've been patiently waiting: the cats are back. Both of them. At the same time. On the couch. While the dog is in the same room. I'm not going to go so far as to say everyone is comfortable in the same room, but at least they are there.
Hugo has been coming out of Cat Siberia more and more. I think he had a bit of an epiphany on the day that he watched  Ray lick Moonie's ears clean and the old cat lived to tell about it. Hugo also has discovered the power of the hiss. Ray doesn't exactly know what the hiss is or who it issues from (he's still never gotten close enough to get a good sniff of that thing) but he has come to realize that it's a warning from something that has claws and maybe, just maybe, he should pay attention.
For months Moonie has been coming down from her retirement home and into the kitchen to yell at us for food five times a day. But only recently has Hugo returned as a kitchen-cat. For the longest time he would go no farther than the foot of the stairs. He would plop himself down on the carpet and pretend to lounge only to evaporate into thin air at the slightest sound. Now, Hugo plops and waits until the dog is uncomfortably close, then, and only then, will he hiss and bolt, or hiss and nervously walk into the next room, stretching his neck to keep an eye on the beast to make sure that he's not being followed.
And now they are both back. At the same time. On the couch. While the dog is in the same room. Maybe it only lasted for five minutes, but I see it as a very good start.  And it only took three years.

Here's a video of 8 photos to commemorate the event. Hugo is the black blob in the background. Ray is sitting out of view, in Gregg's chair, opposite us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Bullet?

"So, whered'yawannago?" I asked my lovely husband.
It was an absolutely gorgeous fall morning and we had a few hours to kill before Ray's date with destiny. His eye appointment was at noon and Gregg had taken the day off to support us in case Ray required surgery. Since Ray had slept all day Sunday because of excessive partying at the autumn Beer and Bonfire on Saturday, he was more than ready to go for a nice long walk. We needed to distract the dog to keep his mind off the fact that he wasn't allowed any food or water until after his potential surgery.
"I don't know," replied Gregg, "Let's check the book."
We spent a few minutes skimming Doggin' Northern Virginia, the 50 Best Places to Hike with your Dog in NoVA and at the end of a short discussion, we decided on the Battlefields of Manassas, a place we hadn't visited in years. It was just far enough away, and the trail was just long enough, that we could kill the requisite amount of time.
Ray was thrilled to be going somewhere new. Every time we stopped at a red light, he would uncurl himself from his usual travel position to hang his head out the window, sniff the air, and whine a bit. Then, when the car would start moving again, he would curl back up until the next red light. By the time we got to the battlefield, Ray was ready to GO; he literally hit the ground running.
Be careful of what?
I held tight to his leash, and while Gregg went off to see if he could procure a map, Ray and I ran to visit Stonewall Jackson. Then we ran to the first stop of the self-guided tour, and then ran to the second. By the time Gregg was out of the visitor's center and had caught up to us, Ray and I were well along the tour.
The park was virtually deserted. We were watching the clock, trying not to get distracted by the beauty of the day. At exactly 11:30, we were back in the car and headed to the doctor's office.

Let's go. Let's go. Let's GO.
Hey, is it legal to pee on part of a national monument?
Can't you let me off this leash for just a second?
I promise not to go too far.
Ok, I'll pose next to it, but it doesn't mean that I condone in any way,
any act of aggression, on the part of anyone or anything. 

I don't know about you, but I'm having a GREAT time.
When we arrived, the doctor was in surgery.
"What are you here for?"asked the assistant.
We told him that we were here to get Ray's eye pressure checked and then surgery if the pressure was still too high.
"It'll probably be another 30 minutes," the assistant told us. "Do you want to wait outside?"
We nodded our assent, too nervous to engage in idle conversation. We went back through the door and headed towards the adjacent neighborhood. We walked Ray up and down random streets, killing time, meeting no one but an ancient Indian man with a white beard and top-knot. He was wearing a traditional kurta pyjama and had a silver bracelet encircling one thin wrist. As he checked his mailbox, we wished him a good morning. He smiled at Ray, said hello, and asked if Ray was a good dog. We assented. The old man came to pet Ray who's interest was taken by the old man's Pomeranian yapping at Ray through the front door of his house. We told the old man that Ray was blind and that we were waiting for the eye doctor. The old man tsked, shook his head, and asked how Ray became blind.
"He was born that way," I told him.
The old man tsked some more.
"So terrible," he said, real distress in his voice and on his face.
"No," I replied, "He doesn't know."
The old man was still tsking, stroking Ray, then bent down to try to hug him. Ray edged away a bit. The old man persisted. Ray, sensing the man's pain, relented and tried to give him a kiss. Delighted the old man hugged him again. He wished on Ray some of God's blessings and we continued back to the doctor's office.
The doctor came out in her scrubs with mask and hair cover in place. She retrieved her instrument to check Ray's eye pressure, shone it in his eye, looked at the reading, then looked at me.
"It's 10," she said.
"That's good, right?" I replied.
"Yes, that's in the comfortable range," she said, "The meds are working. He can still have the surgery, but if it was my dog, I wouldn't do it. Make an appointment for two months out and we'll check him again. Because he has secondary glaucoma, he may never need the surgery. If it was primary glaucoma, he would have to have the surgery eventually, but this is different. We'll just monitor him and see what happens."
Gregg and I thanked the doctor profusely. We led our dog out of the office, bundled him into the car, and headed home. The old man's blessings had obviously worked. The blind dog had dodged a bullet and we were thrilled.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

After Dinner Show

It was about nine o'clock and I was finishing up the dinner dishes when Ray wandered through the kitchen towards his dog door.
He'd been pretty active earlier in the evening. Although I had left him sleeping peacefully on the bed, he wasn't there very long before I heard his paws hit the floor and he barreled down the stairs and into the front hall. He gave two deep-from-the-belly yells, the ones that mean something serious is afoot, and then, when I told him to take it outside, headed at high speed to his dog door. He was yelling the second his nose hit fresh air.
After a bit more yelling along the back fence, then the side fence, then the middle of yard, Gregg went to retrieve the hound ("just trying to avoid getting arrested" he always says as he heads out after Ray). He dragged the protesting dog back inside and closed the dog door. But we were cooking dinner, and Ray's determination to get back outside at whatever-it-was was inhibiting our ability to maneuver around the small kitchen. I opened the back door, grabbed Ray's collar and led him out to the patio to see if I could identify what was making him so antsy.
I watched the blind dog stick his nose in the air and do his Ismellsomething dance but didn't let go of his collar. Faintly, from the direction of the high school, I could hear a disembodied voice announcing something over a loudspeaker. (It was Tuesday night. What could possibly be going on in the middle of the week? Was Ray just vocalizing his support for the home team?)
I let Ray sniff the air a bit more then dragged him back inside and told him to go lay down. He paced the length of the kitchen a few more times but when I went to sit on the couch, he curled up next to me and settled in with a distinct 'harrumph.' Ray eyebrows were doing the dance on his forehead, the only indication that he was alertly keeping track of whatever it was that had him so riled up.
So here we were, hours later, I was just rinsing the last few pots, and Ray was standing calmly at the back door waiting to go out.
"Here, I'll let you out, Ray," said Gregg as he entered the kitchen.
He opened the back door and Ray stepped out onto the patio, then took off like a shot past the kitchen window into the middle of the yard, yelling to wake the dead.
I put the last pot in the drainer and watched as Gregg ran past the window in rapid pursuit of the noisy hound.
I smiled to myself, turned, and headed back to the comfort of the couch.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tit for Tat

I was on the front porch emptying the vacuum cleaner when Bill and Cindy walked by.
"Getting ready for Halloween?" Cindy yelled.
"Just starting," I shouted back. "If only I had a dumpster."
The Dumpster of Doom had been the best year ever for Halloween decorations.
I headed across the lawn to chat with my neighbors so that we didn't have to yell, then, when I heard a noise at the door, turned back to let the hound out so that he could visit his friends.
Ray bolted across the yard, greeted his girl, then flopped to the ground, exposing his belly.
As I continued past him, heading to the sidewalk, I glanced over to see Cindy bending over to give Ray a bellyrub. One big dog paw came up to rest squarely on her breast.
"You do like my boobs, don't you?" she said to Ray fondly.
Cindy straightened up and said to Bill, "Did you see Ray cop a feel?"
"No," he replied, laughing.
"Here, watch this," said Cindy.
She bent over the still-reclining dog and put one hand on his chest. Again Ray's big paw came to rest, this time on Cindy's upper arm, then ever so smoothly, the paw moved to alight on Cindy's breast.
I shook my head. Boys. They're all the same.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Notes on Murphy

The sleepover continues. As usual, when Murphy visits, Murphy's law is in effect and it rains. The problem with rain is it creates mud. And the problem with mud, as we've found in the past, is it creates Pigpen.
Since I am trying to reduce the incidence of mud by once again trying to grow grass in our yard, I closed the dog-door and attempted to limit Murphy's access to squirrels. Ray happily curled up on a chair and slept. Murphy whiled away the hours watching through the glass doors, keeping an eye out for small, furry marauders, alerting us to their presence with an ear-drum shattering shriek every time she spotted one.
Three or four times during the day, in between the raindrops, I let the dogs outside to play (but kept the dog door closed). As they finished and showed up at the back door to get back in, I would ease the door open, point at Murphy an give a firm "STAY."
While poor, pathetic, filthy Pigpen stayed outside, Ray would come in for a quick rubdown. After a few swipes of his tootsies, he would be good to go. Only then would I retrieve more towels to tackle Murphy and her hula skirt.
As the day drew to a close, Murphy staked out the front door in anticipation of her owners' return. She'd never spent more than two nights with us and it was apparent that she thought she was going home. After an hour or two, she gave up and retreated dejectedly to the couch.

Pre-dog, our yard looked like this.
Backyard, pre-dog
Then it looked like this.
Backyard, December 2010
Then, after drastic action was taken, we had the mulched playground look.
Backyard, January 2011

After reseeding in the spring and again a few weeks ago, I would have described our grass as "struggling" or maybe "languishing."
With the arrival of Murphy this weekend, I think I would have to change the description to "nice try" or  "there's always next year." (sigh). On the bright side, there's more grass now than in the above two photos.
As for the plants in the top photo, most have given up the ghost and gone to that big green garden in the sky. The upside of that, I can now say with certainty that anything remaining in the yard is just about 100% bomb-proof.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It was day two of a three-day, three-night Murphy-sleepover.  The dogs were quiet.
I surreptitiously checked to make sure that they weren't doing something that they ought not. They weren't. They were quietly lying side-be-side in the front hall sharing a less-than-palm-sized piece of rib bone; the remainder of  a gift that Ray had gotten sometime in the distant past. The piece was so small that I couldn't believe they could both get their mouths on it at the same time.
Every once-in-awhile, Murphy would gain sole possession of the bone and turn her body away from the bigger dog in a miniature game of keepaway. Ray would follow her around in an attempt to get it back. Murphy would eventually take pity on the blind hound, drop it for him, and wander off. Ray would settle in for a chew, then realize that she was off doing something else, and leave the bone to go in search of her. As soon as the bone was unattended, Murphy would swoop back in, scoop it up, and start the game anew.
I found myself wondering if there could be two better friends in the world.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Surprise Package

"You got a package." said Gregg walking up the drive from the mailbox. "From the Royal Mail."
'Royal male?' I thought to myself. 'I wonder which one.'
"It looks like it's from Niki Moore," Gregg continued.
Even more pleased to be receiving a package from a friend than from a random Royal, I took the thing and, followed by my instantly-excited hound, went to sit on the couch to open it. I looked at the unprepossessing package. It was a soft-sided envelope that looked a bit the worse for wear from its trip over the pond. I shook it, but nothing rattled so I assumed everything was intact. I grabbed a corner of the brown packing tape that covered most of the mailer and pulled hard. The very satisfactory sound of package-opening followed.
Ray, who was standing with his head right next to the package, gave a little start at the sound of ripping tape, then got into the spirit of the thing and grabbed a corner of the envelope in his teeth. Using Ray's grip as leverage, I stripped off the rest of the binding. Not waiting for an invitation, Ray excitedly jammed his head into the mailer, flapping his head up and down, trying to find something. He removed his head, took a deep breath and went back in. Still not able to get a good grip on whatever it was, Ray repeated the process, trying to dive further into the envelope but hindered by the sheer size of his head relative to the package. This time when he withdrew, he held a book in his teeth. He spat it on the floor, stuck his head back in the mailer and came out with a package of cookies (Jaffa Cakes!!!!! ). I excitedly took the cookies from him as Ray went back into the package, grabbed something out and headed for the front hall.
"What's he got?" I asked Gregg as I removed another pack of Jaffas from the envelope.
Gregg bent over and looked at the thing in Ray's teeth.
"It's some kind of dog bone," he said.
I picked the book up off the floor where Ray had left it, and withdrew from the package the remaining contents; a handwritten note and a special edition of the "Weekend" section of the Daily Mail featuring the cast of Downton Abbey, a favorite of Gregg's (he'd gotten a late start watching it and had been trying to unravel all the characters). Something for everyone. A warm glow spread through me as I watched Ray trying to unwrap his bone. A surprise in the middle of week from Ray's British buddies. How very, very pleasant.
Can't you open this any faster?
Here, I'll help.
I know there's something in here for me.
Let me just get it and I'll get right out of your way.

...mmrph...stupid ears...
...wait, I've almost got it....
WOW. Lookit THIS.
I've gottttt a boooone and yooou caaaan't haaaave it.

ummm, heh, could you open this please?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chick Magnet

We were walking one of our usual routes. A woman in the age group usually described as 'indeterminate' was working on the front porch. She was dressed in workman's (workperson's?) clothes and was bent over a door stretched flat on a couple of sawhorses.
As we got even with the house, the woman looked up from her chore and said, "Hi sweetie." As is always the case, she was speaking to Ray.
Ray, after three years and much discouragement from the person on the other end of the leash, has finally come to realize that not every random voice he hears is talking to him. However, Ray also knows exactly when someone IS talking to him. He headed across the yard to greet his new friend.
I took note of Ray's body language and immediately started in with the "stay down, stay down, stay down." Ray was wiggling all over begging for attention.
"Here, I'll just get down on his level," said the woman as she knelt in the grass.
Thrilled, Ray wiggled up to her, his tongue flicking. The woman pursed her lips to receive his doggy kisses. Ray obliged.
 "He doesn't often get the opportunity to kiss people," I told the woman.
"Well, I'm only here as a contractor for a couple of days," she replied, "So he probably won't see me again."
"Actually, he doesn't see you now," I told her, "He's blind."
The usual "awwww" was followed by further permission for more kisses. I realized that I would never be able to take Ray for a walk on this particular route again. I knew there was no way I would ever be able to get him by that house. It was a flop-trap in the making.

Ray and I continued on our loop. We were headed towards Ray's friend Tucker's house. I saw a car pull up opposite the house and disgorge Tucker's mom, Darlene; her mother, and her son. They were all looking our way and smiling. I waved and called a 'hello'.
Darlene pointed to their driver, "Jean, that's my sister." I waved a quick hi but was concentrating on Ray who knew his friends were there and was headed in their general direction. I steered him towards Darlene's mother who has been visiting for the last couple of weeks and is a particular favorite of Ray.
"She's over here, Ray," I told the dog. Everyone watched as Ray gave a little jump and a spin and tried, (but missed) to give Darlene's mom a kiss, then tried his best to eat her, starting with one bony wrist.
"Wow, he really does like her," said Darlene's sister, watching from the car.
I knew that Ray's attraction to the older woman had been a topic of conversation. The first time he met her, Ray had done something similar but then had just leaned against her knee in bliss while she petted and crooned over him.
I pulled Ray away from the crowd and we headed on up the block. I told Darlene's mom that Ray would stop by to say his goodbyes before she returned home.
Two more conquests for the blind hound. My dog the chick magnet.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Tragic Tale

Today, Ray was whiny. And underfoot. And bad. After listening to him whine ALL DAY LONG, and then finding that he had stolen a can of cat food off the counter and eaten it in the front hall, I had had it. I tried coming up with a credible explanation for Ray's untimely death after defenestration.
There was a fox on the roof and Ray, not knowing that it was a roof, had jumped through the window and chased it only to run off the edge and crash to the ground. Or maybe, there was a cat fight on the roof and Ray, thinking his Moonie was being attacked, jumped through the window and tried to save her only to fall off the edge and crash to the ground; a horribly sad, premature ending to a brave hound. Or the ever popular, "I don't know what happened. He was like this when I got home."
After coming up with three pretty good excuses, I realized that maybe Ray was whining and bad because he was hungry. He's been on boiled chicken and rice that last couple of days because of another case of Delhi belly. Maybe he was feeling better and just needed something to eat. I gave him the remainder of a can of dog food. He ate it, curled up on Gregg's chair, and went to sleep.
Now I feel bad. And the worst part is, I know that cat food isn't going to agree with him, and he will be right back on chicken and rice for another couple of days. (sigh)

New Olympic Event

Walking two dogs with retractable leashes can be a challenge. When one of those dogs is Maddie, the challenge rivals most Olympic events. While Ray stays mostly on an even keel, Maddie is a zoomer. Back-to-front, side-to-side; if there is a direction that she can go, she's going. 
So I have found that there are three main things that I need to focus on while walking Ray and Maddie together:

1.  Keep Ray from peeing on Maddie's head.  
  • I don't want anyone to think that Ray is maliciously trying to pee on Maddie. It's just that sometimes when Ray is leaving an LOL in response to a pee-mail, Maddie, who is a slow reader, hasn't quite gotten to the punchline and still has her head down. I'm surprised she doesn't have whiplash from the force with which I jerk her out of the way.  

2.  Keep Maddie from eating random things off of the ground. 
  • Maddie is the scrounging-est dog I've ever met. She will eat anything remotely resembling food and must be watched like a hawk. (Sandra has stories that will curl your hair - the one that sticks in my mind is about Maddie and a package of chocolate Ex-Lax). 

3.  Keep Ray from running over the top of Maddie. 
  • Maddie has finally started to learn, that when she hears the jingle of Ray's tags coming up behind her, to look over her shoulder and see which side she needs to move to avoid being run over. Sometimes she forgets. 

     3a.  Keep Maddie from hog-tying Ray when I screw up on number 3. 
  • That happened today. Ray looked somewhat like a trussed turkey by the time Maddie was done with him. I hope nobody was watching.