Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bella, R.I.P.

I never met Bella, a Shepherd/Sighthound mix who lived with the family of my friend, Emily. But at our weekly book studies, I grew fond of her, listening to Emily speak of her exploits around the family's acreage.

I wanted to honor Bella's memory and asked Emily the details of how Bella came to live with their family. Her words are a clearer, better tribute than I could write:

Bella followed Sam home from the school bus when he was in first grade. The kids had seen her hanging around and she was clearly lost. When I came home from work she was in the house and she never left. Of course, she had no collar, so we put up signs and ran ads in the paper to try to find her owner but there was no response. We assumed that she'd been dumped by some misguided person who thought that would be 'kinder' than placing her in a shelter.

She liked to sit in front of the house, on top of the hill, surveying her territory. That way she could see intruders like coyotes and rabbits at a good distance and tear off after them before we even knew they were there. That is where she'll be buried.

I have another friend who works in rescue who absolutely believes that the right dog finds the right home. How true that was of Bella. She was just the right dog for three boys to grow up with. Just the right dog to hang around--supervise--when Emily tended the horses.

Friends of Portia extends its deepest condolences to Emily, Ron, James, Willy and Sam on the loss of their faithful companion. Rest in Peace at the top of your hill, Bella.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Run, Rabbit, Run

Something is a little amiss in our usual balance of nature here in San Marcos, California. Our most common prey, rabbits, are proliferating unabated and our largest predator, coyotes, are notable for their absence.

For about six months, I have noticed more and more rabbits on our early morning walks. Poor Bingley has too. Every cell in Bingley's body tells him that these long eared, cotton-tailed critters need to be chased. But he has learned over the past three years that I am not going to let go of his leashes, and his strongest instinct will not be gratified.

However, the situation is becoming acute. We now have in residence in our very own garden, not one, but two rabbits: a youngster and an adult. The youngster is particularly brazen--or dumb. Just yesterday afternoon, it hopped right up the length of the flagstone walkway leading from the sidewalk to our front steps. Unhappily, Bingley was looking out the front window observing this travesty, and, I promise you, no amount of cajoling could transfer his concentration from the real rabbit outside to Harvey, the fake rabbit that is usually on the receiving end of his "attention."

I let Bingley out in the back just in time for him to chase the adult rabbit to the fence and watch in frustration as the white tail bounced up the hill out of reach and out of sight.

Then, when John came home from taking Magic and Bingley for their last walk of the evening, he reported that Bingley had flushed an entire family of rabbits from a neighbor's hedge. John was able to hold on to the dogs as five rabbits hopped across the street in front of them, but both dogs were agitated and Bingley was trembling with the need to chase.

I keep waiting for the coyotes to show up. So far, there isn't a sign of them--at least in our neighborhood. No tell-tale piles of fluffy rabbit fur in the undergrowth up the hill. No prickling on the back of the neck with the sense that a large creature is pacing us along the top of the slope that runs parallel with the sidewalk. And certainly no sightings--was that a large, scruffy dog, or...?

About three weeks ago during our morning walk, we heard the blood curdling cries of a coyote kill party. They came from a distance, but they were so loud and prolonged, both Bingley and Magic stopped to listen.

I thought that the coyotes had arrived. But since then--silence. And the rabbits keep on doing what rabbits are famous for doing: multiplying.

Of all the critters that populate our suburban development, rabbits are the cutest. In an ideal world, I wouldn't want any predator to harm them. But experience tells me that it is not a question of whether or not a predator will find them, but which predator will find them. There are two: coyotes and snakes.

Please come back, coyotes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Want To Rescue A Champion?

When I add a rescue to the list on the right side of the screen, I visit the site from time to time. I fret about dogs who wait and wait and wait for forever homes. I glow when a hard to place dog finds its place.

Today I checked in on Poodle Rescue of Southern California.

The current postings are illustrative of three themes that are dear to my heart:

1.) If you want a high quality, pure bred dog and you are patient, you can rescue one. Right at the top of the Poodle Rescue list are two show stock toy poodles looking for a new home: one is a champion.

2.) If you are not in the first blush of youth, particularly if you have no young children in your home, many dogs who are getting up in years are available for adoption. Many of these dogs are house trained, crate trained, doggy door trained. Who knows? Perhaps they can "roll over" or "shake hands." The point is, all the hard work has been done with these dogs. You get to enjoy a civilized canine companion.

3.) If you want any of the multiple Poodle mixes that the unscrupulous sell at high prices to the naive, many of these are available in rescues. "Maltipoodles", "Schoodles", "Golden Doodles", "Labradoodles"--take your pick.

My personal thanks goes to the diligent rescuers at Poodle Rescue of Southern California. Occasionally, they make room for "Honorary Poodles." Two such are Chiquita and Rambo, a charming Chihuahua pair who really need a home. Spread the word.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"We're Here For You"

Over the weekend, John celebrated a Big Birthday. One with "0" for the second digit. We won't name the first digit.

Dear friends gave him a sympathy card in recognition of the occasion. The front of the card is graced by three Greyhounds reclining on a Louis Quinze sofa, replete with silk brocade cushions and upholstery. The dogs are gazing sleepily at the camera. The caption: "We're Here For You"

To me--and I suspect any human who shares their home with a Greyhound or two or three or...--the picture and caption are not only supremely funny, but they also express the essence of living with these elegant creatures.

The back of the card informs us that the Greyhounds on the sofa are retired racers and that they are grateful for having been rescued. But in all honesty, gratitude is not the first thing that pops into my mind when I look at the lounging hounds. Complacency is more like it. What I see is, "At last someone recognizes and provides us with the sort of life that suits us best."

The card was purchased at Barnes and Noble. The designers are a gifted couple who are dedicated to rescued animals. Give their website a visit. Hooray For The Underdog.

Meanwhile, many times a day, I stop and chuckle silently over the picture of the hounds on the sofa. I chuckle silently because I don't want to disturb Bingley and Magic. They're resting. Bingley's on the sofa. Magic's on the love seat. Neither the sofa nor the love seat is covered in silk brocade. They're making do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


To make Routine a Stimulus
Remember it can cease--
Capacity to Terminate
Is a Specific Grace--

Emily Dickinson

Two weeks ago, I was reminded that I am lacking in the Specific Grace of a Capacity to Terminate.

Bingley pulled up on his right rear leg and yelped. First I froze and then I cried. Clearly, he was in pain.

I gave him some pain medication left over from Magic's eye surgery and cried some more.

I had been down this road before. Zephyr had started to favor her right rear leg, then limp. I spent several days telling myself that it was a muscle pull--a strain of some sort. But it wasn't a muscle pull or a strain. It was osteosarcoma. She had only six weeks to live.

My Bingley. My sweet tempered Bingley. The sweetest tempered dog I'd ever known. How often had I held his face in my hands and told him he was to live to be a very old dog? As if that could affect anything. As if that could change some aberrant cell deep within a bone.

I started to calculate when I should have the x-rays done that would confirm or deny my fears. John was ten time zones away but would be returning in a few days. I decided to wait until he was home.

Bingley was listless. He moved slowly. He didn't run his daily racing circuit around the living room. He ignored Harvey the Rabbit and Clyde the Bear. His skin felt loose.

I cried some more as I watched the little plane on my computer screen move along the arc from Ataturk Airport, Istanbul to O'Hare Airport, Chicago.

I swear that when "Landed" appeared under "Flight Status", Bingley perked up just a little bit.

Bingley did not limp again. By the time John came home, Bingley was moving more naturally. John and I decided that it would be safe to wait a week and watch Bingley before subjecting him to the general anesthesia that diagnostic x-rays require.

Gradually, Bingley returned to his normal routine. A lap or two around the living room, a shake or toss of Harvey or Clyde, a quick run in the back yard to chase our resident rabbit.

It was, indeed, just a strain or a muscle pull. Bingley is fine and healthy.

But Bingley is a seven year old dog. Even if he lives to be an Old Man, I won't have him for as long as I would like. But now, more than ever, I feel as if every day with him is a gift. It always has been.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sight Hounds

Scottish Deerhound, Hickory Wind, the newest Westminster Best In Show, has brought a category of dogs into public awareness that does not usually enjoy great popularity: Sight Hounds.

Organizations and experts are not in complete agreement about which breeds to include on the definitive list of Sight Hounds, but core breeds which are on all lists are:

Afghan Hound



Irish Wolfhound


Scottish Deerhound


With the exception of the Whippet, developed in the nineteenth century, these are large to very large dogs whose beginnings reach back into antiquity. They share two distinctive characteristics: acute long distance vision, and speed. For centuries, they were companions of landed aristocrats. Their time was spent much the way their masters' time was spent: hunting out of doors; lounging indoors--"indoors" being a luxurious tent, a castle, a palace, or a simple mansion.

You might have noticed that luxurious tents, castles and palaces are not common in the United States. We do have a number of Mac Mansions--but usually they are not surrounded by large estates. One could say these dogs have lost both their employment and habitat. So their rarity--with the tragic exception of the exploited racing Greyhound--is understandable.

As an admirer of Sight Hounds, I am deeply conflicted about Hickory's win. Was I rooting for her? Yes indeed! Am I concerned that the accompanying publicity will motivate some very unsuitable humans to decide that they want to acquire a Scottish Deerhound--or some other Sight Hound? Yes indeed!

So. Let me explain once more what it is like to have one of these magnificent Sight Hounds as a member of your household. And yes. A Sight Hound is a full member of its household.

1. They want to BE with you. They may or may not want to OBEY you.

2. They will NOT be happy to be restricted to floor level. Sometimes they will settle for a comfy cushion, but usually they prefer a sofa or love seat.

3. They don't play fetch. But if it's moving, they'll chase it. If they catch it, it's THEIRS! Cats, small dogs, rabbits. There's a difference? Who knew?

4. They CANNOT be trusted off-lead or unconfined. Not. For. A. Second.

5. They are quiet and they prefer a quiet household. No shouting,please. Their Serenities require serenity.

6. They really HATE to be left alone.

7. No Sight Hound--even those with rough or long coats--should be left out of doors unattended for long periods. They may be big dogs, but they're indoor dogs.

8. Sight Hounds are NOT watch dogs. If a prowler enters your house, your Sight Hound will do one of the following: a) Slip out the door as the prowler enters. b) Hide. c) Greet the "house guest" as a good host should, perhaps guiding the newcomer to the family silver or a brand new t.v. d)Sleep soundly as family valuables are loaded into a truck. e) Any combination of a,b,c,d.

9. Sight Hounds have unique medical issues and must be treated by veterinarians who understand these issues.

Why, then,you might ask, do people choose to live with a Sight Hound--or, more likely, Sight Hounds?

That's a tough question. The best answer I can manage is: For the pleasure of their company. Either you experience pleasure in a Sight Hound's company, or living with one will drive you crazy.

Sight Hounds are relics of a bye-gone time, aristocrats of the ancien regime who have never quite been able to learn the ways of the bourgeosie .

They share our homes, trust us to figure out their needs and protect them from the depredations of a fast paced, mechanized world. In return we receive loyalty and companionship that have nothing to do with obedience, embodied in a living work of art.

Those are the terms of life with a Sight Hound. If you can't accept them, don't even consider a Sight Hound as a companion.