Monday, October 10, 2011

Sheepdog Tails

Dear George,

For some time I’ve had a weekly category on this blog called “Everyday Foibles.” Each entry has described some mishap or silly event in our daily lives. Not surprisingly, there’ve been a number of anecdotes about Mike and Duffy, our Old English Sheepdogs. Here are a few of the stories which document the lives of the doggies and their owners.




Now that our nine year olds are approaching senior citizenhood, I’ve decided to be more serious about exercise. Most mornings I take Mike and Duffy for a 1.6 mile walk around Burnet Woods lake and back. Unfortunately, the dogs are less than committed than I. In his younger years, Duffy used to race to the back door every time I’d even whisper the word “walk”. Now, he sits at the top of the stairs on the second floor, watching me warily. When I come up and nudge him, he growls, as if to say, “Leave me alone, if you please.” Mike meanwhile curls up on one of the living room chairs, and there are no verbal entreaties which will get him moving. When I try to push him out of his chair, he snarls angrily in protest, sometimes even snapping at me. Once on the street Duffy turns around as soon as he’s done his business and starts pulling me back to the house. Mike, meanwhile, feigns great interest in sniffing the base of each telephone pole and I have to tug him to get him moving. After we’ve managed to go a block or two, the dogs do start moving more voluntarily, and, after three blocks, we’re moving along reasonably fluidly. By the time of our next walk, though, Mike and Duffy have completely forgotten how thrilling walks are, and we have to begin all over again from scratch.


Mike, Duffy, and I were on a hike at a county park ten miles outside the city. A middle-aged lady came up and oohed and aahed. She said she frequently sees two similar dogs on Ludlow Avenue in Cincinnati when she’s driving to work, and she totally loves them. These dogs reminded her so much of the Ludlow Ave. dogs. So I said, “Well, these are the very same dogs. We live on Ludlow Avenue. This is Mike, and this is Duffy.” The woman was unbelievably excited to actually meet the sheepdogs in person and said she couldn’t wait to tell her friends at work. Her response made me happy. I walk the dogs every morning during rush hour, and it’s amazing how often strangers come up to say they enjoy seeing the dogs as they’re driving to work. The dogs bring smiles to hundreds of people every day, and they don’t even realize it.


I was walking the sheepdogs on Whitfield Ave. when Duffy hunched up to do his business on a neighbor’s lawn. I discovered to my dismay that I’d forgotten to bring along a poop bag. I looked around but nobody seemed to be watching. Nonetheless I bent over as if I were holding an invisible poop bag and pretended to scoop up the offending nugget from the grass. Then I carefully tied an imaginary knot in my imaginary bag and stuffed the whole imaginary thing into my jacket pocket. I still didn’t see anybody in the vicinity, but I felt relieved nonetheless since I was certain that my make-believe performance had been entirely convincing to any unseen onlookers.


I took the dogs to the groomer after our overnight camping trip. When I picked them up, she reported that Mikey had had 30 ticks and Duffy had had five. I was surprised, but glad that she’d taken care of the problem. At bedtime that night Katja started finding more ticks on Mike. One, two, three – maybe ten or twelve, plus a couple more on Duffy. Then Katja felt something moving on her own scalp and discovered that a tick had burrowed into her head. She screamed and jumped up and down until I gripped it between my fingernails and pulled it out. This was beginning to feel like a horror movie. I tried to go to sleep, but Katja found another tick on her neck. I got up and disposed of it. Then, nodding off again, I felt something moving on my arm, and I flushed another intruder down the toilet. I’d finally drifted off when Katja woke me to say she’d found another tick on Mikey. And so it went. We had failed to administer anti-tick medication to the dogs before my camping trip, but we quickly corrected that mistake in the morning. I’m not sure how long it will take us to feel relaxed again about sharing sleeping quarters with dog campers (and their little brown passengers).


I took Duffy out for his morning walk, and he started rolling around, pressing his ear against something on my neighbor’s lawn. Whenever he does this, it involves something that smells foul, so I quickly pulled him away. A little later I took Mikey out, and he started rolling around on his ear on exactly the same spot on the lawn. This time I spotted the yucky pile of dog poop that was so enticing. I was surprised by the uniformity of the two dogs’ behaviors and thought to myself that neither one of these dogs has a brain. Then it dawned on me that I’d allowed Mike to do exactly the same disgusting thing that Duffy had done five minutes earlier. Perhaps I was the one with no brain. What’s the obvious conclusion?: None of us have a brain!


I often have a Stouffers Lean Cuisine frozen entrée for lunch – low calories, lots of variety, very tasty, $2.29, and it makes me feel like a gourmet cook. The other day I decided to prepare Fettucine Alfredo and put the box in the microwave. When I took it out, the plastic container slipped from my hand, flipped upside down, and fell smack on the kitchen floor. The floor looked clean enough so I took a large spatula from the counter-top and managed to scoop at least half of it back into the box. Duffy came to investigate, sniffed around, and decided that Fettucine Alfredo was to his liking too. I sat down on the floor and watched Duffy while I ate the half that I managed to salvage. Mike, in turn, sat and watched both of us from several feet away, not having the courage to challenge Duffy for the scraps. When I finished, I gave Mikey my plastic Lean Cuisine container to lick off. So everybody got some Fettucine for lunch. Probably Duffy wound up the best.


When I checked in at the campground desk, I noticed a one-page memo labeled “10 Helpful Hints for Family Camping.” Family Tip No. 7 was “Learn to identify poison ivy and keep the kids away from it.” That was sound advice, and I felt smug that I had acquired that skill in early childhood. Later I took the dogs on a hike on the Kingfisher Trail. I stopped to photograph some wildflowers. As I stepped off the trail, I had a fleeting thought that the three-leaved plants at my bare ankles looked vaguely like poison ivy. I took a couple more steps, then looked again. This time I was certain. Then I saw that Duffy had lain down right in the middle of the poison ivy patch and was rolling about. Too late to remedy the situation, I photographed the flowers and stepped gingerly back onto the trail, tugging the dogs behind me. I didn’t mention my minor mistake to Katja when I got home. The next morning, though, she said she’d had an awful night because she was itching all over. She’d put Benadryl on, and her itching was slowly improving. I didn’t offer any interpretations about her condition. Instead, I vowed that next time I will pay more attention to Helpful Family Camping Tips.


I worried about Brett Favre all last football season. At age 40 and after twenty years in the National Football League he was getting too old to go through the physical demands on his body – knee, shoulder, elbow injuries, and then a concussion. I could empathize because trying to manage large sheepdogs on the winter ice presents comparable hazards for us older athletes. I was reminded of this last February when walking Mike, Duffy, and their visiting sister Sophie on a rocky, snow-covered path in Burnet Woods. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault, but I slipped on a patch of ice and came smashing straight down on my right shoulder. Fortunately I was o.k. -- the dogs simply watched with interest as I moaned and pulled myself up. Then, the next day, I took the three dogs out the patio gate, Duffy spotted a Labrador across the street, and all three dogs went racing down the icy driveway, pulling me behind them as if I were skiing. I tried to keep my balance, but fell smack on my left shoulder, with the dogs dragging me another six feet on the ice. When Duffy couldn’t break free to get at the Labrador, he attacked Mike instead. I got up to separate them and turned out to be o.k. this time too. However, I thought that perhaps I should send a tweet to Brett Favre and get some tips about how to stay in the game.


Donna and I took the three sheepdogs for a winter walk at Eden Park. A couple of guys were playing hockey on the ice on the other side of Mirror Lake, so I decided to take Mike and Duffy out on the ice too. We got about forty feet out, and suddenly the ice started making loud cracking noises all around us. The hockey guys started yelling to us. I couldn’t hear them, but they were probably telling us that the ice was unsafe where we were. I started pulling the dogs back toward the shore, but the ice kept cracking ominously with every step. We did finally make it back to the wall at the lake’s edge, and I breathed a sigh of relief. If I’d fallen through with two large, heavy sheepdogs, that could have been the end of us all. (However, since the water was only two or three feet deep, there was a chance we might have survived.)


When Donna brought Sophie over to go for a walk in Burnet Woods, Mike and Duffy got totally excited, leaping on me, barking at the top of their voices, running in circles, etc. Sophie just watched with curiosity. Donna told Mike and Duffy to be quiet, but they only got more hyper. She asked me to make them stop. I said that the dogs were so excited about the walk and were having a wonderful time. I said that the dogs should do whatever they want – that dogs and humans are part a single species, but that dogs are like the master race. Half seriously, I claimed that people’s mission on earth is to take care of and maximize the well-being of their dogs. Donna thought that was too silly to even reply to. After our walk, the dogs came into the house, Donna and Sophie went home, and I watched some football. After supper, I asked Katja if she could help me pick out clothes for the theater. She said she would be glad to, but the dogs were hungry, so she was going to feed them first. I said of course and sat down at the computer. It dawned on me this was another example of our giving top priority to the dogs. I asked Katja if she thought dogs were the master species. She said she didn’t know what that meant, but she reminded me of the old saying that dogs have masters and cats have servants. I disagreed and said that our dogs are the ones who have servants – namely, us. Katja didn’t say one way or the other, but I think she probably agreed with me.


As she was leaving last week, our cleaning lady Maizy said she had a present for us. To our surprise, she unveiled a big ceramic statue of an Old English Sheepdog, looking up with its tongue hanging out. It was cute, and we are always pleased to get sheepdog items. Maizy said she had found it at the thrift store. The $4 price tag was still on the bottom. It seemed a little exorbitant to me. We put the dog statue on the coffee table, and that was that. Yesterday, though, I was fishing around on ebay, looking at sheepdog items, and just by chance I happened upon a photo of our new statue. It was labeled a “Beswick Fireside Old English Sheepdog.” The starting price on ebay was $133.20. That was a shock. We felt a little guilty, but I don’t think we’ll tell Maizy about the market price. We’ve put our statue in a much more prominent location, and we’ll definitely spend more time admiring it.

No comments:

Post a Comment