After years of chasing squirrels, my dogs finally got one.
It always plays out the same way: the dogs sprint out the back door and the squirrels dash away from the bird feeder and up the tree — but this time was different.
A smallish, young squirrel fumbled its escape and Scarlett caught up with it at the bottom of the tree. Just as she put her paw on it, I called her off — but the squirrel turned and ended up right in front of Maddy, who cornered it in a nook at the base of the tree.
Maddy — who tends to be stubborn — wouldn’t back off, and I had to go over and pull her away from the startled critter.
Once the dogs were back in the house I went to the tree. The squirrel looked down at me and was like, “Dude, WTF?!” I couldn’t tell if it was injured, but after a while it vanished into the trees, so I’m assuming it was just shaken up.
The next day — like it never happened — the squirrels were back at the feeder, including one who looked a lot like the one the dogs captured.
And the dogs? I’ve got to figure that they’re filled with new hope. Now that they know they can catch a squirrel, anything is possible.
“Rob, you see how New York passed a law that allows dogs in restaurants.”
“Yes — but only in outside dining areas. And only at restaurants that allow it.”
That’s when Maddy trotted in.
“Hey, Scarlett said we’re going to a restaurant!”
“No, not yet,” I said. “The governor has to sign the bill first.”
“What are you going to order Scarlett? I want pork belly. Doesn’t that sound fancy? What’s a governor?”
Scarlett handled this one.
“He runs New York, so he’s in charge of a lot of things. Like Thacher Park.”
“Oh my god, I love Thacher Park. The same guy who runs Thacher Park is going to let us eat at restaurants! He’s the best governor ever!”
Scarlett jumped down off her chair to get a drink of water.
“Maddy, I think this whole thing is just so they can bring us to restaurants — not so we can eat at them. And it treats us like second class citizens. The law says we need a separate entrance and we won’t be allowed to sit on chairs. No offense, Rob, but this is more about vain dog owners than about dogs.”
She curled up in the corner.
“You two can go, have fun. The whole thing just sounds like it will be disappointing. But bring me a doggy bag.”
If you take your dogs to Thacher Park, it’s best to go early. More often than not, you’ll have the place to yourself and they can race up and down the trails without bothering anyone.
One recent morning was different. Instead of the usual empty parking lot, we found three school busses — and the hiking paths were far from empty. We were barely out of the car when college kids started approaching us and asking to take pictures of the dogs.
Pictures of the dogs? Of course you can — but why?
It turns out that this was a biology class from Siena College who were out learning about the forest by conducting a scavenger hunt, and among the things they needed to find was a mammal. As we walked along, we continued to be approached by mammal hunters, petting the dogs, shooting pictures and checking off an item on their list.
At one point, we encountered their instructor, who looked on sourly as the students discovered our dogs. I’m sure he had squirrels, chipmunks or other woodland critters in mind — not dogs — when coming up with the activity.
But hey, you take what you can get, right? And the dogs loved being queens of the forest for a day.
So, the dogs have been coming in with snow on their snouts from rooting around in the yard.
It seems they’ve been spending a lot of time under the bird feeder, and at first I thought they were munching on spilled sunflower seeds. That would be damn odd, dogs eating sunflower seeds. But after watching a while, I think what they’re doing is much more doglike: scarfing down snow that’s sprinkled with bird droppings.
Yes, that sounds revolting but we’re talking about dogs here and to a dog, that must be like a delicious snow cone.
I suppose there’s only one thing to say when they come trotting into the house after their snacking: “Go give mommy a kiss!”
There we were, me and the dogs, out for a walk one recent evening when I practically jumped out of my shoes. Two very angry dogs charged out of the darkness and came directly for us — until they reached the invisible fence line.
They stood at the edge of the yard viciously barking and snapping. Both me and my dogs were rattled and I impulsively yelled, “Fu*k you!” This was not just pointless, but stupid. Dogs don’t understand fu*k you, and if the owners heard me? That’s not the sort of thing that makes for good neighbors.
Some people will disagree, but invisible fences can be a bad idea. The way they work is that dogs wear a shock collar triggered by proximity to a buried boundary line. In theory, you should be able to train the dog (with pain, by the way) to stay on your property and turn off the system. Few people ever get to that point.
And there are inherent problems. Like if your a dog is wildly aggressive toward strangers and other dogs. Or if your dog learns that the rewards of escape outweigh a mildly irritating shock. Or if your dog is so frightened of being shocked she ends up fearful of leaving the property on a leash with you.
One dog in our neighborhood has learned that if it leaps high over the invisible line it can avoid a shock. Would you trust your fence system to keep that dog safe, ever again? No, me neither.
It takes a lot of time and skill to make that sort of training work — and it’s far beyond the capabilities of the average dog owner. Let’s hope none of those invisible fence dogs are lost or injured or end up biting someone. And if that does happen, don’t blame the dog.
Belief in heaven is where faith is truly tested and it’s something I think about all the time. It’s hard for the rational mind have it all make sense, to completely accept that our souls will go on after death. The lack of proof is what makes it faith, not fact.
But what’s the harm in believing? There’s nothing wrong with that boy expecting to see his dog in heaven. And if after death there is nothing, he’ll never know the difference.
It would really be something to spend eternity with my dogs. The cats too, as long as I don’t have to change the litter boxes. That’s more like Hell.
That’s the sound of a ball bouncing down the basement steps, which I’ve now heard three times this morning.
Our dog Scarlett has learned that if she drops a ball down the steps I will often retrieve it and toss it back to her. Then she drops it down the steps again.
It occurs to me now that this is a bizarre turnaround in the training routine; she is giving a cue that makes me spring into action. I have been conditioned to react in a certain way, and she knows — to the extent that dogs know anything — what I’ll do.
Predictable behavior on command. That sounds a lot like training to me.
But she’s just a dog and she can never get me trained properly. I’m quite sure that no matter what she does, I’ll continue to eat food off the counter, lay on the couch, and poop in the house. So there.
She has a reputation for being lazy, especially when compared to her older sister, Scarlett. It’s hardly fair. Scarlett is a high energy dog driven by the impulse to work. Next to her, anyone would look like a slacker.
For example, if we go to an empty field and throw a ball, Scarlett would keep going until she dropped. Maddy? She might run after Scarlett a few times, but after that, she’d prefer to roam around, relax, and eat the occasional bit of goose poop. Goose poop is the foie gras of the dog world.
This all changes when I take them to Thacher Park. There’s something about the woods that makes Maddy go bonkers. She’ll tear up and down the trails and race around the trees, leaping over logs, chasing after something only she can see. Then when we get to a stream, she plunges into the water.
There’s something so gratifying about seeing her like that; there’s a pure joy to it. Out of the house, away from the yard, off the leash.
Do the dogs remember these good times? I’d like to imagine that they do, and later in the day as they drift tiredly off to sleep they think about how much fun we had — and then they dream about the next time.