Our dog, Scarlett, has a small repertoire of tricks — certainly enough to impress visitors and to qualify her as the best trained dog in our neighborhood.
But when it comes to training dogs, I’ve never seen anything like what I saw in Scotland.
At a Leault Farm, just off the road between Edinburgh and Inverness, shepherd Neil Ross trots out a gang of border collies who move sheep exactly where he wants them in a vast field. But what makes this truly amazing is that he controls individual dogs on command.
With a combination of words and whistles, one dog will jump up and race hundreds of yards away and loop around the sheep. Then, on command, the dog will drive the sheep where Ross wants them. With more shouts and whistles he’ll send a different dog out on another route — then another and another.
After the herding, you see how sheep are sheared – you can give it a try, if you like. The dogs wander around and socialize with the visitors; they’re calm and friendly – which is unusual for intense working dogs.
Aside from the beat up Range Rover, it could have been a hundred years ago. The lush green fields, the sheep, the dogs. A visit to this farm gives you a peek at a way of life that’s endangered on every side.
Neil Ross was born in the house on the farm, and he told us his kids are taught at home, far from “the nonsense they learn in school about the environment and politics.” That turned a few heads, but I can’t say I blame him.
NOTE: If your interested in rural life in the UK, I recommend A Shepehrd’s Life by James Rebanks. It’s a beautifully written book.
My wife called our son to tell him the dog died. We were on our way home from the vet, and were both pretty upset.
“I’m calling to tell you Maddy died.”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
The connection was not great — it took about a minute to sort out who was dead — and it was a terrible phone call over all. It’s funny now, but at the time, not so much.
So, Maddy died. She was nine-years-old and we had no idea she was walking around with a tumor growing inside of her. One day she was herself, and the next day she was lethargic and wouldn’t eat. She was bleeding inside and that was creating pressure on her heart. It was literally squeezing the life out of her.
The vet cried as much as we did when she gave us the news that there was nothing to be done. And just like that she was gone.
Our older dog, Scarlett, has been glued to my side since this happened. She always paid a great deal of attention to me, but now she doesn’t leave me alone for a minute. I don’t know what dogs feel, but she’s feeling something.
Maddy loved our walks in Thacher Park. Early in the morning, the park is deserted and most days you won’t see a soul. We’d take the dogs off leash and let them run up and down the trails and explore the woods. I know, it’s against the rules.
Maddy’s ashes are going up to the park, where we spent so many hours. I’m sure they have some sort of rule about that too — but rules be damned. Off the leash one last time, through the woods and away like the wind.
There are a world of people out there that you’d never talk to, but put a
leash in their hand and you’ve got something to chat about, And it’s not just
trivial banter, like about the weather, but something that’s
interesting and personal. Caring about someone’s dog, is caring about them.
But I’ve noticed something interesting about dog dialogue. Without
fail, one of the first questions is this:
“How old are they?”
I’m not sure if people are genuinely curious about how old ours dogs are, or if it’s just something to get the conversation going. Is it going to provide them with some insight into behavior or temperament? I don’t know if it would mean anything to me, unless we’re considering a very young or very old dog.
Sometime I give the answer in people years, which really throws folks off. One time, I said “This one’s 63 and that one’s 56.” Then I gestured to my wife. “And she’s 57.”
Some of us had a pretty good laugh about that one.
The mornings are getting brighter, but when I’m out running at 5am, it’s still more dark than light.
On one recent morning as I was trudging along, in a field across from Indian Ladder Farms I spied a dark object. I recall my exact words, muttered to no one: “Holy shit, that looks like a fucking bear!”
I stopped and stared at the dark object. It was a good 40 yards off, but what else could it be, but a bear? I turned on the headlamp, but could not see a flash of eyes in the shadows. I clapped, thinking it would move — but then imagined myself being caught by the bear and mauled. The newspaper would have a field day with that.
Hmmm. Best to turn and be on my way, carefully putting distance between myself and the bear. A quick glance over the shoulder confirmed that it was not after me.
My wife was somewhat skeptical of the bear sighting.
“Were you wearing your glasses?”
No, I was running — but a bear!
I drove back there later in the day, now with a seed of doubt planted in my head. Here is what I saw, in the approximate location of the bear:
Well, OK — perhaps it wasn’t a bear. But imagine being chased by a small pine tree. Now THAT would be terrifying.
The beaver are busy.
Just off Johnston Road in Guilderland, you can see where beaver have been working on a couple of substantial trees along the Normanskill. Many people are saying it’s part of a plot to cut off Voorheesville from the rest of the Capital Region. One never knows.
I don’t have to remind you that America’s largest rodent casts a long shadow here in ye olde Beverwijck. Christ, they named the place after the beaver. Albany’s seal shows a beaver felling a tree as a white man and Indian look on, presumably saying, “WTF is up with these beavers?” Stranger yet, is the coat of arms of the Albany Diocese, which shows a beaver holding a bishop’s staff. Bishop Beaver, I presume?
But look closely and you’ll see lots of beaver activity around streams and swamps, and to learn more DEC’s excellent website has much information about beaver – including an extensive page on “nuisance beaver.”
Meanwhile, I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for those trees to come down. The beaver may have their revenge, yet.
“The coyotes were after me!”
My wife was out of breath and extremely worked up after rushing back home with the dogs. In the woods along her regular route she’d heard a pack of coyotes — or at least what sounded like a pack of coyotes. She didn’t actually see them, but in the dark, scary noises are amplified; they may not have truly been “after” her, but it seemed that way.
Coyotemania gripped our house for a week, and we were consumed with talk of carrying pepper spray and cudgels to ward off the invaders. Then this.
According to the Times Union, these signs were posted around two adjoining golf courses in Albany and Bethlehem, warning of coyotes (“They are smart and fast”) and cautioning people not to mess with them.
By the way, what do you do if you encounter coyotes on the golf course? Let them play through.
Look, coyotes have been around here for a long time, and now all the sudden we’re freaking out? I’d suggest we all spend time worrying about real animal risks, like the deer who play chicken with your car. You’re much more likely to be injured in a collision with one of those damn deer than you are to be bitten by a coyote.
I much prefer the approach of Frank Vincenti of Mineola. This self-styled coyote defender spends his spare time trying to protect coyotes on Long Island and in New York City. Yes, New York City. From a recent NY Times story:
When he hears of a sighting, he closes his barbershop and heads to the scene. He may spend all night working as a human scarecrow, chasing the coyotes back into the underbrush. The goal is to keep them out of the public view and away from the traps set by specialists hired to euthanize them.
Vincenti believes the coyotes will persevere in the end, citing the most famous coyote of all:
“Wile E. Coyote always loses,” he said, “but no matter how they try to kill him off, he always comes back.”
Two of our three cats died over the summer, one giving way to old age and the other to a terminal illness. But as we mourned their loss, one member of the household seemed to celebrate: Mia, the remaining cat.
Mia is a whole new cat since the others are gone. She suddenly has the place to herself, and free of the stress of sharing our home with other felines, she’s become increasingly bold.
The upside is she’s much more sociable — but some of her behavior pushes the limits. For example, she’s taken to a shine to the kitchen counter, where we’ve found her licking our food, and in one case stealing bag of bread and running off with it.
She pays no mind to the dogs, in fact she joins them in watching us eat, hoping for a handout or dropped bit of food from the table.
None of the cats ever got along, so for Mia, this is the best thing to ever happen. Me? I miss the other two, but I have to admit, life is simpler with fewer pets. Even if it means walking in the kitchen and finding someone eating the humus I left out.
518 Life, the Times Union’s free monthly magazine about the Capital Region, is seeking an editor. Knowledge of the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area is helpful. Must know the difference between a cow and a horse.