Monday, December 5, 2011

Sleeps with Dogs

Yep, that’s me. On any given night I have a six-dog night – five cocker spaniels and a basset hound that insists on stretching her body across the entire width of the bed. For the most part she is my footrest. I have resisted the sad eyes of TBTB visiting dogs accustomed to sleeping with their owners because there is absolutely no more room for a lab or sheepdog on a queen-size bed. Occasionally one sneaks up in the middle of the night if they get past Luce, who guards the bed passionately against after dark invaders. I have however relented and allowed the smaller Yorkies, Poodles and a few Terriers into the sleeping area since they are not big enough to sleep with the big dogs – or so they tell me.

Needless to say it is extremely crowded with dogs on either side of me, covering my feet, on the pillow above my head, and anywhere else they can find space. BunBun and Luce like being on top the covers, making it difficult to move around when one is under them. A good night’s sleep is something of the past but I can’t bear to tell them no, herein lies the problem. I’ve thought of sleeping on the couch but as Zachary my grandson reminds me. “But MeMa, they will just follow you,” and of course he is right. When I go on vacation and have an entire bed to myself it feels a bit odd but I must admit I sleep like a baby on my own.

Zippy DoDog the Basset has always marched to her own drum no matter what the other pack members are doing. When they go outside for their final pee of the night, she refuses – only to want out at bedtime and then she’s off for a run while the rest of us are waiting to go to sleep. Often times I am almost asleep, actually in the REM state when I hear the familiar ARF at the backdoor. I unwind myself from the others, get out of bed and let her in the back door and up on the bed, causing everyone else to adjust their positions to make room. Chaos, this routine is exasperating but I allow her to do it again and again. The definition of insanity is “to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.” Well so be it, I must be insane.

Currently we do not have a roommate at TBTB Dog Camp. This allows me the luxury of sleeping in one bed or the other, depending on my mood. The upstairs loft bed is next to the large A-frame window where I can look up at the stars or have an Alpine view with an occasional moose, that I hope the dogs don’t see. Otherwise it’s an utter bark fest while they woof their hellos across the tundra. It’s lovely up here particularly when it’s snowing outside.

The other choice is the downstairs bedroom that has the feel of a rustic, cozy cabin with log walls, perfect for nestling in the pillows with a good book and glass of vino. Both beds have flannel sheets and down comforters with lots of pillows for lounging. Last night the rustic cabin bedroom was calling me. I got the treats out and all 11 of us claimed our spot when I realized Zippy was missing. She had gone upstairs earlier assuming we would sleep in the loft since we did last night. I called her offering a treat for her to come but she ignored me, as usual. I decided to leave her up there, knowing when she realized we were downstairs I would hear the familiar ARF at the bedroom door and once again get up to let her in while everyone rearranged themselves to make room on the bed. Sigh. . . Oh well, so be it. DoDog is like a sack of potatoes if you try to move her when she’s sleeping.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning and my legs were still stretched out fully in the bed with room to spare, and no Zippy. OMG, is she okay I wondered? Okay is not the word. I went upstairs to find a basset hound stretched across the width of the bed, snoring under the covers. Apparently she thought having a bed of her own was such a good thing that she slept through the entire night alone. Wow! This could be the beginning of a good thing if she decides to sleep alone from now on. I will have so much more room in my bed. Fat Chance. Last night she insisted on getting in the downstairs bed with the rest of us, on her time of course. Apparently she totally forgot about having a bed of her own.

And so it was, another six-dog night. Sometimes I wonder why I allow them to rule my bed. The only thing I can say, “it’s for the love of the dog,” absolutely no other reason. I’m a pushover, at least where canines are concerned. And, I really do love my life with them. Otherwise, why would I bother? I will continue to do the same thing over and over but without any expectation of a different result.

Perhaps that means I’m not insane after all?

Woof! Woof!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dogsitting in Paris

Tails-by-the Bay has gone international! I have a dogsitting gig in Paris for two weeks in September, and again for the better part of December. Now how you might ask, did I manage that? Well, it’s one of those networking deals – a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend thing.

When people ask why I am going to Paris – do I really need a reason? – I tell them I am dogsitting and they are for the most part, flabbergasted. The Alaska Airlines attendant asked the question when I checked-in and was so amazed that she shouted to her coworker at the next desk – “she’s going to PARIS to dogsit!”

Well okay it’s not a paid position. But it is a trade for an apartment on the Boulevard de Grenelle a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower in the 15th Arrondissement. To explore and live like a Parisian with a dog to show me the way, can it get any better? Needless to say I am thrilled for the opportunity to hang-out with a black and white Dalmatian named Bella in the City of Light where we will become Tails-By-The-Seine for a time.

Life continues to be amazing for the dogsitter extraordinaire!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Tribute to LeeLoo

The hardest thing about this job is saying goodbye to the dogs that cross the Rainbow Bridge. If dogs have a single fault it is that they just don’t live long enough. But of course that’s not something they have any control over, it is the law of the Universe. They are sent to us as messengers of a better way of thinking, living and loving. Our job is simply to observe and listen.

I said goodbye to LeeLoo, one of my favorite labs of all time by giving her a big hug and thanking her for spending time with us at TBTB Dog Camp. Her tail was still wagging. The sweet face with the chocolate brown eyes gave me an all-knowing look that she was ready. Driving down the hill a short time later, a heaviness suddenly filled my heart that I knew was her final goodbye. A few minutes later her mom texted me to say she had gone peacefully.

LeeLoo struggled with grief over losing her dad last winter. Her mom shared an amazing story about the strong bond she had with him. A few weeks before he actually passed away, he coded at 2 AM at an Anchorage hospital, over 200 miles north of Homer. LeeLoo was staying with a family friend who later said that at 2 AM she became distraught – pacing and whining, unable to be consoled. Apparently LeeLoo did not settle down until around 4:30 AM – about the same time her dad’s condition was stabilized. At the time the friend was unaware of what was happening at the hospital. But LeeLoo knew.

LeeLoo was an institution in her own right. Serving her family for over 12 years and being a regular at TBTB Dog Camp, she will be greatly missed by many – both humans and canines. She was a happy dog – always coming to Camp with her tail wagging and a smile on her face. All dogs responded to her positive energy and mellow ways. After a recent diagnosis of lymphoma, LeeLoo arrived at Camp only a week ago with the same good attitude, appetite and a determination to go on trail walks with the rest of us. We sent her home thinking she had improved with the steroids and would beat the odds of this dreaded disease. But, it was not to be. After only a few days she rapidly started going downhill and it was obvious that she was suffering, albeit with a smile on her face.

It is never easy to say goodbye for those of us left in the physical world. Her presence will be missed at TBTB especially when her siblings come without her. I loved her like my own and will always remember her sweet disposition and beautiful face. LeeLoo you were sick and now you’re not. You are once again whole and free of all suffering. You are now with you dad, OgDog and other friends over the Rainbow Bridge. RIP Sweet Girl. Your job at being a Great Dog in this lifetime was well done.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

3 lbs. of Tuna Bites, GONE!

A rainy day at TBTB Dog Camp means biscuit baking time. All the dogs gather in the kitchen in hopes of cleaning a bowl or grabbing a scrap off the floor. Funny, they always seem to know what’s cookin’. Today it’s Tuna Bites, a simple recipe with no wheat, soy or corn. I make enough for the canine cookie jar, plus more to sell at the local bakery. Lots and lots of Tuna Bites with Parmesan cheese - baked, cooled and placed inside organza paw print bags. The smell of the freshly baked pastries fill the nostrils of all dogs near and far, as their sense of smell is much better than ours. Having said that, you can probably guess where this is going. . .

The process took all morning by the time I cleaned up, packaged the bakery treats and filled the treat jar. Incidentally this jar is a large black and white dog with a toothy smile. When the lid opens the sound of “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” or “Who Let the Dogs Out” rings out causing all TBTB dogs to scamper toward it. They are conditioned to run to the kitchen for a treat when they hear the voice of Elvis bellowing. After giving each of them a Tuna Bite treat, I put RockDog and Anne in their crates, a few big dogs on the front deck, a few more on the back deck, leaving the rest free to roam the house while I go out to run errands.

When I return in less than an hour all I see are chewed up paw print organza bags on the kitchen floor. “Anne” I said, “what did you do?” I knew it had to be her because she can jump and grab off the counter with the best of them. And then I remembered, Anne’s in her crate and so is RockDog, the two biggest food-snagging offenders. Sorry guys! I then turn to ZipDog, the other chowhound in the group. She looks at me as if to say: “you’ve got to be kidding.” Of course I then realize that the treats are at the back of the counter and there is no way with her short legs, that she could possibly be the culprit. I always blame my dogs before even thinking of any dogs in camp. But this time it’s apparently not a Roush dog.

I scan the crowd and see a very sheepish German Shepherd called Denali – a newbie in camp. She is certainly tall and lean enough to stand at the counter and reach the treats. The other possibility is Teddy, a yellow lab that is a TBTB regular. But, I always leave Teddy in the house and he has never touched a thing – he just makes himself at home on my bed while I’m gone.
So the question becomes, Whodunit? Which dog is guilty, or maybe there is more than one? The bottoms of three bags were completely chewed out and the contents devoured. Each bag weighed a pound so that means somebody ate 3 lbs. of biscuits and were probably about to finish off the other 5 lbs. when I returned. A few choice words escaped my lips causing all the little darlings to run for cover (guilty or not), while I cleaned up the shredded bags. All that work. . . down the gullet, probably inhaled rather than savored. Grrrrr!
Denali’s humans came later that evening to pick her up and I ask if she had ever counter surfed at home, and her mom got a sheepish look on her face – must run in the family? Her response was something to the effect “yes, what did she do?” I explained the biscuit incident and took full blame for leaving them on the counter in the first place, as I should. The dogs at TBTB are always ready to cease the moment if I err in judgment, especially when food is involved.

It was obvious that Denali made many friends that afternoon as they all wanted to play with her and sniff her lips. I do wish I had a web cam. I suspect Denali got the biscuits down from the counter and they all had quite a feast on Tuna Bites. And in the process, she became their hero. Dogs are opportunists at heart and can rarely resist their nose guiding them to some yummy treasure stashed somewhere. And who in their right mind would leave dogs home alone with freshly baked treats within their reach?

Stupid Human Anyhow!
Woof! Woof!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jenny & The Lemon Tart

Jenny arrived at dog camp inside a soft crate along with her granola and thyroid pills. Her tag read “Our Jenny” and she is 17-1/2 years old. She could have been a doggie movie star dancing and twirling on her hind legs the way she used to do for treats. After all she comes from a family of musicians, singers, and dancers. But instead of the glitz and glamour of star life, Jenny chose to raise three boys who are now men, and in the process became an elder herself. She is originally from Manhattan, but her golden years are now spent in Homer where the grass is greener, the beach is friendlier and there are so many bushes to sniff, and get lost in if you weigh next to nothing. Jenny now prefers the slower, relaxed lifestyle.

Her hair is curly white but her ears stick straight up, and she weighs all of 5 lbs. soaking wet. She is a mixed breed, part Chihuahua and part Poodle. She is still spunky - if you try to clean the sleep from her eyes in the morning she fights it. She paces in circles and then sleeps in the C position until she feels the urgency to pee. Jenny then performs a little dance (on four legs these days) indicating to anyone listening that it is definitely time to go outside. Her appetite is great, especially when you offer her halibut and salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner – topped with the granola for fiber.

Who wouldn’t love Jenny? My friends want to take her home because she is just so adorable. And the dogs in Camp, well that was interesting to watch. As she stood in the midst of the herd, they all made room for her to pass by. You could sense an all-knowing respect among them as she sauntered toward the water bowl and the path opened up for her. I was concerned to have her sleep on the bed for fear she might fall off. But all the resident dogs surrounded her, making a barricade so if she got up, they too would get up and in the process wake me. I wasn’t aware yet that once Jenny went to sleep she wouldn’t move until morning.

I fed her on the counter away from the crowd, and usually did the breakfast dishes while she ate her meal. On this particular morning I made her oatmeal mixed with granola, yogurt and doggie kibble and put her beside me on the counter. As I was doing the dishes I glanced back just in time to see her standing in the middle of the French lemon tart that was left over from last night’s dinner party. Both of her front paws were in the middle of the pie dish and her snout was buried deep in the lemon filling lapping it up as fast as she could. Oh, Jenny! At 17-1/2 years old you can eat as much lemon tart as you want. She was oblivious to me, totally enthralled in the joy of the moment. Next to her sat her untouched breakfast. I grabbed my camera and got the shot.

Nom! Nom!
Woof! Woof!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nineteen Dogs - Seriously?

Okay, so TBTB Dog Camp has finally reached the max in doggie numbers. It was Salmon Stock weekend - a music festival in Ninilchik. I think most of Homer town was there enjoying the music in torrential rain on Saturday, and drying out in the beautiful sunshine with more music on Sunday.

Having 18 dogs for the weekend was a bit overwhelming to say the least! But it’s the Law of Attraction - it's like seeing myself with 18 dogs and BAM - here I am. To make it really interesting I took another one on Sunday morning for the day. A lovely little mini-Schnauzer with Cushing’s disease – how could I possibly say No? Sophie #2 brought the count up to a grand total of 19 and holding.

In order to get the herd to settle in for the evening, I have to sit down at the kitchen table to write this and not move much. You can hear a pin drop right now, well almost except for Gato Barbieri and his Sax. However, if I even move an inch at this point of course everyone will be up and ready - for what I don't know since they are all still drenched from their last quick pee in the downpour, and so am I.

It's the aroma of wet dog mixed with California white sage that currently fills my nostrils. As I sit writing on the computer with my glass of Malbec nearby, they are everywhere - under my feet, behind my back on the chair, on either side of me on the floor, in my lap, looking over my shoulder as I type, in front of me on the floor, and behind me on the couch. DOGS in all shapes and sizes as far as the eye can see. It makes me smile to see them content to be in the moment of whatever I choose to do. Where else is everything all about me?

I can't exhale too loudly for fear of waking them up at the moment. When I do get up I will need to shuffle to walk. This is a problem. Heaven forbid I have to go upstairs for anything because they will be lined up behind me on the steps when I turn around to come back down. Whatever I need, I can live without just for the peace and quiet of the moment. It’s hilarious but some people probably think I need a therapist.
And the roster? Well there is Bear, Mikke, LeLu, Penny, Cooper, Zep, Isis, Buddy, Misha, Qimmiq, Sophie 1, Sophie 2, and Kirby, plus the resident dogs: Luce, Woody, Zippy, BunBun, Anne, & RockDog. Wheew! That should be everyone. I actually have a call list to check them off when we come in from our walks.

And, did I mention that Buddy the California boy, is so scared that he tries to climb the walls? Literally. . . I have to corral the others away from him so he can relax on top of the large crate in the dining area by the door. Of course this makes all the dogs even more curious. Buddy’s sister Misha the Keeshond stays by his side, although I can tell she would much prefer romping with the others.
This is totally ludicrous, but I'm smiling - no complaints here. My life with dogs is not only a good time, but it cracks me up. Maybe I need a bigger house?

Woof! Woof!

For anyone who thinks dogsitting sounds like a good idea, rest assured you must have a sense of humor, think like a canine, have a ton of energy stored up, and be prepared to be on your feet from sun-up to sun-down, especially when you have 19 dogs free in the house!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - HOW MANY DOGS?

I have so many dogs tonight that I had to write a blog and do a roster to figure out who is here. It is midnight and I just finished the doggie treats. My kitchen space is small so I have been tripping over dogs because they insist on lying by my feet wherever I am, at least six of them. Every time I turn around I either trip, fall, step on a tail, stub a paw or something. I find myself shuffling along, rather than walking. I know it sounds like an absurd way to live, but I just keep smiling and drinking wine.

I’m having an 8-dog night in the bed as we speak. A webcam is a good idea but I don't have time to deal with it, as you can well imagine. At last count there were 16 dogs here, 17 until one of the owners got off a boat for the night, picked up his dog and will return him tomorrow. Of course it was the one dog that is the least amount of trouble. Will any others leave? I think maybe one dog goes home tomorrow, and there is a mass exit on Sunday, but then of course more are coming. I don't even try to figure it out anymore, I just go with the flow.

Summer has finally hit Homer a bit late this year, as it is the middle of July already! There is mucho snoring going on at TBTB tonight, where there is now a mix of Big Dogs & Little Dogs. The roster for the big guys is: Bear, LeLu, Mikey, Teddy and Buddy. That leaves the little guys: Cammie (pint-size), Joe Moore, Yeager, RockDog, LucGoose, WoodBoy, Zippy, Anne, BunBun Roush, Gracie, and Tigger. With the current head count, breakfast should be a hoot in the morning. Am I insane, or just a little weird? Sometimes even I wonder? But, I’m having a ball, and I think that’s what life is truly about.

Woof! Woof!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - Love at First Sniff?

Buddy a red and white Australian Sheppard arrived in camp today from Washington state. His dad Carl is obviously a truck driver, pulling in the driveway in the cab of a loud semi. They were greeted by a group of barking dogs on the deck that wondered what the vibration and noise was all about. I could tell that Buddy was well trained, reluctantly coming on the deck when told to do so but not particularly happy about being left behind. Carl said Buddy would be on a food fast and not to worry if he didn’t eat for his 36-hour stay at TBTB.

Buddy seemed secure hanging out on the deck, being pretty much of a loner after completing the required doggie handshakes - allowing his butt to be sniffed by all the dogs in camp. He was obviously not interested in the camp thing, and certainly not responsive to any treats, albeit liver. Ahhh, come on. All dogs love liver – not Buddy the Aussie.

His entire attitude changed when he saw HER. Yeager, an adolescent black lab mix with white socks, sauntered onto the deck, walked up to Buddy for a sniff then turned around and walked off. Buddy's eyes glazed over and he began following Yeager wherever she went, grabbing a sniff every chance he got but each time he tried to mount her, she snarled in his face putting an end to that nonsense early in their relationship.

For the next day and a half, Buddy became Yeager’s shadow. She liked him but also liked to romp with the other dogs in camp. He seemed okay with that, content to stand back and watch her flirt and frolic with the others. At mealtime they were fed side by side and he would watch her eat her bowl of food and then continue by eating his. He seemed to have little interest in anything but her. Carl was right; Buddy didn’t eat a thing while he was at TBTB.

When Yeager was crated at night, Buddy would lie beside her crate and wait patiently for the morning when she would be let out and they would sashay out for their morning pee. When we did our usual 10-dog walk Buddy would lie in the bushes at the top of the driveway watching us until we returned as he resisted being part of the pack. He would then jump out when he saw Yeager prancing down the road near the driveway. What a pair they were.

Carl came to get Buddy the following afternoon and although Buddy was glad to see his dad, he was reluctant to leave the deck. From the outside of the fence he jumped up one last time and Yeager jumped up from the inside so they were nose to nose. Buddy licked her face once, then turned and ran into the cab of the semi – saying his final goodbye I suppose.

It was interesting to watch their behavior. Buddy was totally taken by Yeager and although she enjoyed the attention, she didn’t appear quite as infatuated. I wonder if this was a case of Love at First Sniff for Buddy Boy? It sure looked like it! There is never a dull moment at TBTB Dog Camp.

Sniff! Sniff!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter – Jump & Grab, AGAIN!

Baking, baking, baking. Healthy treats for my canine friends such as Energy Barks with Granola and Molasses, Puppy Dog Eyes with Carob and Peanut Butter, and Liver Bites with – Liver! It has been quite a process, especially the Liver Bites. Once they are baked on a cookie sheet they must be cut while hot and then dried in the oven for another few hours on low temperature – to make them crunchy.

Everyone is exhausted from watching me – complaining that begging is hard work. I have shared with them no matter what they say. Now it’s late, I’m hungry and it is time to take Zippy out for her final pee of the night. Being on permanent restriction requires a leash. We are quick about it but apparently, not quick enough. When I return I see Anne in her crate with just her butt sticking out, and RockDog right on her tail growling and trying to shove his way into her space. “Anne, did you get my food?” I said aloud as I search and see my sandwich still on the counter. Good thing, I haven’t eaten all day.

I can tell something is up by the way these two chowhounds are acting. I reach in the crate and grab Anne’s collar to back her out, as she growls and struggles to stay inside. I also pull RockDog back because he is very anxious to get into the crate if he can only push her out of the way. Finally I shove them both aside to investigate and that is when I see it, the remains of one of the cute little paw print bags used to package the treats. The torn bag has gaping holes all over and only a few crumbs left inside. Obviously we are back to the jump and grab routine. Just when I think Anne is trained to not do it, she strikes again. In two minutes flat she leaped up to the counter, snatched a bag on her way down, took it to her crate (but not without RockDog noticing) and consumed part of the bag and most of the liver bites before I knew it. Of course she went for the Liver, the most expensive treat. She is definitely no dummy.

Anne is now a snoring dog, right beside RockDog who essentially ratted her out with his over-the-top behavior about food. Had he not been so persistent to get in the crate with her, I doubt I would have noticed one small bag of missing Liver Bites. As it were, she got busted. But the smirk on her sated face told me it was well worth it. And I have no doubt she will do it again in a heartbeat, first chance she gets. Anne is an opportunist at heart.

Woof! Woof!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - Little Dog Day

There were 13 dogs when I got up this morning at 7AM; my six plus two old English sheepdogs and their sister LeLu (senior yellow lab), three Schnauzers and Boulder, a wonderful big black terrier mix. Shortly thereafter Forty-West arrived for day care – 14 in the kitchen waiting for their breakfast of organic kibble with a scoop of oatmeal mixed with eggs and a banana, all covered with homemade organic Greek yogurt.

It’s a process preparing bowls and some dogs are more patient than others. RockDog is so excited he can’t sit still causing the other not-so-patient dogs to begin whining and wiggling. It’s contagious so very soon there is a pack of 14 excited dogs creating mayhem at the food counter, pushing and shoving each other and me. I stop long enough to run the offenders out to the deck where they can wait for their breakfast, away from the food. Ahhh, now back to some semblance of order in the kitchen. It takes much longer to actually prepare the food bowls than it does for them to clean them, especially the labs and English cocker. No sooner do I set the bowl in front of their slobbering jaws when presto, it is inhaled. How do you guys do that? It’s like you breathe it in.

The task then becomes to separate the chowhounds from the slower, I-like-to-enjoy-every-bite eaters. I shove the finished crew into the bathroom or back deck to allow for the others to leisurely pick at their breakfast ensuring there is no cause for snarling or worse yet, a snit. Crowd control, that’s what it’s all about at mealtime.

Around 1 PM Maisey arrives, a black Scottie from Montana totaling fifteen and still counting. At 3:00 PM I drop the Sheepdogs and LeLu off at their house reducing the count to 12. At 5:30 Forty-West is picked-up for the day and Oliver, an adorable Cavalier Spaniel from Bend, Oregon arrives – mentally I note, one leaving, one coming still leaves 12 for the night, one less than last night.

Like magic the swinging doors at TBTB has produced a pack of small canines with one exception - Boulder, who tries very hard to appear small in the new crowd. He gets down on the floor and rolls over for them to sniff until their hearts are content. He is a gentle giant.

The roster of the day looked something like this: Boulder, Bear, Mikey, LeLu, Gracie, Tigger, Joe Moore, Forty-West, Maisey, Oliver, WoodBoy, LucGoose, ZipDoodle, RockDog, Ms. Anne & BunBun Roush. With this many dogs, especially since now we have small ones, I do have to make a list so I can be sure everyone comes inside after the evening walk.

The big dogs take up mucho space in the house but they are easy to spot on the trail. The little dogs are harder to see when they are all buzzing around the tundra but they do yip more and require lap time. Some such as Oliver insist on sleeping on the bed with my six dogs and me. Everyone finds a spot on the bed leaving the pillow by my head open for Oliver to settle in. All in all, I love both the big and small dogs alike. I really don’t have a preference. Life continues to be a howl at TBTB Dog Camp.

Yip! Yip! or Woof! Woof!
Depending on what day it is. ☺

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - Monday, Monday

On my way downstairs I pass the leather couch covered with sleeping dogs and realize it’s true what my friends say. If you are sitting on my couch, you are taking up a dog spot. I can't remember the last time, if ever, that I actually sat on the couch. If I did the dogs would be all over me because the fact is, like most everything else here, the couch belongs to them. Nothing is sacred in my house of dogs.

When I want some down time I get in my bed and work on the computer and/or read to get away from the hordes of them, but of course even there I have six dogs vying for position on the bed and it's a cluster until everyone finds their spot, circles twice and settles in. And then a lone dog that I won’t name has to be sandwiched in next to me, pushing against the computer eventually disconnecting the power cord. I shove him back a few inches so I can plug my Mac back in and then move my legs over a bit to accommodate his comfort. Finally all is good until I have to get up for something, which means of course everyone else gets up too. When I return to the bed the whole settling-in process is repeated. Once all that is done alas, I can maybe get some work done or at least feel like I can focus on something other than furry creatures that follow me everywhere including the bathroom insisting on being petted while I take a pee. It's exhausting, but also special. I'm not complaining just merely stating how it is at TBTB.

Today is Monday and the sun is out, the front door is open and the dogs are in and out racing on the deck. I am preoccupied with fixing their gourmet breakfast of oatmeal, bananas, and eggs covered with Greek yogurt, and when I turn around OMG. . . a blood bath. A trail of the red, sticky stuff is covering the floor from the deck through the dining area into the kitchen. All eleven dogs are licking, smelling and walking in it; there are blood prints everywhere - a likely scene from a horror film!

One of the sheepdogs has a bloody beard and front legs. I search his head, feet, and mouth along with all the other dogs and can't find where the blood is coming from. I wash the floors in the house, hose off the deck along with the dogs and call it good. The flow of blood has apparently stopped. The dogs just want to wrestle more, so obviously no one is seriously injured. All of this before I'd had my first cup of coffee/tea, or anything else for that matter.

A few minutes later after the final paw prints have been wiped from the floor, I look outside to see the sheepdog's beard again covered in dark red blood dripping off his chin. I grab my gloves, warm water, peroxide, and cotton balls, determined to find the source. After searching through the sticky wet fur on his face and head, I finally find a teeny scratch on the brim of his nose. It is so small that it is barely noticeable, but when I push on it the blood oozes out. So that's it! A micro-cut in an area without much skin, that bleeds and bleeds and bleeds. The vessels are so close to the surface that the blood flows freely from this tiny opening producing enough hemoglobin to simulate a massacre. With the mystery solved, the dog cleaned up and the alum stick applied to BearBoy’s scratch, at last it is time for a doggie breakfast and my first cup of coffee of the week! Bloody Hell, what a morning! ☺

Monday, Monday (ba-da ba-da-da-da)
So good to me (ba-da ba-da-da-da)
Monday mornin’, it was all I hoped it would be
Oh Monday morning, Monday morning couldn’t guarantee (ba-da ba-da-da-da)
That Monday evening you would still be here with me
Monday, Monday can’t trust that day
Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way . . .

Or, something like that. . . just another Monday in the life of a dogsitter!

Woof! Woof!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - The Story of Bette Cocker

I was at Lisa Ann’s Grooming picking up my sweet WoodBoy, who incidentally loves his occasional spa day. Lisa greeted me with: “you know there’s a black cocker spaniel at the animal shelter, don’t you?” Of course I could have gone all day without hearing those words. She also mentioned that the dog was badly matted and volunteered to groom her for free if ‘someone’ would bring her in. Well, obviously that someone would be me. As I left the salon, Lisa matter-of-factly said: “you’re going down there, aren’t you?” as I nodded my head and left. She knows my connection to the cocker breed.

I put Woody in the car and drove directly to the shelter. Sitting all alone in a huge cage was an elderly girl, overgrown and matted with an uncropped, tangled tail. She looked big but when I touched her I realized it was mostly hair that made her look so large. The first thing I noticed was how happy she appeared with a perpetual smile on her face, and in the mist of the dog barking chaos surrounding her, she didn’t utter a sound.

Apparently she had been picked up in the parking lot of the Down East Saloon and had been at the shelter for a few weeks. There were no calls to claim her even after the daily announcements on public radio. She was now up for adoption but sadly there had been little interest because of her age. Enough said, I paid the adoption fee, put a leash on her and lead her to my VW Beetle. She walked perfect on lead with her head held high, tail swishing back and forth, and still the smile. I couldn’t look at her without smiling; it was contagious. She jumped in the car and sat in the passenger’s seat like she had done it all before.

She needed a name. I hardly knew her but after spending only a few minutes with her, one came to me. She looked like a Bette and when I added Cocker, it was perfect. She immediately accepted that as her new title. With that problem solved we drove directly back to Lisa Ann’s for Bette’s complimentary spa treatment. Oh, and what a treatment it was – she was transformed into a black beauty.

When I saw her I was flabbergasted – OMG, she looked exactly like a cocker spaniel with a feathered plume tail that floated in the wind. She was a bit overweight, but still priceless. I gathered her up for the car ride home to meet the gang at TBTB Dog Camp. I had already given myself the “talk” before I picked her up. I currently have five spaniels and a basset hound of my own so keeping Bette was not an option. My plan was to find her the perfect home and foster her until her human was located.

All the dogs at TBTB loved Bette. She was well socialized, always happy, mellow, completely trained and just the perfect girl. I couldn’t find a thing to change about her behavior. She was a joy – if I felt sad, worried or down all I had to do was look at that big smile to feel better. She spent the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season at TBTB and had a permanent spot on the leather couch in front of the fire. In the meantime I continued to search for her forever home.

A friend of mine had lost her beloved dog in a snow blizzard just a few weeks earlier. Cindy also has a black lab named SusieQ and was eventually going to get another dog. Two dogs are always better than one. I told her about Bette but she wasn’t ready; the accident had been recent and her emotions were still too raw. After a few weeks we agreed to meet at the beach to see if Bette and SusieQ got along – that was a no brainer for me as Bette got along with all living things! After a walk of meeting and greeting, butt sniffing and tail wagging, Cindy decided to take Bette home for a sleepover to see how it went. Well that was all it took. After six-weeks at Tails-By-The-Bay Dog Camp and who knows how many at the shelter, Bette had finally found ‘home’ complete with a big sister!

Bette has since become Bette Boo Cocker and is still smiling. Cindy and SusieQ adore her, and she is my Goddaughter and the Godsister of the TBTB resident pack. We get to visit her and she and SusieQ stay with us when Cindy’s out of town. Bette loves TBTB Dog Camp and all the dogs here, assuming her old spot on the couch when she walks in. But, she is always ecstatic to see her mom, and without hesitation is ready to go home where she and SusieQ share a doggie bed complete with TBTB snug rugs.

By doing some investigative sleuth work I was able to determine that Bette’s first name was Willow. She was given to a family when her original mom got a job in the states and could not take her with and, she is 12 years old. After a couple years with the new family she apparently wandered off, got lost and they never tried to find her.

During her long ordeal at the shelter, Bette never lost her love for life, her trust in humans, or her positive attitude. She has now found her forever home and her smile is bigger than ever! She looks great, feels good after losing a few pounds and is content to live in the moment. In fact, Bette Cocker is happy to just “be.” Thank you Cindy and SusieQ for opening you heart and home up to this beautiful older girl.

Woof! Woof!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - The Huntress

She rushes to the back door around 6:30 AM each morning anxiously waiting the door to open, wildly wagging her stubby little tail. Outside she barks as she springs off the back deck into the weeds like a petit lapin. Her white wiggle butt quickly disappears in the underbrush as movement erupts and the birds began squawking in protest. She works tenaciously with her nose to the ground ensuring no bush is left untouched.

Focused on her mission I can’t see her, but I do see the bushes swaying back and forth as she moves under them. She has definitely connected to her purpose and doesn’t stop until all the birds are flushed out. She is a petite cocker spaniel, originally bred to flush woodcocks out of the bushes. She is the huntress, doing her job.

The job complete she returns to the back door, spent. Morning dew has drenched her blonde coat and her legs and paws are caked with mud. Big brown eyes look up at me as she patiently waits our routine. I tell her she’s a good girl and put her in the kitchen sink to rinse off the mud, leaves and sticks stuck on her belly. After her mini-bath and breakfast, she finds a spot to take a morning nap. Life is good at Tails-By-The-Bay Dog Camp for BunBun (aka Bunny) Roush.

Bunny arrived at TBTB Dog Camp over a year ago as a foster girl. She was rescued by Camp Cocker from a Los Angeles shelter and had previously been used as a breeder dog. She had multiple litters at a young age, and has had two hernia operations to repair the damage done internally. Bunny now has a permanent home with her foster mom. She lives on two acres with a pack of five other resident dogs, plus all the visiting client dogs. BunBun spends her days flushing birds, eating organic homemade food, begging for treats, walking on the beach and sleeping on the human bed. A special girl with a big heart, Bunny has a bossy disposition. She tells all the dogs who is boss at TBTB but no one really listens. ☺

As a dogsitter I have the opportunity to observe many different breeds as well as some wonderful mutts. It’s fasinating to watch dogs do what they were bred to do. Bunny has found her groove doing what cockers do best – flushing woodcocks. She can hardly wait for the backdoor to open so she can bark and pounce into the surrounding underbrush. Whether these are woodcocks or not, I don’t know. I just know that BunBun is ecstatic running through the brush flushing them every chance she gets. She is a happy girl that has definitely found her forever home. BunBun Roush will never see the inside of an animal shelter again.

Woof! Woof! ☺

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter – On a Much Lighter Note. . . Seriously? A Purple Mohawk?

In case you haven’t noticed, Ms. Annie has a mind of her own. When she first arrived at TBTB she escaped off the deck and ran like the wind. Consequently for the first six months, she was confined to a leash on our daily walks. I learned early that every chance she got, Annie would run away as fast as her little legs would carry her but she always came back – on her time, not mine. Recently I started training her with food since she is such a chowhound. Now she gets it! With treats in my pocket, Annie knows she can run ahead and when I call her if she runs back to me, she is rewarded with a delicious biscuit. Not only does she get her aerobic exercise by running, she has now established herself as an official member of the TBTB pack by being a free girl.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Homer – sunshine and warm air, what more can you ask for in early March? The dogs and I enjoyed a walk in spring-like weather and Annie was running with the pack. We returned home and all the dogs ran to the deck, ready for a nap in the sun. Annie hesitated, looked at the treat in my hand and quickly made her decision. She flew back up the up hill, obviously not ready to come inside. Oh Annie, sometimes you are so independent!

I decided not to chase after her. Instead I did the poop scoop thing in the yard and waited for her return. After about twenty minutes there was still no sign of Annie girl. I meandered up the hill and immediately saw her scurrying toward me from the neighbor’s driveway. I knew what that meant. . . Her first escape months earlier had paid off well. She had found open trash on the deck next door and was rewarded with lots of goodies before I found her. Now really, who leaves trash outside on the deck in bear country? Well, that be my neighbor, and I always felt it served him right when she got into it, even though I did clean it up. Better to run into Annie on the back deck than a hungry black bear! But that’s another story. . .

Anyway, Annie’s memory is long and of course unsupervised, she headed straight back over to see what she could find. I could tell as she ran toward me with her head down, that she had been up to something and it probably wasn’t good! Fortunately she did not score today - at least not much. There was no scattered trash on the ground, and that’s a good thing.

Annie has a cocker crown on the top of her head, and her hair naturally grows into a moptop. When she is groomed and her hair is short, her hairline is shaped like a widow’s peak. So, when I saw her running down the driveway with a dark stain on her moptop, I assumed it was blood and she was injured OMG!

She cowered down in front of me and I noticed a stick protruding out the top of her head. What the hell? It actually looked like a lollipop stick, oh wait! It is!!! Matted and very stuck was a purple sucker smack dab in the middle of her cocker crown. The neighbors have five kids, so it’s no surprise that she has found a lollipop in their yard. I pulled the stick out of her moptop but the sucker remained buried there. The sweet little wiggle butt then followed me home with a smile on her face, obviously happy that I wasn’t mad at her. Mad? I couldn’t stop laughing. The actual sucker resting in her moptop makes her look like she has a purple Mohawk! OMG girly, you are so funny. I’m not about to pull that out.

All the other dogs ran to meet us at the gate and immediately started smelling and licking her sucker head as she stood smiling. The color purple lasted the rest of the day until finally they had licked away all the evidence. A friend saw her and thought for sure I had spray painted her a Mohawk because it suited her so well! Ms. Annie you are always a Howl. You keep us all laughing at TBTB Dog Camp, and it seems whatever trouble you get into, it usually involves food or drink, and the doggies love you for that! Woof! Woof!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tails of a Dogsitter - A Dog Named Finnbar

I lay down next to him on the cold floor at the vet clinic – my face nuzzled into the fur of his massive head, inhaling the smell of the sea where we had just been. He consumed a full jar of his favorite Yummy Chummy treats before the sedative took effect, and then all ninety-four pounds of him slowly slid down into the warmth of the soft sheepskin rug. I stroke the wiry fur on his face and whisper what a good dog he is and how genetics are not his fault. The lethal liquid is slowly seeping into his back leg but I see only his face. I am strong for him, although I feel soft and vulnerable inside. I tell him I’m sorry and I love him as I kiss the top of his beautiful head. He licks his lips twice and just like that, his heart stops. I imagine his spirit rising out of his body and floating upward toward the sky to join the celebration waiting for him at the Rainbow Bridge where friends like OgDog, Maggie, Duke, Chula, Roxanna Danna and Bridger are waiting. The tears flow freely down my face. All my strength is completely drained out of my being and the release is inevitable.

Minutes earlier we had been at Bishop’s Beach with two raw sirloin steaks cut into small pieces. The tide was out and except for the occasional dog and owner passing by, we were alone on our walk. He enjoyed seeing the other dogs on the beach and eagerly ran to greet them. The playful ones could easily entice him into a game of chase – although it was a short one, as today he preferred my company and the steak. I told him everything, the decision that had been made, why it was made, what to expect and how I would be with him until the end. He trusted me.

He passed through my world for a reason that only time will reveal. Over the past week he has instilled strength in me that I didn’t know I had. His presence caused me to question my belief that all dogs could be saved. Apparently some cannot and he was one of those. I wonder if I did everything I could, if I tried hard enough? My mind continues to ponder these questions while my imagination creates a different ending to the story. . .you see, abstractly because of what happened with me, he was laid to rest. . . forever.

I can’t help but wonder why the universe arranged for me to be in this particular situation at this time in my life. Me, of all people, I don’t even believe in capital punishment. I can’t seem to wrap my head around interfering with nature and that is how I see taking a life, whether it is man or beast. Nevertheless, I remind myself this was not my decision to make. He needed a friend and I was it. There was no other choice except to go with him in the end. . . My favorite mantra played over and over in my head, “everything is as it should be at this moment.”

Finnbar came to TBTB last fall for his first visit, integrating well into the pack and forming friendships with various dogs. He particularly liked to lay in front of the fire with Zippy, the Basset Hound. The owners told me he was territorial about his food, a behavior not that unusual for some dogs. I simply fed him outside on the deck away from all the others, and there was no problem.

It was a real surprise to me when the owners were offered jobs in Old Harbor and could not take him with them because he had growled at a small child in the village. That too didn’t seem so unusual as kids can be frightening to dogs that have never been around them. They were devastated but rather than take him to the shelter, they asked for help in finding him a new home. I was happy to write an ad for craigslist that did produce a single, retired guy in Cordova that wanted to adopt him as a hiking buddy. Perfect, Finnbar loved to hike. Logistics were such that Derrick was unable to get the ferry to Homer for another two-weeks after the owners were to leave, so I agreed to keep Finnbar at TBTB until the time he could be picked up by his new owner.

Finnbar enjoyed the activities in dog camp, particularly our walks on Bishop’s Beach and resting by the fire in the evening. He played with any dog that was willing to run with him. After a few days I brought some new stuffed animals home for the pack. Ironically it was a stuffed bunny that was the center of an incident with Bunny, my rescued cocker. They were playing and all of a sudden Finnbar grabbed Bunny by the ear and she yelped. I grabbed him and he immediately let go. Her ear was punctured in three places and blood was gushing onto the floor. I scolded him and tended to her injury not thinking much about it, rationalizing that they merely had a snit over a new toy and he hadn’t meant to hurt her. After all Bunny does has a reputation of being the bossy girl in camp. Fast forward two-nights later. . .

The dogs shadow me in the house, following me from room to room. Dinner was over and I was washing dishes with all six dogs in the kitchen around my legs – certainly nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly Finnbar grabbed Annie, my other rescued cocker, by the neck and began shaking her like a rag doll. He was no match for her, outweighing her by at least 70 lbs. I yelled at him to stop, but he would not. I then grabbed him around the neck and we wrestled to the ground but he still hung on to Annie. I remember thinking he was going to kill her before I could get him off. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity he released his grip on her and she ran upstairs, while I put him outside on the deck. Annie had a gaping hole on the left side of her neck, blood was flowing everywhere and I could not get near her, she was so traumatized. She underwent emergency surgery to repair the ripped flesh and torn muscles in her neck and jaw area resulting in multiple stitches and the insertion of a drainage tube. Her major blood vessel had barely been missed, and the vet said it looked like the attacker was definitely going for the kill.

After learning that Annie was probably going to survive I was then able to reflect on what had happened. I pride myself in never having a dogfight at TBTB Dog Camp. I’m very aware of dog body language and can easily head off a potential snit before it becomes a problem. This was different. There had been no growling and absolutely no warning. It was a quiet pounce and an immediate death grip. The scary part was that he would not listen. Unlike the earlier situation with Bunny, this was a frenzy. Noisy dogfights are usually not serious, and in contrast the silent ones can be deadly. The only noise during this attack was Annie’s desperate screaming.

Finnbar was placed in a crate because now I could not trust him. I immediately called the owners and also the potential adopter. Over the next several days, the owners made a decision based on the unpredictability and severity of the attack, and the fact that he had recently growled at a child. They determined Finnbar must be put down so he could never harm anything else. Over the next week they made the arrangements by telephone. I was asked to drop him off at the local animal shelter and they in turn would take care of having him euthanized. In the meantime I was desperately trying to come up with different options, all of which turned into dead ends – no pun intended.

What happened that fateful night in the kitchen? Was it coincidental that Finnbar attacked the two rescued cockers and not my other dogs? Did he sense a weakness in them and self-confidence in the others? Or, did he recognize that they too had been shelter dogs like he had once been? Both altercations occurred at my feet - was he becoming territorial over me? Did he miss his family and act out in frustration for being left behind? Were these isolated incidents that would never happen again? Or, were they merely a precursor of attacks to come? These questions played over and over in my head.

In the end, the reason for the aggression didn’t matter. The fact was the attack was vicious and unpredictable and was very close to being fatal. I spoke to several dog behavior specialists and everyone agreed that grabbing and shaking is a very serious offense and usually means a death sentence for the offending dog. He was not adoptable – the risky behavior could not be passed on to someone else. All the experts agreed with the owner, Finnbar should be put down. Time was running out. I did some major soul searching and decided there was no way I could drop him at the shelter to go through this alone. I knew I had to go with him and try to explain the why of it to both of us.

I understand the ultimate decision. What would I have done had he been my dog? In my soul I knew it was right, but my heart was still broken. I had bonded with this dog, and loved him as I do all dogs. I had forgiven him. I wanted to find him the perfect home – one where he could once again be the only dog and have people who adored him as much as his previous owners. I wanted to believe it would never happen again, that he could be saved. I wanted so much to believe. . .

This was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a dogsitter. It was my decision to stay with him, but for me there was no other choice. I couldn’t walk out on him when he needed a friend. Writing has been a form of therapy for my soul. It has forced me to articulate and separate the facts from the emotions, and in the process find acceptance. His memory remains etched in my psyche.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tales of a Dogsitter - Little Annie, the Boozer

I look at the wall clock and see that it’s 5:30 PM on this snowy evening in Homer Alaska - time to chill out after a busy dog day. There is a glowing fire burning in the woodstove and it’s time to relax and make myself an adult beverage. I am back on the Yin Yang diet so no beer and wine are allowed. Therefore it will have to be the hard stuff, like Rum. The doggies had their dinner and are sleeping by the fire as I mix myself a Bacardi coke with lime, and settle in my favorite chair with a novel. After a while I get up to visit the bathroom and return to the living area and hear: lap, lap, lap! OMG! There she is. . . my precious Annie, with her nose deep in my glass slurping up the Cuba Libre that I have left by the chair.

No, no – you cannot have that silly girl, as I grab the glass from off the floor. She proceeds to lick her lips and sneeze, not one but three times. Serves you right girly, for getting into the booze. She comes over to me and continues to lick the condensation off the floor where the drink had been sitting. Well Ms. Annie, we knew you might be a boozer after the wine episode. You obviously love the dark rum and coke almost as much as the merlot. And, any little nip out of my glass seems to create a perpetual smirk on your face - what is that about? I know you think life is pretty darn good at Tails-by-the-Bay Dog Camp where occasionally there is an abandoned drink on the floor or the night stand just waiting for you to stick your tongue in.

Lap, lap, slurp, slurp, hiccup, sneeze, and , ooops. . . No! Was that a? Surely not, but oh yes!. . . a FART? Not necessarily in that order! Who knew this adorable California wiggle butt could be such a lush? Ms. Annie girl, you are a hoot!

Woof! Woof! ☺