Category Archives: Pets

Here and gone

I’ve been stalling on writing this post. After I made optimistic plans for Darby’s future, it turned out that she had no future. The x-ray she was scheduled for that same week I wrote the last post showed some suspicious looking spots on her lungs, but also an enlarged heart. The vet also confirmed my suspicion that she already had another mammary tumor. On the phone, we talked about having an ultrasound done, both to get a better idea what was going on with her heart and a better look at those spots on her lungs.

That Saturday afternoon Darby collapsed while trying to hop up on the couch after I brought her and Ramses in from their yard. It was hot out, and although I didn’t have them outside very long (I was out there with them, and when I was ready to come in I decided they were, too.), I hoped Darby was just suffering from a little overheating. Except she never really recovered.

I got her to the vet Monday morning, and after another chest x-ray, the vet called to say her lungs were filling with fluid — they’d been clear on Thursday. She told me that there was no way to do anything about Darby’s cancer because of the congestive heart failure, and that her heart was already too damaged to fix. She said Darby might have as long as six months, but she would not be the same dog. She also said how shocked everyone at the clinic was by how much Darby had changed in the few days since they’d last seen her.

Darby came home in “hospice care,” with medication to get the fluid out of her lungs. One of the vet techs had to carry her to the car. One of my neighbors had to come across the road and help carry her into the house.

She died in her sleep the next night.

Educating Darby

In her previous home, Darby led the good life. She had other dogs her size to play with and got to go running on the beach every day. She also, apparently, didn’t have to do much of anything she didn’t like. Take grooming, for starters. “Oh, no. That pulls my hair. Hurts. Don’t do don’t do don’t do!” Head jerking this way and that to keep me from getting anywhere near her face with a TOWEL! Comb? Scissors? Forget it.

Darby at her shaggiest

Darby at her shaggiest

Same with her feet. Trim toenails? NNOOOoooooooooooooooo! Thankfully, I’m persistent. To the point of stubborn. If she wants to pull her foot away, I’ll just grab it again. It came down to me just holding her foot until she relaxed, then bringing the clippers closer, and waiting her out again until the new panic attack subsided. Over and over and over.

A few times I had to just practically sit on her to pin her long enough to get one foot “done,” as in toenails trimmed, mats clipped out from between toes, etc. When I was successful, she would sometimes go through a sea change and let me comb that foot a few days later without all the histrionics. Oh, she can be a drama queen.

I was told I needed to “get tough with her,” but I figured that would just make matters worse. I decided good old quiet, calm, dogged, pig-headed persistence was the answer.

Did I mention that Darby is a sensitive flower? She cowers at a harsh tone of voice, drops to her belly in a boneless, seventy-five-pound heap of unhappy if she gets confused about what I’m trying to get her to do. Not optimal when trying to teach “Stand,” so I could comb her belly.

I never let her decide when it was time to quit, but when I did stop “torturing” her (usually because my back was killing me from leaning over), I gave her lots of praise and special treats, then put her in her crate with a few more special treats and gave her time to calm down.

She’s been here over a year, now, and things have changed. She still doesn’t love having me comb her face and trim her nails, but she tolerates those things better all the time. The shorter hair-cut helped keep her hair from matting as quickly. Fewer mats mean less hair-pulling and pain. She’s about due for another trip to the groomer, by the way.

Now it’s time for “big dog” training. Learning to heel and stay, sit without me having to push her butt to the floor, answering reliably to her name, walking on leash like a respectable individual. Yeah, this is going to take a while.

It won’t be the kind of good life she had before, but it will be a good life with me.

All’s Well — Or So I Thought

Darby’s surgery went well. The tumor was entirely contained in the superficial layers, so the vet only had to remove a big patch of skin. Sewing up the incision involved pulling edges of skin together that had previously been much farther apart and leaving some baggy extra folds at either end.  No beauty contests in Darby’s future. Oh, well.

First day back from surgery, she lulled me into a false sense of security. “Oh, yeah. She’s fine. Acting like nothing in the world has happened to her.” Silly me. That was before all the anesthesia wore off.

Her surgery was on a Thursday. I had to take her back for stitches repair on Friday. Then I got a “cone collar” for her. She managed to pull it apart Saturday afternoon, so my brother and I put it back on and fastened it with zip-ties. Then took her back to the vet to have more stitches replaced.

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in "Cone of Shame"

Post-surgery Darby sporting the latest fashion in “Cone of Shame”

Everything seemed fine for a few days until I noticed that the skin around the incision looked kind of red. Oh, great. Infection. On closer inspection, I discovered a gap in the middle of the incision where the skin had been pulled the tightest. Darby had apparently gotten her hind foot up to scratch the itch and pulled loose some of the staples the vet had used to replace the other lost stitches.

Back to the vet. This time they had to anesthetise her again and re-suture most of the incision. They sent her home with antibiotics and pain pills. Yay! pain pills. They had a bit of a sedative effect on her, so she didn’t seem as crazy to scratch. I’m sure having the infection knocked down helped, too.

In the meantime, she learned how to use the cone as a weapon. She’d catch it on a door frame and jerk her head sideways to free it — right into my leg. She got me with the edge of it several times daily. I had bruise lines across both legs from her trying to walk up to bump me with her nose (or wipe her wet face on me after a drink of water).

Yesterday, finally, she got all her stitches out after a couple of extra weeks in the “cone of shame.” What a relief.

There’s only one fly in the ointment. The pathology lab finished the analysis of the tumor and reported that it is one of the more aggressive cancers. It tends to metastasize into the lungs. Which means chest X-rays once or twice a year.

At least she doesn’t have to get mammograms.

The “C” Word

Darby is having surgery on Thursday. I found a lump a few weeks ago and took her to the vet to have it checked out. She did not enjoy the needle biopsy process, although she’s generally golden at the vet’s office because everyone pets her and dotes on her.

So the vet looked at the cells through a microscope and said they had the characteristics of a malignancy. I told her I was relatively sure that lump had not been there six weeks earlier or was small enough that I could miss it. But I’d been examining her regularly, knowing that having her spayed at age six plus years put her at higher risk for mammary tumors. I thought I was prepared for that eventuality. I was not prepared for the immediacy.ImageToday, I took her to a groomer and fellow kennel club member to have her clipped down a bit. I wanted her to look more like a Spinone puppy with short, lower maintenance hair. She’ll be miserable enough wearing the “Cone of Shame” after her surgery. I don’t want to add to her discomfort by trying to keep her luxurious “feathers” all tidy. I’m wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. I do intend to keep her close to this look from now on.

I’m also going to make some changes to her diet to get more natural protein into it while she recovers. She likes cottage cheese and raw chicken wings, so far. Oh, and trying to find cottage cheese that is not low-fat… not easy.

The prognosis for this type of cancer is all over the place. It may or may not recur. It may or may not spread. It may or may not lead to more serious problems. Etc. The treatment of choice is surgery, so Darby’s is scheduled for Thursday. I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time with Ramses, and doing things to distract myself. And I’ll have my phone with me all day.

Another rain later….

So, we had another rain last week. Almost four inches. Made one goofy dog quite happy. My brother, not so much…

Oh, dear. Someone's been eating mud again.

Oh, dear. Someone’s been eating mud again…

...and the droughtgrass turned green...

…and the droughtgrass turned green…

...and somebody had to mow it.

…and somebody had to mow it.

The Long, Hot, Summer of the Soul

There are times when you just have to step back, you know? Take a break, reassess, get grounded, or (insert your favorite catch phrase here)whatever, and hope that when you get back to the grind, something will have clicked into place, and life will progress more or less smoothly, and generally in a “forward” direction. Sometimes, there’s no noticeable click, but you realize you have to drag yourself back into the Twilight Zone (some prefer to call it reality), whether you’re comfortable there, or not.

And then there are times when you go walkabout and just get lost…

Or I could spin this past year as a sabbatical, and that I was doing serious research… yeah, maybe not.

What started off last summer as a break to “get off the planet” as it were, and immerse myself in rereading all the books in the Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh, turned into one delay after another in getting back to work on my writing, and all the other stuff I put on this blog. But, oh, well, these things happen. Instead of boring you with all the details in one long blurt, I’ll just proceed like I’ve only been gone a week, instead of a year. That okay with everybody?

The biggest change to the Crazybasenji household is the addition of a non-basenji canine. I know. What a shock. She qualifies as completely crazy, though, so that should count for something. Darby is a Spinone Italiano, an Italian Pointer (or Setter, depending on how loosely you translate). She’s a big, shaggy thing, and goofy as hell. And if there’s one thing I do love, it’s a goofy dog.

Darby belonged to a man who was going through chemo and radiation therapy and just didn’t have the energy to care for her and his other big dogs any more. She came to live with me on a trial basis at first. I wasn’t sure if Ramses would warm up to her. He’d been getting peculiar around strange dogs on our walks, and I was hoping that constant exposure to a very different dog would be good for him. Turned out I was right – at least as far as Darby is concerned. She’s so mellow, that even when he’d snarl at her in the beginning, she’d just stand still – very non-threatening – until he chilled.

Now they’re fine together, and the different energy levels keep things interesting.Image

So I can get back to doing more writing, and painting, and spend less time enabling a spoiled rotten only-dog. Maybe…

Rite of Succession

It all started when that mouse ran across the floor. But let me start with a little back story.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times before I’m through. A Basenji is not your father’s Labrador. (I don’t know how many of you may remember an advertising campaign some years ago when Oldsmobile introduced their new model, “Alero,” with the catch phrase: “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” I don’t know if they sold more cars with that ad or not, but I co-opted the phrase for my own purposes.) There are a number of good reasons why Labrador Retrievers are the most popular American Kennel Club registered dog breed – and Basenjis are not. I would never presume to imply that one breed of dog is superior to another. I love them all. And “blended” breeds as well. But there’s a reason I have had my little dynasty of Basenjis, instead of any other breed.

A lot of people don’t realize what a contrary individual I can be – most days I’m not that bad, so I might not seem like such an anarchist. But doing what I’m told runs a little counter to my nature, and doing what’s expected of me…oh, forget that. Small wonder I choose dogs that don’t follow orders all that well, don’t engage in typical “doggy” behaviors (like barking), and tend to like to sit back and watch quietly while everyone around them is in uproar.

My second Basenji (and my first male of the breed) was like the uber Basenji. Boomer was the pick of his litter, (the breeder called him her “Clark Gable dog”) destined for great things in the show ring, which would have meant I never would have met him. But he was born insane, and at four months of age he was engaging in extremely risky behavior – leaping onto and off of the dog houses that belonged to his Gordon Setter kennel mates. He ended up with a broken humerus bone, and in a body cast for eight weeks. At the end of which he promptly repeated the behavior…and the injury. By the time the second cast came off, he had gotten so used to running around on three legs that he continued to do so. As a result, his left front leg was always about an inch and a half shorter that his right. He was one crooked little dog.

He was two years old when I met him. It was the first time I ever experienced love at first sight.

After he came to live with me, I discovered some of his other disarming behaviors. Once when I was sitting at my computer and he was sitting next to me (one of the rare times when he wasn’t getting “into something”) I popped a piece of chocolate into my mouth. As I chewed on my chocolate, I looked down and said something to the dog, as he leaned against my shin. He melted. That’s the only way I can describe it. The smell of chocolate on my breath undid him. He just slid to the floor. And then he rolled on my foot. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen a dog do. When I was a kid, my dachshund used to roll on dead lizards. Boomer was more discriminating. If I put styling mousse in my hair, he’d try to roll on my head.

Basenjis, like most normal dogs, do the “play bow,” lowering their front ends to the floor while they keep their butts elevated. Most normal dogs wag their tails when they do this. Not so Basenjis. They are not big on tail-wagging. More on that later. Boomer had his own variation of the play bow. He would put his head down on the floor between his front legs, like he was hiding his eyes. Then he would flop over on one shoulder (with his butt still in the air), and rapidly “dig” with his front feet. Sometimes he would bite at the carpet at the same time. People who didn’t know better would sometimes ask if he was all right. “Of course he’s not all right! He’s a Basenji!” I never actually had to say that. I usually just shrugged.

Both of my female Basenjis did normal play bows, even to the point of wiggling their tails a bit. They were always more emotionally demonstrative than the boys, even though Boomer and Ramses were/are what you’d call “leaners,” leaning against my leg while I pet them. Ramses, however, does the bow exactly like his Great Uncle Boomer. (The Old Guy was too stiff and creaky by the time he came to live with us to do much bowing.)

That brings us back to the mouse.

There was a time when I was living in Kentucky in an old mobile home parked up a “holler” on a farm. Quite rustic. The place had sat vacant for a while before I moved in, with Boomer, and a whole community of mice had taken up residence. Boomer set out to decimate that population. We lived there less than a year, but he racked up six kills over the course of just a few months – when I was watching. He had the run of the house when I was at work, so I don’t know how many he may have dispatched while I was away.

I always knew when he was on the trail of a mouse, not just because he would suddenly try to wedge himself under the stove or between the refrigerator and the wall, but because he would start wagging his tail. It was the only time I ever saw him wag it. Hunting apparently made him twitchy. Or more twitchy than normal. I always found it amusing, although I was a little hurt that seeing me was never motivation enough to cause him to wag his tail.

Of course, he wanted to eat the mouse, once he caught it, and it was an increasing struggle for me to get the mangled body out of his mouth. (Mice carry all kinds of nasty diseases, in spite of being a good source of protein. I didn’t want him coming down with something bubonic.) But, of course, Boomer being Boomer, he came up with a way around me. He’d catch the mouse, one quick crunch, then swallow. A few days later he’d yak up the skeleton and a few other undigestible bits for me to clean up. Charming. I did so love living in the country.

Where I live now is every bit as rural, though not quite as wild as that place. The woods don’t come right up to my back door here, but the mice do still get in. One reason I adopted the “extra dog” was so she’d help keep the rodent population around the house under some sort of control. She’s apparently been slipping.

And these mice are bold. They charge straight across open spaces to get from point A to point B, instead of sticking close to the walls, like they’re “supposed” to. One morning last week as I sat at my computer, I saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and looked up in time to see one of the little bastards go streaking across the floor headed for the living room. Almost at the same time, I realized Ramses was no longer lying in his “spot” in front of the second couch – where I could keep an eye on him from my computer chair. I walked in the living room and saw his back end sticking out from under the end table closest to the end of my brother’s couch – underneath which had probably been the mouse’s destination.

Ramses had dived under the end table in hot pursuit, but the couch had an even lower clearance, and he couldn’t cram himself under that. He would not budge. I had to grab his back legs and drag him out from under the table, then confine him to his crate to keep him from going right back in. Absolutely channeling Uncle Boomer.

You want to know something else, friends and neighbors? That tail was a’waggin’.

That’s my boy!

The Physics of Dog Walking

We learn in physics class that “systems” tend to become more and more disordered as time goes by. Just glance in a teenager’s bedroom from time to time to get an idea of the truth of that law. Sometimes a system can stay in a more or less constant state for a time (called equilibrium) before disorder (called entropy) sets in again. I have observed these phenomena while walking my dog.

People who own Basenjis especially are aware that dogs are geniuses of disorder. They find ways to introduce entropic cascades into any setting imaginable. They’re wizards.

To illustrate how the laws of physics apply to dog walking, I made a few sketches. They’re pretty crude, but you’ll get the point. In Figures 1 and 2 we see a system more or less in equilibrium, usually maintained by a death grip on the leash (and not a whole lot of slack in it). Figure 2 actually shows the system teetering on the brink of failure, as evidenced in Figure 3, where random entropy has been introduced.

Dog walking "at heel"

Fig. 1: System in equilibrium

Dog walking at end of leash

Fig. 2: System in equilibrium…for now

Dog going off on a tangent

Fig. 3: System in entropic failure. Probably a bunny to blame.

In Figure 4 I illustrate the normal way humans walk, compared to the normal way a dog walks if there’s any slack at all in the leash. The X marks the spot where the dog’s nose will become glued to the ground about 3 nanoseconds before your foot is due to arrive. This is called particle collision, and it results in massive release of energy — usually screaming and swearing — and generation of new and strange particles — birds, bunnies, and squirrels all taking flight from the area.

Dog will inevitably walk in front of walker

Fig. 4: Large Nonhadron Collider

And that’s all there is to know about particle physics.

Give your heart to a dog…

One of my Facebook friends has the sad task today of having to say goodbye to one of her basenjis. As I read the comments to her post, I was reminded of a line from a poem I read once, “give your heart to a dog to tear,” but I couldn’t remember if it was one of those rare serious ones by Ogden Nash, or if it was by James Thurber. I “googled” the line and found out I was wrong on both counts. It was by Rudyard Kipling, and it’s titled “The Power of the Dog.” And here it is. Get out a tissue.

The Power of the Dog
by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But…you’ve given your heart for a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

This is for Ju-Dee and her Phoebe. “The falcon has flown to the sun.”

Mule Mo-Jo – part 1

As I walked into the arena, a pitched battle was taking place. Okay. Not exactly a battle. A struggle for domination. Well, not exactly that, either. Four mules were in an elimination round to determine the winner of the Coon Jumping class. Each time all four cleared a jump, the bar was raised another two inches. The bar was starting to get pretty high, and the mules were starting to get a little balky. Some might say “mulish.”

One mule, named White Lightning, was only 40 inches tall at the whithers (the point on the shoulder where the mane ends). Since he was over 36 inches, he was technically not a miniature mule, so he was competing against much taller individuals. And he was still in the running for first place. Four or five mules had already been eliminated and were standing around watching the battle/struggle/jump-off. I was glad I had arrived in time to see some of the action.

A small mule eyes a large jump

White Lightning sizing up his next jump

Small mule goes over big jump

...and he makes it with room to spare.

Coon Jumping is one of those activities mules and donkeys, but not so much horses, are uniquely qualified to perform. A little like fox-hunting, raccoon hunting in some areas is a mounted sport. Hunters ride mules, and when they come to a fence, they dismount, climb the fence, and then the mule follows them over. Mules can jump from a flat-footed standstill, and are able to clear impressive heights – when they feel like it. The world record jump (by an equine)of over eight feet was set by a US Army mule. But a mule won’t jump a fence it feels is too high. Its sense of self-preservation will root it to the spot.

As is natural with any sport, a spin-off sport was soon born. Contests to see whose mule could clear the tallest fence rose from the bragging sessions following the coon hunts. Then somebody had to make up some rules. And formal events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo began to include Coon Jumping classes in their Mule and Donkey Show every year.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is kind of a big deal in this part of Texas – and maybe all of Texas. It’s been a fixture as a late-winter event in Houston for the past eighty years. The only year it wasn’t held was 1937, after the facility it had been using was torn down and the new Sam Houston Coliseum was being built. Since 1966, the event has been held at its present location, first in the Astrodome, and later in a series of buildings funded by proceeds from ticket sales – the Astrohall, Astroarena, etc. Now the whole area is “Reliant Park.” Astrohall has been replaced by Reliant Center, and the Astroarena was re-named Reliant Arena. Whatever the name of the place, the livestock show/rodeo built the places to have enough room for their ever-expanding programs, and they’ve done a great job.

I was only there for part of the afternoon to see some of the mule and donkey classes – I didn’t go over to Reliant Center to see how much bigger and better it was from the old Astrohall I remember from ages ago – but I’m sure there will be other chances to go see events there.

To get back to the jumping class, I’ll just point out a few things in some of the photos I took. The boxed area behind the jump is all the room the mule is allowed to use to approach the barrier. Obviously, it’s not enough room to get a good running start. Most of the mules would stand with their chests nearly touching the bar before they would rock back onto their hind legs, fold their front legs under, and launch themselves over the fence. The rules say the mule can’t step outside the box, or it’s a “fault,” which, after two, eliminates the mule from the class. After the first fault, the mule gets a second try immediately. They also have a time limit. Over 90 seconds is a fault.

Those mules knew just exactly how long 90 seconds is, and some of them would draw out the drama and suspense by refusing to budge toward the jump until the last split second, and then would go over just as tidy as you could want. Drama queens. I kid you not. There was as much laughter, if not more, as applause and cheering from the audience. The mules were obviously playing to the crowd.

The miniature donkeys also had a coon jumping contest, which was equally hilarious.

Mini donkey clears the jump

Bob the mini donkey clears the jump for his mini handler

Obviously, mules get their jumping technique from the donkey parent. Horses run and jump and keep running, while donkeys and mules can approach the barrier at a more leisurely pace. Why is that, do you wonder? I’m glad you asked. One of my Facebook friends related something one of her professors told the class about equine evolution, and I found the same explanation in a book titled The Natural Superiority of Mules, by John Hauer.

Horses evolved on the North American continent, and eventually migrated across the Bering land bridge into Asia, and later Europe and North Africa, before becoming extinct in their home ranges. The equine family tree was a bushy one for a long time, before being pruned down to the modern horse and its evolutionary offspring — the zebra clan and the asses. Ah, ha! So, donkeys and asses are actually younger than the horse, more evolutionarily advanced in some ways. In other ways, they have been shaped by the environments they occupied.

Horses evolved on the plains and grasslands with a variety of predators. They evolved to run away. Where they developed, running was always the best option. Think about it. Horses don’t have built in weapons, like bison, cattle, antelope, and all those other critters with horns and antlers. They just have escape velocity. Knowing when to run doesn’t take a lot of intellectual prowess – or a whole lot of sense. See a lion. Run. Hear a lion. Run. See a paper bag blow across the road. Ohmygod! Run and run and run! You get the idea.

Asses, on the other hand, evolved in more rugged terrain. A wild ass has to assess a threatening situation and decide whether to run or stand its ground, based on which is the safer choice. They had to learn to think, and think quickly. And they pass this ability to their hybrid offspring, the mule. When a mule is acting stubborn and hard headed, it’s much more likely that it has decided going through with whatever action its human companion wants it to do would be potentially harmful to itself. Duh.

To quote John Hauer: “People often ask me, ‘Why do you like mules?’ I say to them, ‘If you knew a man who would rarely start a fight, but was always capable of finishing one, who had very good judgment, high intelligence, a tremendous work ethic, but would never allow himself to be taken advantage of or overworked, what would your opinion of that person be?’” According to Hauer, that perfectly describes the character of a mule. Sounds like a good reason to like mules to me.

I, of course, think they are also cool looking, and like most other equines, make great subjects for drawing and painting. There will be mule portraits in the Crazybasenji gallery some day. In the meantime, look for the second part of this post, and a few more blurry photos from the show.


Source: The Natural Superiority of Mules Hauer, John 2005 Lyons Press, Guilford, CT