Saturday, December 7, 2013

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

Snow should be in my DNA. My dad grew up in PA and my mom spent most of her childhood years in CO, so loving snow should come naturally to me. But spending the first 11 years of my life on an island off the coast of southern GA seems to have tampered with my wiring in that regard.

Snow and I were never friends.

When I was little--maybe 6--it snowed one winter. Since we never ever got cold weather, I didn't have snow boots. I had to wear plastic grocery bags over my shoes to play outside. Even at a young age, I found that humiliating. Snow and I got off on the wrong foot.

Then it snowed my freshman year of college.  17 inches. I didn't own a coat. My roommate and I didn't leave our dorm room for two days and survived on Campbell's soup out of the microwave. When my friends and I finally decided to venture out and get winter weather wear, we didn't have ice scrapers for our car and used sticks to try to clear the snow off our cars.

Then one day, my view on snow changed.  I brought Barley home in January, but there was no snow on the ground. It took a few weeks before I found out that I had brought a snow-loving monster into my home.

When the flakes did start to fall, I realized that my dog loves snow. She rolls in it. She buries her face in it like an ostrich. She bounds through the drifts. She'd stay out in the snow all day if I'd let her.

While snow still isn't my favorite kind of weather, I do love to see my dog having fun in the snow. I no longer hide from it and I even go out into the snow to play with my pup.

In our almost three years together, we have spent a lot of time visiting the Holden Arboretum, but we'd never seen it in the snow before. I don't go out in serious snow unless I have to--mostly because since I never got taught how to drive in the snow, Carrie Underwood has me convinced that the second a snowflake hits the air, I need to break out with "Jesus Take the Wheel"--so every time it's snowed, I've opted to not go to the arboretum, and by the time the next weekend's rolled around, the snow has always been melted.

It snowed a little last night, and the weather was good today, so I decided we needed a pre-finals grading adventure. My girl loved it even more than she usually does (and she loves the arboretum a lot).

We took our time strolling through the woods and watching the black squirrels play. The trails weren't covered in a thick layer of snow, so it wasn't a tough walk. In fact, it was perfect. It was the crunchy kind of snow that makes awesome noise when you walk.

We also saw a hawk of some sort. I only saw a quick glimpse of it through the trees, but it talked to us for a while (and I was glad Barley was big enough to not be taken away by it because as much as I love the scene with the eagle from The Proposal I really didn't want to throw my phone at a bird to get my dog back). Barley was very intrigued by the conversation the bird was having.

When we got back to the car after our 3-mile stroll, my car let us know just how cold it was outside! So I decided it was a good excuse to use the $1-off Starbucks coupon I had for a peppermint mocha to warm up.

22 degrees! Brrr!
The arboretum was just as wonderful in the cold and snow as it is in the spring, summer, and fall. Hope everyone else is enjoying the cold as much as we did today!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Barley's First Road Trip

Sometimes, I forget that my dog is not as big and brave as she'd like the world to think she is. She's calmed down so much since I brought her home that I forget that the first year of our life together she was never relaxed. When I got up, she got up. She would be on edge for 30 minutes before she could curl back up and rest. I would avoid getting up for drinks, snacks, or even to go to the bathroom just to avoid starting the process all over again.

For the last couple years, she's been a happy-go-lucky pup. When we adventure, she wags her tail (and not in the anxious way) the whole time. When we are at home, she goes off on her own and snuggles in a bed, curls up on the love seat, or plays with her toys.

So, when I decided to pack of the pets for a 12-hour Thanksgiving road trip, I thought Barley would embrace it.

I was wrong.

We left after our agility class and drove halfway there. We didn't get to the hotel until 2 a.m. and I thought my girl would settle down and go right to sleep.  After all, she had been excellent the entire 6 hours in the car and when it's bedtime at home, she hops up on the bed and doesn't move until morning.

Instead, I got this.
This is not my bed.
 She refused to lie down. She just jumped on and off the bed for almost an hour.

Whose ears are those in that mirror?
Then she stretched out on the bed and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

Hotels with window seats are the best!
Soth is a seasoned traveler--he flew from NM to Pittsburgh our first Christmas together and during the return trip we missed our connecting flight and had to stay in a hotel; he traveled with me when we moved from NM to OH--he travels well and doesn't even need sedatives for long car trips.  He loved every second of being in the hotel. Our room had a window seat that looked out over the parking lot and he hopped up behind the curtains and stayed there almost all night. He didn't even eat all of his dinner because he was so busy watching.

Finally, Barley settled in for the night and I fell asleep around 3. Unfortunately, around 6, people started opening their doors and making noise in the hallway--which I wouldn't have noticed, but Barley noticed and every time a door slammed shut, she hopped off the bed and ran to the door and growled. It was not a restful night and I probably would have gotten just as much rest if I had kept driving through the night.

When I finally gave up on sleeping and got up to get ready, Barley and Soth settled in to watch Good Morning America. Too bad I couldn't have put it on for them earlier.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised she was nervous.  After all, she's been spending most her life living in a gangsta's paradise. (Ok, not really--we just heard the song on the radio tonight, so I had to work it in.) She's been with me for 3 of 4 years of life, so clearly it hasn't been her whole life.  But whatever happened in that first year of her life taught her that the world is a scary place that she has to react to in order to survive.

We got on the road to get to my parents' house to make it to town in time for mystery beers at a pizza place with my dad.

My GPS wanted me to go where?! Promise I was stopped at a gas station when I took this--no taking pics and driving for this girl!
Barley was equally anxious at my parents' new house. She loved seeing my family and their dog (and didn't try to eat their cat), but she was not sure where her place was. She paced and wandered from room to room. She didn't relax until we got her crate out and put her bed in it; then she curled up to rest.

We did get to explore some new trails, and Barley was her usually happy self then.

Trails in Alabama make me smile.

Things are still green in Alabama in November!
After a couple days, Barley settled down more. There was something in the new house for everyone.  The upstairs hallway overlooks the family room, so Barley could watch through the railings and keep an eye on her "flock" from up above.

Their house is full of windows from top to bottom, which was perfect for Soth. There's a big, plush carpet that patches of sun streamed through all day long.  He also enjoyed perching on the back of the piano and watching the squirrels. One day, a squirrel ran along the outside window sill and drove him crazy!

Barley's favorite part was their fenced-in dog run. Since Barley can't go to dog parks with other dogs and we don't have a fenced in yard, she never gets to just run outside. She always has to be on a leash. When we took her out into the dog run, she ran laps around and around the yard. Then we played with a ball.

 She moved so much that almost all of our playtime pictures were blurry.

Faster than a streak of lightning!
For me, there was good beer. Dad took us to a local brewery where he befriended the staff while he was living the bachelor life before the old house was packed up and Mom joined him in town. We celebrated my baby brother's birthday there.

We made it home after another two long days of car time, but my pup did a better job during her second night in the hotel. She still spent a lot of time bouncing on and off the bed when we got in, but once I turned out the lights, she curled up beside me and slept through the night.

Overall, it was a great visit with the family, even if it was far more car time than I care to have again any time soon. It was also a much needed reminder of just how much my girl still needs me to help her navigate the world even though she's made immense progress in our time together.

We've got some big dates coming up in the near future--on the 9th Barley turns 4! Then one month from today we'll celebrate our 3-year anniversary together. I can't believe it's only been 3 years.  It seems like a lifetime.

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and enjoyed as much good Thanksgiving food as I did!

Friday, November 1, 2013


I had planned for my next post to be about the different teaching methods we've encountered the past 6 months as we've bounced from class to class and worked with multiple different trainers, and about the wonderful things that have been happening in the last 12 weeks we've been with our current trainer, and about how all of this has been making me reevaluate my own teaching strategies with human students in a more difficult class I have this semester. I just hadn't had the time to get all these ideas down yet.

Then the perfect storm occurred in our agility class this week, so instead (in my best Usher voice) these are my confessions.

I failed my dog this week.

I didn't listen to my gut and I let someone who doesn't know my dog well tell me how to handle her and I failed my dog.

In our last two 6-week sessions, Barley has been incredible. She's been focused. She's had drive (especially when doing 2x2 practice--I can't wait until we put it all together into actual weaving). She's had fun in school. So, as Barley's become more relaxed in class, my anxiety levels have gone down.

The new 6-week session started this week. Our regular trainer had to miss class, so we had a sub (who has worked with Barley before and knew about her past issues). We had three new dogs in class (two Barley knows from our previous class and they're both lovely dogs, but one is terrified of Barley's energy, so he is frantic the entire time they're in the same room, and the other one is really energetic himself). One of our regular classmates had a different handler (her dad came instead of her mom). So there were new people, new dogs, new energy.

When I saw how many new dogs were in the class, I got a little anxious--even though I like the dogs and their owners very much, they were part of the classes where Barley's anxiety started to go through the roof. So, I was a little on edge.

As we waited for class to start, we did some doggie pushups and we practiced some heeling. Bar was focused and with me, so I figured she was ready to work.

The trainer told us all to pick a jump and get warmed up (not something we normally do in class--our warm ups take the form of various games that work on skills). For a second, I thought to myself, I probably shouldn't take Barley off leash when everyone else is on the floor.  But then I figured that she'd done so well the last 3 months that she would be ok. I also figured the trainer would have suggested a different activity for us (like she'd done when she'd subbed in the past) if she thought it was a problem. So, I took the leash off and sent Barley over a jump. She came right back to me. I relaxed a little. Then I sent her over the jump again. At the same time, one of our regular classmates went over another jump. Barley saw her move and chased her down, grabbed her by the scruff, and pinned her against the wall. The other dog hadn't even looked at Barley, but Barley was so stressed from the new things happening in class that her prey drive kicked in and she went after the first thing she saw moving. She didn't want to hurt the other dog (if she had wanted to, she would have); she just wanted to tell her that things don't move unless Barley says its ok, but when Barley does these things she snarls and growls and sounds significantly worse than what's actually happening.

Everyone was fine, but that doesn't make it less scary, and absolutely doesn't make it ok for my dog to pounce on another dog.

As soon as I grabbed her collar, she let go and made the "Oh, I wasn't supposed to do that" face. We went and sat in the corner of the crate room while the trainer checked out our poor, unsuspecting classmate. Barley was good the rest of class--she wasn't as relaxed as usual, but we all cleared the floor when another dog was working, and Barley never even glanced at the other dogs (even the one she'd pounced on), not even when one of the new dogs stepped on her tail.

It was a heartbreaking night. We'd made so much progress in the last two sessions. She was enjoying class again. And because I didn't stand up for my dog, I jeopardized that progress.

Poor Barley just wants to be a good dog.
Two separate trainers--our first ever trainer aka Barley's guardian angel and our current trainer--both called the next day. I was worried that we were going to be asked not to come back to class.  But they were both calling to see if we were ok. They wanted to be sure that Barley wasn't too stressed out and that I wasn't upset.

Barley's guardian angel and I talked for a long time and she said that she had planned to come to class that night (usually she brings one of her dogs and is a regular classmate), but her dog had had dental work done at the vet that day, so she decided to stay home and snuggle with him because she knew Barley had done so well.  Our current trainer said she never would have expected that kind of behavior from Barley because she's done so well in the time she's known her, so she didn't even think to give the sub extra warnings about our class dynamics.  So, we all came to the conclusion that this is a lesson in how important it is to remain vigilant and not let our guards down even when things are going well. Our current trainer said she's turning this into a teachable moment for the entire class because we have something really special where "dogs like Barley can come to heal" and she wants everyone to understand that with the number of extra stimuli in class this week, this situation could have happened with anyone's dog--neither trainer thinks Barley is a dangerous dog, and they are both standing up for my girl. I feel especially lucky to have such wonderful people in our lives--I would never have learned to like my pup (despite the fact that I fell in love with her on day 1) without people like them to teach me how to do that!

I saw a quote on the Dogs in Need of Space Pintrest page that said "When something goes wrong in your life, just yell 'Plot twist!' and move on." So, that's what we're trying to do between now and our next class.  (I'm also planning on trying out the pumpkin peanut butter dog treats between now and class, too, so I can bring a peace offering to the entire class.)

The day after our incident, we got in an excellent 5-mile walk at the lake that was complete with sunshine and 60-degree weather (in the words of Emily Dickinson, it was a blue and gold mistake--and a mistake that I am 100% thankful for). My pup seems no worse for the wear and she's been just as responsive as ever on walks the rest of the week.

Today we went for another walk at the lake, but only 3 miles because we were dealing with 50-degree weather and 26-mile per hour winds, so it was a tough walk this morning.
Look at the funny "cowlick" the wind made on Bar's shoulder!
My pup was working so hard to keep her ears from flapping in the wind and I couldn't help but laugh at the way her fur looked in the wind.

After stopping along the lake and watching the waves crash and the long grasses dancing in the wind, I feel better. I failed my dog and it probably won't be the last time, but I know that I'll never make this particular mistake again, so it is time to move on and try to be better.
Somebody is still able to sleep peacefully despite the week's chaos.
Hope everyone had a happy Halloween! I ate plenty of candy (I've had 2 trick-or-treaters in the 4 Halloweens I've been here, but I still feel obligated to buy a bag of candy--just in case) and the pets rocked their matching Halloween bandanas. I couldn't get a good individual picture of either one, so instead we have their "happy" faces in our family photo!
Between Bunny's ninja mouse killing skills (he got a second one last weekend!) and Barley's reactivity, I think they're scary enough without actual costumes, right?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Happy Belated Feral Cat Day!

According to my Honey Badger Calendar, yesterday was Feral Cat Day.
(And heartworm day!)
So, it seems like an appropriate time for an update on my darling cat. As you know, my sweet boy has had some struggles with his FLUTD.

Lately, though, he's been doing great.  A few months ago, we started Operation Litter Box. I bought 2 additional litter boxes and a couple different kinds of litter. I put the boxes in the places he liked to pee most. (I finally gave in and figured it was better to have litter boxes on my carpet than to have to regularly clean up pee.) Soth hated the pine litter I bought, so that one was out.  But he loves the recycled paper litter.  He's been using his litter box regularly--a few times he's gone to pee in the bathtub and then thought better of it and ran out to one of his new litter boxes instead. The only time he still pees on things is if I have junk mail piled up waiting to be sorted. Maybe he does have a sense of humor.

Soth has also become king of the castle.  Not that he wasn't ruling this place before, but now he has the tower to prove it.

A about a month and a half ago, he developed a fascination with my closet shelves. He's always had access to the closet because the doors slide and he can open them on his own. So it's just easier to keep the door open for him all the time. But then he discovered that there was a whole new world on top of my shelves where I couldn't reach him. Also, he was being dangerous in his attempts to get up there.

He'd stand on the back of a ROCKING chair and leap for the shelf. I'd try to keep him from jumping, but as soon as I'd leave the bedroom or go to sleep, he'd leap. Sometimes he'd make it easily. Other times, he'd just get the shelf with his front paws, hit the hangers with his back, and scramble to stay on the shelf. A couple times he fell.
So I tried the cheap method of dealing with him. I pushed the chair up against the closed closet doors so that he couldn't pull them open and get on the shelf. He would still paw at the doors. And every time I wanted clothes or shoes, I had to move the chair. Adding extra steps to my morning getting ready routine is never ideal. So, I moved his cat tower from the living room into the bedroom.
This worked better for us. I could get to the closet more easily and made his leap to the shelf a little safer.  But it still wasn't ideal. He missed the shelf a couple times.

So, the King got a brand new tower that is taller than I am and allows him to step from the top tier of the tower to the shelf.
I put this together on my own!

You may notice that in the first few pictures, there were a lot of blankets on this shelf. Somebody decided he didn't like them there and he pushed them off the shelf. I haven't found a good place to store them, and until I do, they've taken over my chair. And my shelf has turned into a cat kingdom. His purr pad is on top of the box, his fish bed is in the cubby, and he's happy as a lark.

In addition to turning into the king of the closet, my bunny cat has proven his skills as a ninja assassin. Yesterday, I had slept really well and sweet Soth came and curled up on my tummy a few minutes before the alarm went off and purred and purred. I was so happy that he was being snuggly on a cold morning. For a brief moment, I thought it was strange that he had been good enough to not get shut out of the bedroom in the middle of the night and then the alarm went off, I pressed snooze, and I closed my eyes for another few minutes.

Then I turned on the lights when the alarm went off again. I noticed something on the carpet. It looked like a fur ball. But it's a strange amount of fluff for Barley to have shed at this time of year when she should be bulking up for the winter. I put on my glasses and quickly realized it was a mouse!

My little cat had killed a mouse.

I hate mice. I used to love them when they were cute and sang about the streets of America being paved with cheese and being under the same pale moonlight as their lost relatives. Then a mouse came into my dorm room in college and it stole a piece of my chocolate. Mice became my nemeses. I didn't see another mouse until I lived in New Mexico where mice carry the plague.

To me, mice are worse that roaches. (I grew up in the south, so roaches are a normal part of every day life.) Mice are germy, dirty little vermin.

I also don't deal with dead things. I skipped the burial for my first dog. I never saw one of my parakeets when they were dead (thank you, Mom!). I have never personally flushed a fish down the toilet. I had no idea how to deal with this dead mouse. I ended up getting my little garden trowel and flipping the mouse into a box, so I could get it to the dumpster without seeing it or having to touch it. But the mouse was lighter than I thought and when I first tried to flip it into the box, it flew across the room and landed in another spot of the carpet. I screamed. (Sorry, neighbors.) Eventually, I got it into the box and into the dumpster.

But I was terrified the rest of the day. I had to put on music to go to sleep so that I wouldn't think I was hearing mouse noises. I had to steam clean my bedroom carpet to get rid of dead mouse germs. This weekend I will be pulling every single thing out of my pantry to make sure that there's no mouse-nibbled boxes.

He's so proud of himself.
I'm baffled at how this could have happened. Every night, he wakes me up knocking things around.  Every night, I wake up and shut him out of the bedroom. When he plays with his toys, he demolishes them. (He's rougher on toys that Barley is!) He bites them, sinks his front claws in, and kicks with his back legs until his toys are shredded. I NEVER heard him knocking this mouse around. There was a clean kill--no blood, no guts, just a dead mouse. This has me convinced that he's a ninja. (Or he's been watching too much Revenge with me.)

I was certain this kill was his way of celebrating Feral Cat Day. I'm not 100% sure what his life was like in the year before we found each other, but I know it was rougher than it is now. He was underweight and had little chunks out of his ear. (I used to tell my grandma this happened because he got violent when he drank cheap beer and started a bar fight.) So, I know he's not a "real" feral cat since he lets me pet him (and sometimes enjoys it), he sleeps on my feet, and he enjoys sitting next to me on the couch, but I also know that he is not the most domesticated cat I've ever met, either. This mouse incident proved to me that he actually has some survival instincts (and I'm so glad that he thinks his cat food is more delish than mouse carcass).

Most of the time I question his survival skills. I'm not really sure how he survived without me. He tends to get stuck a lot. When I leave out paper shopping bags for him, I have to cut off the handles or he gets his head stuck in them (your science teachers were not lying when they told you that animals would get stuck in those plastic 6-pack things and plastic bags). He has gotten stuck behind my television before.
He might have been able to get out, but I've had this tv since I was 12 and I was not risking its well-being letting him figure out a way out of there.
This morning, it was a bra that was his downfall. I had just gotten out of the shower and wrapped my hair up in the towel and I was getting ready to put in my contacts. Soth was rubbing on everything in the bathroom and purring away, thinking that he would be more likely to get breakfast sooner if he was cute. All of the sudden he started to flail. I thought there might be a mouse in the bathroom. As soon as I got my contacts in, I realized that he was stuck in the strap of a bra that I had hanging off the laundry hamper and he had just flopped onto the floor to wait for me to rescue him.

So while I know that he could have fed himself on the streets,  I'm not sure how he lived on the streets without getting himself into some sticky situation. He needs me just as much as I need him. So, happy belated feral cat day, my boy! I love you more than rainbows.

He just curled up in my lap, so it was time for a selfie!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fall Fun

The last few weeks have been a little crazy. I've taken on some new responsibilities at work and have been trying to squeeze in as much time with my parents as possible with my parents (who officially moved south today). So, there have been a few days where I've only seen my Barley girl for 2 or 3 waking hours between running back and forth to work, meeting my parents in various places, and having a bit of a social life.  We barely met our September walking goal (we got it by .02 miles).

It's so hard not to spend endless amount of time with this face.
Despite our limited time together, the pup and I have had the most fun together the past few days.

On Tuesday, I got to see the wonderful sight of my pup having fun in agility class.  I don't remember the last time she had fun in class.  When we first started training, she loved going to school. She'd run through every trick she knew, trying to figure out what I wanted from her. She was constantly praised for loving to learn (what can I say? She takes after her mama!).

Lately, our classes have been anxiety-filled. As more small dogs entered our intro class and the dogs we had been with for multiple sessions moved up to new classes, Barley got more and more uncomfortable. We spent more time working on focus and calming exercises than working on agility. Barley was constantly on edge.

This week, she had fun. Our new trainer set up all kinds of games (all of which involved chasing treats--past weave poles, past jumps, so she adored the games) to practice 2x2 weave practice and getting distance in our send outs over jumps. Barley loved every second of it. Her tail wagged, her ears were in their happy position--sort of up, but still a little floppy--and she was 100% focused on me. We were even praised for our recall techniques!

Class started a little bit scary. Our lab friend, Annie, snuck out of her down-stay while her mom was setting up equipment and came over to say hi to Bar while we were helping hold to A-Frame still while it was raised to full height.  Bar like Annie, so we had no issues, but then Annie went to say hi to the golden retriever in class.  They started to play (which was adorable) and chased each other through the tunnel--and Barley was sitting at the end of the tunnel.  The golden is still relatively new to Barley and she was not pleased when the pup came running out of the tunnel beside her. There was some barking and some lunging, but the pup was smart enough to stay away from Barley and we got back under control in no time.

Usually, when something like that happens, Barley holds a grudge against the other dog for eternity.  (That's how she ended up flying over the dividing gate to chase down the small dog in our old class.) Tuesday, she got back under control and never worried about the golden again. We were behind her in line for all the activities and Barley never batted an eyelash. She had no interest in going to teach the golden a lesson about personal space or even looking at the golden the rest of class.  I was so proud of her and our trainer praised her when we were walking out at the end of class.

Then yesterday, we woke up early to get to the Arboretum.  Today and tomorrow are the Goblins in the Garden Halloween event, but since we try to limit our exposure to other dogs and children, we can never go to the actual event.  Luckily, they set up scarecrow row and the rest of the fun early.  So, we went early, early Friday to take some fun fall pictures and see the scarecrows.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. My sweet girl was exceptionally good at tolerating my endless photo shoot :)

The G is hard to see, but it says Goblins.

Then we had a beautiful walk at the State Park this morning.

Overall, despite not seeing much of each other the past two weeks, we've made the most of the time we have had!  Hope everyone else is having as much fun as we have been having!