Sunday, July 29, 2012

Barley's Adventures in Wonderland

In the words of Alice, ". . . everything is queer to-day": tv channels, my cat, trail maps, my dog . . .  

Barley and I have a Sunday morning routine.  After our normal breakfast-coffee making routine, we curl up on the couch to watch Dogs 101 while I drink my coffee and decide what to do with the day.  Today, we turned on Animal Planet and Gator Boys was on instead!  (Seriously, if they were going to put on a different show, they could have at least put on one with cute animals--not the animals I find scarier than anything else in the world!)

So, we watched some Olympic cycling instead and I decided to start the next reading for the Coursera Fantasy and Sci-Fi class: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Technically, we're still on Grimm's Tales, but I couldn't do that anymore.  I read over half of the book, but they all started to sound the same to me--the same kind of lessons, the same kinds of characters.  And, I did not inherit my dad's mindset that if you start a book, you must finish it.  I started it, and that was good enough for me.  I read enough stories to understand the style and the themes.  Some stories I enjoyed thoroughly.  Maybe one day, I'll go back and read a few of the individual stories that I didn't get to.

After two chapters of Alice, I noticed that Soth wasn't lounging in the window sill, so I got up to search for him.  
I found him in the dog crate and he'd pulled the door almost closed.  I guess he wanted peace and quiet.  I took this as my cue to take Barley on an adventure.

We decided to tackle #31 in Doggin' Cleveland, the Girdled Road Reservation.  I studied the online trail map before we left and our book hadn't mentioned unmarked trails being a problem, so I felt confident when we left the house.  Our book had mentioned that part of Ohio's Buckeye Trail was in the park and that it was 2.1 miles of hills (they weren't kidding!) and there were other loops off of that trail that were supposedly easier.  My plan was to walk part of the Buckeye Trail and then loop off and back to the parking lot because I wasn't sure if Bar could handle 4.2 miles.

The trail map said the Buckeye Trail was difficult, but I didn't pay much attention because most of the trails we walk on are marked moderate and they never feel like much of a workout. We started out on the trail and almost immediately I knew they weren't lying about the difficult description.  We kept going downhill, which wasn't hard, but I knew that we'd eventually have to come back up--starting your hike going downhill is never a good thing because then you get uphill when you're tired and ready to be back at the car!  We kept going farther and farther downhill on a winding path.  I was beginning to feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

We also found that the trail was not quite as clearly marked as we had been led to believe.  Although there were blue marks on the trees for the Buckeye Trail, the side trails were not labeled.  I decided to take one any way, since the map had made it seem like a good idea.  After about 45 minutes of walking, I was ready to be on the way back to the car.  We saw a spotted fawn.
It ran away, so I can only imagine Barley's barking was as offensive as Alice telling the mouse about her cat Dinah.
We kept walking and started to go uphill, so I thought we must be going in the right direction.  Eventually we came to a sign that pointed us in the direction of the parking lot and had a "you are here" arrow.
We followed the direction our parking lot was supposed to be in (it's at the top of the map).
We found several signs that convinced me we were going to die before we made it back to the car.  We also came across several characters on the trail.

At the above caution sign, we had pulled over for a group of hikers to go by.  Instead, they plopped down on the bench on the other side of the trail to have a chat.  It was a mother with her two teenagers. She woefully told me that she used to walk like this all the time, but now that her daughter was in school she didn't do it often because she didn't want to wait until 9 or 10 to get going (her daughter was a teenager, so I can only imagine it had been quite some time since she "walked like this").  Then she exclaimed, "I have sweat on my brow!" and proceeded to point out that both children had sweaty brows, too.  I thought about mentioning that on an 80-degree, somewhat humid day they should have been concerned if they didn't have sweat on their brows, but I decided to just lead Barley away instead. As I walked away, the daughter told me she wished she had Cody (who I hope is a dog) with them so she could hook him up to a sled and have him pull her while the mother shouted after me that she was seriously considering investing in a hoveround.
I'm pretty sure this wouldn't have survived the trails . . .
I wonder if I'll meet these people when I get to the chapter with the Mad Hatter and his tea party.

We also encountered the only people Barley has ever been afraid of.  As we were trying to survive the steep hill, we encountered more of the forewarned two-way traffic.  We could see them from a distance and I planned to pull off the trail as we got a little closer.  Bar's ears went back and her tail went down and she started doing the weird wolf-like crawl that border collies are known for.  I stopped and she crouched closer to the ground.  I tried to give her a treat and she wouldn't take it.  Instead, she cowered in the middle of the trail, refusing to walk any farther in the direction of the completely nondescript man and woman coming in the other direction and we forced them to walk off the trail instead.  Barley watched over her shoulder until they couldn't be seen any longer and then popped up and was ready to go again.  

We came to another sign pointing in the direction of the parking lot.
How did we get down here when our parking lot was at the top of the map the last time?
Of course, we were at the parking lot 1.5 miles away from where we were at. But we found some beautiful views and a creek to splash in.
Another tiny waterfall.
By the time we were done splashing in the water, I could see the nondescript people in the distance again, so we scurried up the hill so we could pick a bench to stop on for another water break before they caught up with us.

Finally, after almost two hours of hiking, we were back at the car and happy to crank the AC and head home.  

My legs have never been happier to be propped up on the couch.  I'm thoroughly looking forward to curling up and reading (finishing?) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and then move on to Through the Looking Glass, which I really know nothing about.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cool Dog, School Dog

In addition to thinking about books, I've been thinking about training/teaching.  A big part of this is because tomorrow marks the start of the final month of summer vacation, so it's time to finish the syllabi and think about starting a normal sleep schedule.  It's time to go back to my office and recycle all of the leftover handouts that are strewn about every horizontal surface and find places to hide the final papers and portfolios that students most likely will never come to pick up.  I've also been thinking about this because Barley and I have been immersed in training this summer, especially for the last month when we've been taking two classes at once.

When I first got Barley, it was winter and bitter cold.  I didn't want to be outside, even though she did.  On our walks, we had the world mostly to ourselves.  The neighbors weren't out walking their dogs and their dogs weren't lounging in their front yards.  I didn't know anyone else in the area with a dog, so Barley never met other dogs.  As the snow started to melt and dogs started emerging from their homes, I learned that my dog is a reactive dog.  By reactive, I mean that when she saw another dog she sounded like Old Yeller after he got rabies (skip ahead to about 1:40 if you aren't sure what this sounds/looks like).

I'd never seen a dog act this way before, so at first I thought it was just because the first dog that prompted this response is a really nasty dog that I don't even like to walk by on my own.  I figured that because that dog growled every time we walked by, Barley growled.

Then we met Oscar, a min pin owned by a very sweet, but completely oblivious old man in our apartment complex.  Barley reacted so strongly to this tiny dog that I had to carry her from the front of our complex all the way to our front door.  Carrying a writhing 50-pound dog is not an easy task.  (Oscar's dad still comments on what a nice dog I have.  Really?)

This was the moment when I decided I needed help.  I had an unpredictable dog and an unpredictable dog is a dangerous dog (not that any dog is completely predictable, nor completely safe, but some are more predictable than others).  In the words of a book my sister reads her kindergardeners, my Barley was a "breaking all the rules dog."  In the house, she was a perfect (energetic) angel.  She knew how to sit and lie down.  I taught her to shake in less than 10 minutes.  She'd only had one accident in my house and it was in the first 15 minutes I'd had her at home (and one in my parents house--but that was because she was so excited to see her Aunt Linds, so who could really blame her?).  She would do "the stare" for a minute when I ate, but once she realized I wasn't sharing, she'd curl up and wait for me to finish.  She had lovely manners inside.  After an extensive google search, I found a training center that sounded perfect; they offered private lessons that were affordable and the sessions were held inside a massive training facility (not in a backyard or a parking lot like so many of the classes I found).  I emailed the center and explained what was going on, and one of the co-owners responded almost immediately that she specialized in rehabilitating shelter dogs.  I set up a lesson and we got to work.  The more we trained, the more I realized how similar training my dog is to teaching my students.  Here are some of the lessons I've learned working with Barley.

Learning should be fun.
Luckily, this lesson is easy to accomplish with Barley.  She's like her mama and loves to learn (even if she sees little use for that book learnin').  Her tail never stops wagging when we are in our training center or practicing our homework (I'll admit, my tail quit wagging when I had to do algebra 2 homework, so Barley might enjoy learning even more than I do).
Notice the blurry tail.  Seriously, this thing never stops moving--even when she sleeps.
Even though Barley naturally loves to learn, our trainer taught me how to make it even more fun.  I learned to use my "party voice" to make Barley excited to come to me.  Not only is this a great tool for recall in general, it's good for agility (to get your dog excited about tunnels, etc.) and it's been especially helpful for getting Barley to choose me over the "snacks" in the litter box.  For big accomplishments, the party voice is accompanied by a shower of treats and lots of loving.  

Making learning fun is less natural for my students, but it's just as essential.  Many of them have not finished a book in 10 years by the time they come to me, so I have my work cut out for me.  When I think about my favorite classes, though, they were the ones where learning was fun.  I became an English major for this sole reason.  My first college English class was taught by the most fun professor I've ever met: Dr. Emily Seelbinder.  Whether it was doing interpretive dance to Emily Dickinson poems or dressing up as the scariest thing she could think of (a college student) for Halloween, it was clear she loved her job and that made it easy for me to love reading some of the drier pieces of early American literature.  I know my sister often employs the party voice in her classroom, too, and her kids love her.  So, I try to remember this lesson every time I plan what I'm doing for the day.  Sometimes it fails, but I've had students actually finish the assigned reading materials AND recommend them to friends/family, so I think that's a pretty big success.

Learning is about making choices.
This lesson is easier for me to accomplish in the human classroom.  It's something I live by in that world.  Since there is no single correct way to write an essay or to interpret a text, I believe I have to teach students to make choices when completing those tasks.  For this reason, I never "edit" their papers; I never cross things out or rewrite sentences for them.  Instead, I pose questions and offer options for revising their papers.  For example, if I find a sentence fragment, I don't just write obscure symbols or abbreviations in the margins.  Instead, I write something like, "This is a fragment.  See if you can expand it or combine it with another idea to make it a complete sentence."  Then my students learn how to fix fragments on their own.  If I simply write in the words necessary for completing the sentence, they only learn to correct things in the way I would correct them.

With Barley, this is harder.  I have all the patience in the world with my human students and very little with my dog.  I had to learn that I couldn't just repeat a command 1000 times.  Instead, I had to let Barley make choices about what to do.  If I said "down" and she didn't do it immediately, I had to wait until she figured it out.  (Our first lesson involved a lot of waiting.)  I couldn't look at her while she figured it out, either, because according to our trainer eye contact is the biggest reward.
Not looking at your dog is really tough when your dog is as cute as mine.
Once Barley figured out what she was supposed to do, she'd get showered with treats.  Then she'd learn what she needed to do to get all of those treats again.  I'm happy to report that Barley is now choosing eye contact (and treats!) with me over snarling at other dogs.  And, in May, we passed the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, part of which involves a meet and greet with a friendly dog.  
We got a certificate AND a ribbon!
Occasionally, she has a relapse and I end up apologizing profusely to other dog owners for my dog's rude behavior, and she still won't let another dog come up and sniff her, but we can finally have peaceful walks around the neighborhood (or on trails).

Good teachers (trainers) build confidence.
So often, my students come to me broken.  If I had a penny for every time I've heard "I can't write," I'd be a billionaire.  Almost every one of my students has a story about being told that they can't write--whether it's by a first grade teacher, a high school counselor, or a family member--and they believe that.  I don't.  I think everyone can write.  Sure, some people might write more eloquently, naturally, or fluently than others, but everyone can write well enough to express their ideas.  I found that the biggest part of job is often just being a cheerleader and teaching my students that they can write.  One day last fall, I handed back papers and overheard two students discussing their feedback.  One of them said, "I really like that she points out what we did well and not just what we did wrong."  If students have confidence, the above lessons are easy.

Last night, I saw what happens to a dog when they don't have confidence.  There was another border collie mix in our class making up a missed class from another session.  This dog looked like a skinny boy version of Barley without the eyebrows and with upright ears.  I loved him immediately.  As soon as we started class, though, it as apparent that this poor pup was nothing like my Barley in terms of confidence.  I'm not sure if this was because of the way his owners trained him or if it had something to do with his life before his owners, but this dog had no confidence.  He wanted to please his owner so badly, but he was so unsure of himself that he never got the commands right, which led to his owner becoming increasingly frustrated throughout the class.  When the pup would sit, he'd put his tail between his legs and tentatively sit down on his tail.  It broke my heart.  Barley probably has too much confidence, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  When I give her a command, if she's unsure of what I want, she runs through every command she knows (sit, down, stand, shake, wave, high five, turn, twirl, roll, unroll, bow, place, side, the list goes on . . .) until she gets it right; her tails wags the whole time and her eyes twinkle--she has no doubt that eventually she's going to get it right.  To see a dog as smart as a border collie as broken as this little boy dog was really opened my eyes to how easy it is for a dog (or a human student) to lose confidence.

The lessons I've learned from training Barley are so applicable to the teaching part of my life.  in addition to improving my relationship with my dog, training Barley has made me a better teacher.  I know Barley and I still have a long way to go, but I'm confident that our story won't end in the same heartbreak as Jon Katz's A Good Dog.  As I previously pointed out, Katz seemed to be the one person to get what I was going through.  This wasn't just in terms of energy and other border collie quirks.  He also had a reactive dog and went through extensive training (in his case, herding among other techniques).  SPOILER ALERT: Despite the training and medical investigations/treatments, Katz's first border collie, Orson, was put down for aggression.  These books made me think about the things no dog owner wants to think about, and I realized how important it was to train Barley immediately and consistently.  Of course, this was no guarantee that things would turn out well for us, but I knew that if we didn't work hard at training there was no way things could end positively.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Border Collies + Books

This week, I started a Fantasy and Sci-Fi literature course through Coursera.  Through the discussion boards, I've found a few people who are blogging about the course.  While this blog will still be mostly about my Barley girl and our adventures in training and hiking, I thought it might be nice to take a moment and reflect on my reading life since Barley has come into my life.

Books Before Barley
Sothlice is a bit of a nerd and has many diverse interests.  I think these pictures will speak for themselves.
Gamer cat.

Wine connoisseur 
Puzzle master
Sothlice is an avid reader and lover of the classics, but doesn't discriminate against any form of the written word.
Maz, did you see this headline?

Always looking for a way to get rid of that belly.

He's a typical boy.

Oh, Emily Dickinson, I'm so glad there's a cat version of you on this bag. 
Jan Brett is the best.
Sothlice also enjoys writing.
I think this paper is missing a page.

My editor thinks I should cut all of these pages?
He is also a couch potato.
I could spend all day here.
Before Barley, we spent much of our time reading and writing.  He loves it when I read poetry aloud to him, especially Ted Kooser.  Soth was happy as long as I was willing to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book.  Since I got him as my graduation present to myself after finishing my M.A., I could read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  This usually meant reading Truman Capote and a bunch of poetry.   It meant war stories and sports stories.  It also meant the occasional Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult book (although those stay hidden on a shelf in the room my English major friends are least likely to enter when visiting).  I also joined a reading group lead by one of my former professors that focused on Latin American writers.  I read a lot.  Plus, my apartment in New Mexico didn't have AC, so lounging on the couch in front of the fan was one of the best ways to spend the day.

Books after Barley
As I've noted, I had no idea what I was getting into when I got Barley in terms of energy (among many  other things).  For a while, I didn't read for fun at all.  Between teaching all day, grading papers afternoon/evening, and adjusting to Barley's energy levels, I couldn't stay awake to read a whole page.  Finally, the summer rolled around and we had more time to walk and play.  We also started training and learned some calming exercises (more on this at a later date).  

That same summer, I went to a Pirates game (well, many Pirates games) with my family.  They always have fun facts about the players before innings and during their at-bats, and one fun fact we learned was that Andrew McCutchen's favorite book is Of Mice and Men.  Even though this is a classic, I had never read it (it was banned at my high school).  Being Cutch fans, my brother and I decided to read it.  
We also had an Of Mice and Men photo shoot on Dad's Father's Day PNC tour.
O! Pioneers was next to Of Mice and Men on the shelf at my parents (they don't alphabetize by author and title like I do).  This was another classic that I had never read and I like Willa Cather, especially after reading Death Comes for the Archbishop in my Southwest lit class.
This church is being built by the end of Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Cather gives a shout out to Chimayo, too.
I loved every second of O! Pioneers, so I got on a bit of a Cather kick and read My Antonia (a big part of this was so I could feel good about drinking my bottle of Dogfish Head beer by the same name--which is every bit as lovely as the book, if you were wondering.)  Then I read The Professor's House.  

Once school started again, though, I was once again too tired for books like Cather's (because as lovely as they are, they are not quick reads--I started Song of the Lark a couple months ago and had to abandon it because it is not light travel reading).

Then one day, I came across a movie called A Dog Year and felt like I was watching a documentary about my life (except my life doesn't have real sheep in it).  I found out that it was based on Jon Katz's book of the same title and my sister got it for me for Christmas.  This inspired me to go on a Katz kick.  In no time at all, I had read A Dog Year, A Good Dog, Soul of a Dog, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, and Izzy and Lenore.  Rose in a Storm is still on the shelf waiting to be read--I think it might need to be read during a snow storm.  This lead me to buying some chick lit that had canine characters; I do not read chick lit as a rule--every now and then I make an exception and Jacqueline Sheehan's Lost and Found and Picture This were two of those exceptions.  I recognize that they were not particularly good books, but I found them highly enjoyable.  Then I read The Art of Racing in the Rain and loved every second of that, too.  Dog books were somewhat new territory for me.  My favorite book in elementary school (and I still occasionally pick it up for some quality time) was The Trouble with Tuck.  I could handle this book because it has a happy ending.  I don't think I read another dog book until Marley and Me (which for some reason I still read after going through an entire box of Kleenex while watching the movie) and swore off dog books.  I reaffirmed the need to avoid dog books when I read Where the Red Fern Grows (how did I miss this in middle school?) for an English festival I organized for middle school students.  Dog books always make me cry.  But, I needed Jon Katz's books.  I wouldn't say they are necessarily well-written, either, but for the first time I felt like somebody really understood what I was experiencing with Barley and even though some of his stories do not have a happy ending, they're real and I needed that.

After all that dog reading, I read something else I swore I would never read--a cat book!  In fact, the cat bag pictured above was supposed to be the only cat thing my family was ever allowed to buy me after I became a cat owner (of course, then my sister found a cute cat wine rack.)  I thought after all the dogs, Soth was probably jealous and when Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World was less than $4 on a Barnes and Noble bargain shelf, I had to get it.
Plus, I'm a sucker for orange kitties and this one is especially cute.
I loved this book.  I think all libraries and bookstores need a book cat.  But I probably will never read another cat book (even though I inherited all of the books with white kitties with pink noses on the covers from my grandma's library).

So, in addition to turning my sleeping, eating, tv watching, exercising routines upside down, Barley also turned my reading life upside down.  I've read things I never thought I would and enjoyed them.  It hasn't always been easy to find the time, energy, or motivation to read, though.  So, that's why I'm excited about this Coursera idea.  I'm reading books I'd never have picked up on my own (from the section of the bookstore that I usually make a wide circle around).  And, since I'm still scared that my mom will find out if I don't do my homework (even if I've been living under my own roof for 5+ years and the course isn't actually for credit), I know that I will at least make an honest effort to finish each of these books.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


With my pets, health is always on my mind.  Our vet and the staff know my voice when I call the office.  They recognize my car (even when I had an inconspicuous Chevy Cavalier) when I pull into the parking lot.  I am surprised they don't turn off the lights and lock the doors when they see me coming.  Luckily, they are wonderful and have helped us through The Great Gum Catastrophe of 2011, The Great Aleve Catastrophe of 2012, and several other more minor incidents.

Today, I felt like I spent my entire morning preempting bodily fluid attacks on my carpet.

The day started out with Barley in rare form.  She's often in rare form obedience-wise, but never when it comes to food.  That dog takes after her mama and lives to eat--we both schedule our days around our meals and snacks.  Barley's favorite phrase is "Are you hungry?"  This morning, I knew something was off because she let me sleep in until 9:30, and often I'm woken up at 7 by her stomach growling.

Every morning, whether I'm working or on summer vacation, we have the same breakfast routine.  I soak Soth's wet food dish from the night before, I start the coffee while it soaks, I finish washing his dish and refill it, and then Barley gets her breakfast.  At every meal, Barley has to keep eye contact with me for approximately 10 seconds until she hears the command "Ok" and then she starts to eat (she's so good that sometimes I've forgotten to say ok, walked away from the kitchen, and come back a few minutes later to find her still sitting by her full dish).  The eating usually takes less time than the eye contact does.

This morning, though, I had time to fill my own bowl with Greek yogurt, honey, and granola--and put all the ingredients away--before she'd really made a dent in her breakfast.  I noticed that she was taking a few bites, running into the dining room, coming back for a few bites, and running back into the dining room.  The only other time she's done this, she had a worm.  I'll spare you the details, but my carpets were very happy when I bought a steam cleaner soon after that experience.  So, I panicked.  I was sure she was going to vomit--because like her mama, she can't stand leaving a bite behind even when she isn't feeling well.  I took her onto the back porch and ate my yogurt.  I called my mom for moral support.  We sat in the yard for 30 minutes.  Nothing happened.  I wasn't convinced we were in the clear yet, though, so I closed all of the bedroom doors to limit her roaming room.

Then I got to deal with Soth.  My sweet kitty has Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), which basically means that when he's stressed it irritates his bladder; crystals form and irritate the lining, he constantly feels like he needs to urinate, and it's painful, so he associates his litter box with pain and goes outside of the box.  As I've mentioned, Barley has a knack for herding Soth, so she's often a good partner in herding him back to his litter box when he starts to squat.  But, this started around the same time that Barley entered our lives.
Seriously, what does this cat have to be stress about? He has his own castle!
We spent months going back and forth to the vet.  He eats a prescription diet.  He was on anti-anxiety meds (in three different forms: pill, liquid, and gel) for months until we decided it was causing more anxiety for both of us. It's gotten better, especially since we've started using a Feliway diffuser (or as I call it, Cat Juice).  He doesn't cry as much and he goes in his box more and in my shoes/on the carpet less.  Sometimes, he'll even cuddle with his sister.
It took 11 months for this to happen.
But sometimes he still has flare ups that are pretty intense.  Luckily, the vet has seen him often enough that now I can just call and ask for pain meds and he gets them.  Right now is one of those times.  We've been traveling back and forth to my parents a lot--and they recently inherited a cat--so there's been lots of extra stress in his life.  Today, every time I sat down, Soth was heading for one of his usual tinkle spots.  Maybe this was just a way to get me to get off the couch and get a mini-leg workout with the constant sitting, standing, and chasing, though.  

Finally, I got a little pain meds in Soth and he quit causing stress.  Then Barley and I got in a brief walk, and I decided the danger had passed with her, too, and we could address her other health concern for the day: Lyme disease.

In December, Barley was diagnosed with Lyme disease at her regular checkup and vaccination appointment.  Since she was acting fine (still eating, chasing her brother, not acting sore or lethargic), the vet left further testing up to me.  I decided to ignore it, but by New Year's my hypochondria kicked in and I called the vet.  We scheduled blood work and when the results came back, she was off the charts with bacteria levels (ok, not really, but that sounds more dramatic).  The way I understand it, the test measures the levels of bacteria in the dog's blood.  If the levels come back under 30, it's not seen as a medical concern. If the levels are above 30, immediate treatment is recommended.  Barley's levels came back at 125, so we started a round of doxycycline that day.  We waited 6 months (the standard waiting period) and retested.  If the treatment was successful, the number should have been cut in half, at least.  Barley's second test came back at 155.  This either means that she needed a second round of treatments all along, or that despite being on flea & tick protection and getting checked every time we go hiking, she was reinfected.  So, we started another round of treatment and will retest again in 6 months.  Today was Barley's last dose of doxycycline and I didn't want it to come back up, so we postponed it a few hours longer than the every 12-hour instructions.  I'm happy to say she got the entire dose and kept the entire dose.  Keep your fingers crossed for us that it works this time around!

If all goes well, we won't see the vet for another 6 months (except for picking up Soth's food), but knowing my pets, that's highly unlikely.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Today, Barley and I decided to tackle new trails (#25 and #32 in Doggin' Cleveland) and as we walked, Barley inspired me to reflect a bit on safety and risk--a topic that was already on my mind with this morning's current events.

As I ate breakfast, I saw my aunt and cousin had posted Facebook updates about a shooting in Aurora, Colorado--where most of my extended family lives.  A quick trip to any news website told the horrific story of a shooting spree during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie.  I was shaken to know that something like this could happen less than two miles from my grandparents' house, across the street from the shopping center where my aunts and I would walk to Starbucks, at the very movie theater where I saw Toy Story 3 before I moved back east.  Thankfully, none of my family was there.  But reading the reports scared me.  I love going to movies--even bad ones--and not just because I have a tiny AC unit that I think is older than I am in my apartment.  I love to sit in the theater and observe how everyone responds to the movie, whether that's the women in the Magic Mike theater yelling out, "There's too many previews, bring on the men!" (no, that wasn't me--I like previews, too) or the audience in Benjamin Button anticipating my sister's chuckling and beating her to it by the 5th time the man said, "Did I ever tell ya I've been struck by lightning 7 times?"  The fact that such senseless violence could happen in a place where I've always felt safe was almost too much for me.  I thought about crawling back into bed with my coffee and a book (one of the other places that I always feel safe).

Barley had other ideas, though.  Even though it was overcast, assured me that I could expect dry conditions for the next 6 hours and the temperature was perfect--around 68 degrees--and Barley was ready to go.  Doggin' Cleveland was sitting on the couch beside me and I'd already looked up trail maps for Penitentiary Glen the night before.  Barley had also made it clear that poor Soth was not going to get any cat naps in today if we didn't get out for some exercise soon.  So, we hopped in the car and ventured out.

Despite the incredible number of cars in the parking lot, Barley and I had the trails to ourselves and I couldn't have been happier.  Even though most people caution against hiking alone, to me empty trails are safer.  If there are no people, there's a good chance there are no dogs.  If there are no dogs, there's a good chance Barley will behave (one day we'll get to the story of how I learned I have a reactive dog).  Also, if there are no people, there's a good chance no small children will run up and throw their arms around Barley's neck before I have a chance to distract her with treats.  Basically, the natural dangers (snakes, spiders, ledges, poison ivy) seem much more bearable to me than people and other pets.  Barley and I try to minimize the risks as much as possible.  I study the trail maps so that I at least have a vague idea where we're at all the time.  My mom and my sister get regular texts of where we're hiking in case someone needs to alert the authorities; usually, they get at least 1 picture text of Barley being cute somewhere along the trail, so they have time-stamped messages of where we  were and when.
Like this picture my mom got of the 141 stairs Bar and I tackled
I carry twice as much water as Barley and I will actually need (plus snacks for both of us).  I have my pink pepper spray  (which you too can order from Bass Pro Shop).  

Plus, I have no doubt in my mind that Barley would risk her life to save mine should some creeper appear.  (This has been proven on two occasions: once when we saw someone I knew, but did not want to see, on a trail and Bar continuously circled around me, despite her trailing, to make sure she stayed between us at all times and once when the creepy guy my neighbors wanted me to date showed up unannounced on my door step and Barley sat between us with her nose in his crotch growling--he did not stay long.)

When we hike, I do not take unnecessary risks.  Leaving home and going out on the trails is the biggest risk I take.  Barley even wears a harness that buckles into the seat belt on the way there.  I am not like my mountain goat cousins, who climb on any rocks they can find.
Cousins perched on top of rocks while my feet are firmly on the ground
I am not like my friend Abby, who will pick up snakes and venture off the trails while we walk.  But today, Barley got me thinking that maybe I live my life a little too much on the safe side sometimes.

We started our hike on the Gorge Rim Loop at Penitentiary Glen.  There's a 141-step staircase that takes you down to a little overlook by Stoney Brook Falls.  The overlook has a three-rail fence all around the edge and a sign that reminds you to stay on the improved trails for your safety.  
(Stoney Brook Falls: they might be more impressive in less dry seasons, but I thought they were pretty anyway)
I recently put new batteries in my nice camera, which I haven't bothered to take anywhere in the year and a half I've had Barley--mostly because it's bulky and heavy.  Now that Barley and I have learned how to walk nicely together, I decided I could bring it along--we need fewer treat bribes on walks, so I could make some room for it in our backpack.  Since I had a camera that could take cool pictures, I wanted to get a good shot of the falls and the gorge, but no matter what angle I was at or how I adjusted the zoom, there was still a stupid tree or a branches or something in the way of getting the shot I wanted.  I hated that little rail fence.  Barley, on the other hand, just saw the fence as another agility obstacle and hopped right between the bottom and middle rails.  She stood on the foot of dirt overlooking the gorge just wagging her tail and looking at me for approval (we'd spent last week working on proper agility jump form).
You think this fence is a problem, Mom?
Barley was so happy standing there on the other side of the fence that I almost climbed over, too.  Instead, I heeded the reminder on the nearby sign and stayed on the improved trail.

Sitting on the naughty bench after I convinced her to crawl back under the fence.
When I was sixteen, I went to photojournalism camp at Penn State.  I don't remember much of the lessons we focused on there--most were on using digital cameras and the ones we were using were the ones that used floppy discs instead of memory cards, so it's probably ok that I've forgotten those lessons--but I do remember two things our instructor taught us.  One, don't take pictures of squirrels.  Everybody takes pictures of squirrels.  (I'll admit, I've broken this rule--but the black squirrels in parts of Ohio are just so stinkin' cute!)  Two, good photographers take risks to get the shots they want; sometimes this means climbing on to roofs even if you're afraid of heights or inching out onto a tree branch even if you're unsure it will hold your weight.  Today, my dog was perfectly willing to blaze a trail and take a risk and leave the beaten path; I was not and because I wasn't it, I have several adorable pictures of my dog, but not the pictures I wanted to take today.  There was enough room on the other side of the fence to find the shot I wanted; one segment even had a locked gate that opened onto the path that is used for guided tours into the gorge.  There were no other people on the trail, so I probably could have gotten away with a five-minute excursion off the path to get my pictures without anyone ever knowing.  But today, I couldn't bring myself to take that risk.

Monday, July 16, 2012


As I mentioned, I had no idea what I was getting into when I brought Barley/Maria home from the shelter.  The most I knew about border collies, courtesy of a visit to a great aunt's farm over a decade ago, was that they were cute as puppies and were herding dogs.  Common sense would tell someone that a herding dog is energetic, but I don't think anyone can understand the border collie energy until they live with it.  Here's  a little preview:

The first three months were rough.  Barley had extreme separation anxiety combined with her insane energy.  If I was sitting on the couch, she was under my feet.  If I was doing dishes, she was pressed against the backs of my legs.  If I went to bed and left her in her crate, she cried (until I discovered she loves Jewel and started leaving music on for her).  Every time I moved, she moved.  If I needed to get up off the couch for any reason, or even just shifted positions, she got up and paced and needed at least 10 minutes of TLC before she curled back up or played with her toys.  (This was partly good because I turned down a lot of snacks because it took too much energy to start the process over every time I got a craving for something.)  Eventually, she got better--I can now walk from the couch to the kitchen without her getting up (although if I go around the corner into another room, she's usually right behind me).

Once we dealt with the separation anxiety, we still had to learn to deal with the energy.  A border collie is not a good grading partner.  A border collie does not like to lounge on sunny days and read a book.  A border collie does like to herd things, especially a handsome white cat.  At first, Barley's herding instincts were helpful.  Soth had started scratching my newly reupholstered dining room chairs; Barley quickly learned that when I said, "Soth! No!" her brother was in trouble.  Before I could get off the couch to get Soth, Barley would run to the chair he was on and give him the border collie stare.  This may not seem that intimidating, but come over for dinner some night and you'll be quaking in your boots when she tries it out on you.  Of course, when Barley gave Soth the stare, Soth would run.  When Soth would run, Barley would chase.  When Barley started chasing, she would run big figure eights: around the couch/coffee table, around the dining room table, repeat, repeat, and repeat again.  Soth and I spent a lot of time cowering on the couch until she finished herding Soth to where she wanted him to be: the back of the couch.
Barley giving Soth the stare.
As I mentioned, I got Barley to ring in the new year.  And, as I also mentioned, I don't do snow--I spent 22 years in the southeast growing up and I can count on one hand the number of times I saw snow during that time.  So, even though I walked Barley twice a day, they were short walks.  Our long walk was 25 minutes, so I'd never really seen Barley tired.
Even Barley's toys like the snow more than I do.
Finally, it warmed up to about 60 degrees--a temperature I was more than happy to welcome after my first winter in the snowbelt--and I took Barley for an hour-long walk on the rail trails near our house.  She came home and slept the rest of the day.  This is how we discovered hiking.

Recently, I ordered Doggin' Cleveland to help us discover more places to adventure.  We'd already tried a couple of the trails of the trails in the book and had passed several more in the car, but the book outlines 50 awesome adventures to go on with your dog.  The Holden Arboretum has always been a favorite of ours--we have a membership so we can go any time we want!

Barley has gotten used to the many photo ops available at the arboretum.  

Recently, we discovered the Lakeshore Reservation, which is perfectly shady, and has an awesome beach where Barley can chase the waves.
Today, we discovered the Chapin Forset Reservation, courtesy of Doggin' Cleveland.  We loved it!  The book didn't tell us about the multiple parking lots, so I wasn't sure where we should park to get to the Lucky Stone Loop Trail that was recommended.  Luckily, the park isn't huge and there were trail maps available in the first parking lot we came to.  First, we did the one-mile Quarry Loop because we were right there and it looked shady.  (Fun Fact: Joseph Smith was a foreman in the quarry and extracted stones to build the Kirtland Temple that's down the street from the park.  My mom should be proud that we're getting history lessons on our hikes!)  We also ventured into the woods a bit on a more natural trail just to get a better view.
Crazy Face near the quarry.
Then I was determined to find the Lucky Stone Loop Trail, but the connecting trail was another .8 miles and it was hot enough I wasn't sure Bar could handle walking .8 miles to the trail, doing the whole 1.5-mile loop, and doing another .8 back to the car, so we drove down to the correct parking lot and what a treat the Lucky Stone Loop Trail was!  The Chapin Ledges along the trail were impressive and made for gorgeous scenery.
Barley wanted to get closer to the edge of the Chapin Ledges, but I said no way!
When we got to the other side of the loop, there was a scenic overlook that Doggin' Cleveland had labeled the best overlook in NE Ohio because on clear days you can see downtown Cleveland.  We could see lots of stuff in the distance!

After two hours of hiking, we decided it was time to head home.  Now, several hours later, I still have a tired Barley dog.  Can't wait to try out the other hikes in the book!

A Poor Orphan Dog Named Maria

For the last year and a half, I've been a border collie mix mama and since misery loves company I thought our adventures should be recorded in a blog.  Despite my love for stories that begin en medias res, I think the best place to start Barley's story is at the beginning . . .

Once upon a time, I lived a quiet life as an English professor at a small campus.  I had an adorable white cat named Sothlice (an Old English word meaning truly that seemed like a good name for the pet of an English nerd).
I mean, seriously, look how cute he is.
Soth and I enjoyed our afternoon naps in the sunshine and curling up on the couch with a book or student essays--Soth drools on the ones he likes the best (don't tell my students).  Neither of us was particularly fond of the snow--as evidence in the above picture of Soth soaking up warmth from the heat vent--and we were adjusting to our new lives in the Ohio snow belt; if we had a flannel blanket to hide beneath, it was bearable.

Despite my peaceful life and awesome cat, I wanted a dog.  I'm not really a cat person even though I am 100% crazy about my cat.  I got my first dog, Possum, when I was 2--before I even had a sister!
How could anyone not become a dog person with a first dog like this?
I couldn't remember life without a dog and after our last family dog, Snowflake, crossed the Rainbow Bridge while I was completing my M.A. life didn't feel right.  When I returned to my family's house on breaks from school, it felt like there was too much oxygen in the house.  I expected a dog to be waiting at the door when I got home and could never really wrap my mind around why it never happened.  That's how I got Soth--I needed a pet and a cat was the compromise I reached with my landlord.

When I moved to OH, I found a duplex that allowed two pets of any kind.  Starting a new job, I thought I should hold off on finding a dog.  I needed to learn the area, learn my students, build solid lesson plans.  But, by November--four months after moving in--I was searching on regularly.  I quickly fell in love with Beulah, a young puggle (who just happened to have a perfect name for someone with a background in American Poetry and a BFF named Thomas).  I wanted to get through finals and my trip to my family's house for Christmas before bringing home a dog, so I told myself (and my dad, who just shook his head) that if Beulah was still available for adoption on New Year's Eve, I'd email the rescue and see how she was with cats and how to go about meeting her.  I looked at her PetFinder profile many times a day, shared the pictures with my BFF and my sister, and had fallen in love.  When December 31 rolled around, Beulah was still available; she was staying in a shelter since the rescue didn't have a facility, so they weren't sure if she'd been cat tested yet, but said I could go meet her any time the shelter was open.  I rushed home from my family's house to pack up my own Christmas tree and further dog-proof the apartment because I was sure she'd be mine as soon as a home check could be completed.  

I drove over an hour to Novelty, OH to the shelter where Beulah was living and told the front desk I'd like to meet her.  They pointed me in the direction of her kennel and off I went.  When I got to her kennel, the first thing I noticed was a construction paper star that said, "I don't like cats."  I still loved her.  We could make it work.  I looked at the dog I loved and said, "Hi Beulah.  You're a good girl, aren't you?"  She turned her back and retreated to the bed at the back of the kennel.  She refused to look at me.  I was broken hearted.  I was so sure it would be love at first sight for both of us and she couldn't have cared less if I had never set foot in her shelter.  

I looked at the other dogs in the shelter, but none of them seemed like my dog, so I left.  I planned to go home and just wait to find another dog, but on the way something told me to go the Ashtabula County APL--the shelter closest to my duplex anyway.  The shelter was open until 5:00 and I arrived around 3:45.  There were at least 80 dogs at the shelter and I figured I'd find at least one I loved.  I walked up and down the rows of kennels looking at the dogs.  There were several who seemed sweet and I was just about to ask one of the workers if I could take a young male hound dog out to the meet and greet room.  I decided to make one last pass down his row and a crazy-looking, tri-color border collie mix named Maria just kept staring at me from behind her door.  She was one of the only dogs without a kennel mate--maybe this should have stood out to me then--so she had no competition for attention at her kennel gate.  Although I'd noticed her on my first pass, I hadn't paid much attention because she had tiny ears--and after growing up with Possum's perfect, silky ears, I'm an ear girl.  When her ears were back, it looked like she didn't have any ears at all.  Plus, Maria was an awful name for this dog (unless you start looking at the lyrics from The Sound of Music and then her name might have made more sense).
You thought I was lying, didn't you?
But Maria had an awesome smile and her tail was going 1000 wags a minute, so instead I found myself asking the shelter worker, "How is that little Maria with cats?"  The staff wasn't sure, but offered to do the cat test.  We took her into the cat room and I was told that most cat-aggressive dogs would bristle, lunge, and growl as soon as we walked into the room.  Maria simply sniffed each cage looking for fallen bits of kitty kibble; as someone who appreciates a good meal, I knew this was a dog after my own heart.  When the shelter worker was confident Maria wasn't aggressive toward cats, we headed to the meet & greet room for some alone time.  I was left with a few milk bones in my hand.  I didn't want to force the dog to love me (I was still feeling rejected by Beulah), so I decided to let her take her time and sat down in the one chair in the room.  Before I'd even gotten all the way in the chair, Maria was in my lap licking my face.  I relocated to the floor and she rolled around expecting a belly rub.  I stepped into the hall and said, "I'll take her."

I was sure I wouldn't be able to take Maria home until the following day at the earliest, so I had nothing--no collar, no bowl, no toys, no food.  I was certain they'd have to call my apartment manager to confirm that she was allowed in my duplex and the manager didn't get home from her other job until after 5:00--after the shelter closed.  However, the girl at the front counter took my adoption application, looked it over, and said, "How will you be paying?"  The adoption fees said a year-old dog should be $90, for adoption fees, microchipping, vaccinations, and spaying.  When I went to write out the check, they told me it would be $50.  I decided not to question it.  They took my check and then hurried me out the door and said someone would meet me around the side with her.  I assumed at the time that they were ready to close up shop, but looking back I think they probably wanted to get me out before I changed my mind.

So, a staff member and I stuck Maria in the back seat of my Chevy Cavalier and off I went, with a brief detour to Walmart to pick up the very basic dog necessities--with no idea of what I was getting myself into.

My new dog with the nylon "noose" they slipped around her neck in the mad dash to get her out of the shelter and into my car :)
To Be Continued . . .