JD Allinder

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

A Post About Poop

In Posts on August 31, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Coprophagia is the ingestion of one’s own feces or the feces of another animal. There are several theories about why canines (and other animals) engage in this inconvenient behavior. It has been suggested that coprophagia is a consequence of curiosity  in young animals where they use their mouths to explore the environment. Another theory suggests that the behavior helps the animal establish specific intestinal flora in the gut, and some scientists believe that eating feces compensates for some nutritional deficiency by utilizing the deoxycholic acid present in the waste. I don’t know if my opinion on the subject is original or unconsciously informed by an amalgamation of all the reading I’ve done on canines over the past decade or so, but I’ve come to believe coprophagia, at least in canines, is used for survival. While canines don’t hibernate, much of their prey do, and the winter months can be especially brutal. With minimal vegetation and fierce competition from birds of prey, canines are able to obtain enough nutrients from the scat of others – deer droppings, for example – to see them through ’til spring.

It’s really an amazing adaptation method, and canines are specially designed from head to tail (literally) to accommodate it. The ability to safely ingest scat begins in the dog’s mouth where the presence of large amounts of lysozyme, which destroys pathogenic bacteria, are in the saliva. (Human lysozymes are found in tears, saliva, mucus, and breast milk. Interestingly, children raised on formula have three times the rate of diarrheal disease since lysozymes provide protection from pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and pseudomonas.) The dog’s digestive tract is much shorter than ours: 20-80 cm compared to our long and winding road  of 1.5 m. The dog’s food, including ingested poop, passes within 24-48 hours. (Humans can take up to 72 hours.) Additionally, the dog’s stomach acid is highly corrosive. With a pH of 1-2, as compared to humans’ 4-5, the dog’s stomach acid kills most of the bacteria ingested and explains why he can safely eat raw meat, bones, carrion, and, yes, poop.

Jane eats poop. I know all of the above information, because when my dog exhibits a particular behavior, like copraphagia, I turn to science for answers and, hopefully, comfort. Unfortunately, no amount of science buffers my disgust of eating poop. I know it’s natural, and necessary in certain contexts, but it’s gross! I went through this with Georgia, and she eventually outgrew the habit or so feared my response to poop eating that she figured it wasn’t worth it. Jane’s not there yet. Her response when I see her mouth chomping on cat scat, duck doo doo, or deer droppings, and take off running toward her screaming “No! Stop! Eww! Gross!” is to chomp faster, to delight in as much of the delicacy as possible before I reach her. In other words, in her mind, whatever punishment I dole out – and she knows it’ll never be anything more than me screaming and stomping (and gagging) – is worth it.

She doesn’t eat her own poop, thank goodness. (I’ve heard of very few dogs who do this, and I suspect it’s indicative of an untreated neurosis.) She also doesn’t eat dog poop, though she’s of course got a healthy interest in sniffing it, which is normal – that’s how dogs learn about each other. Last winter she exhibited a fancy for coyote caca, but I was successful in breaking her of that. (We ran into coyote scat just this morning near St. Joe’s hospital. Jane sniffed it and moved on.) Like most dogs, Jane hates cats but wants to eat their poop. I’ve been pretty successful in curbing this craving, though, too. Same with deer scat: she’s into it, but I can call her off of it pretty easily. The big problem, though, the Holy Grail in her mind, is goose poop. I don’t know what’s in it, but she will risk life and limb for goose poop. It’s doggie pate. Georgia loved it, too. (I got her off it as a youngster, but she returned to it in her old age.) Jane’s lust for the stuff shows no sign of abating, and, where we live, it’s in abundance year round, especially in grassy areas along the river. The problem is somewhat easier to manage in the winter – goose poop is easier for me to spot on snow and ice than it is on grass – but Jane’s hankering for the stuff is only magnified with the falling of the mercury: Goose poop pops are a special, winter-only delicacy. They’re the truffles of the dog world.

Jane ran into the neighbors’ yard this morning and downed a mouthful of cat scat. Yesterday she got into a pile of doo doo of unknown origin in the brush alongside the dirt road where we were enjoying a lazy Sunday stroll. Tomorrow it’ll probably be something else – another day, another dookie. I will keep screaming, pulling out my hair, gnashing my teeth, and keeping my fingers crossed that, in time, Jane’ll develop a more discriminate palate and realize that the B.A.R.F. I lovingly feed her at home beats (paws down) the poop she purloins in the park.

Jane the Coprophag

Hallelujah

In Posts on August 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm

My Hero

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I didn’t feel grumpy as much as I just felt disconnected. I laid there tangled up in blankets, staring at the ceiling, immobile under a canopy of Is that all there is? Finally I called Jane’s name. (She sleeps in the living room.) After a pause, she appeared – dopey-eyed, tail swinging in a slow, lazy wag, unable to contain her excitement to see me again but expressing it in her characteristic, slow as molasses, hound dog way. That’s all I needed to get out of bed, turn on NPR, grind the coffee beans, brush the teeth…

But I couldn’t shake the feeling. I sat down to work on a report for work and then moved on to a lesson for a student I tutor. A violent storm passed by. The black-eyed Susans took a beating. A bag of lawn clippings I’d left under the chestnut tree was tossed across the lawn, emptying its contents along the way. (Chestnuts don’t grow well in Michigan, by the way. I think it’s too cold for them.) When it was time for our regular lunchtime outing, I kept working. I was busy. I told Jane I’d make it up to her later. I showered and left to meet my student. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, but I was in a fog. I kept the windows rolled up. I didn’t listen to music. There was no traffic on the road. My phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

When I got home from tutoring, I was wracked with guilt. Jane didn’t care; she was ready to go. She’d waited patiently all day, so I took her out straightaway. It was a beautiful afternoon. It was warm, but a steady breeze provided relief. The morning storm had chased away the humidity that made the earlier part of the week unbearable. We walked past Barry on his riding lawnmower. He smiled and waved, looking like a set piece from “Blue Velvet.” We walked the “gralley” – a disused alley that’s returned to nature – and down to Highland Cemetery. Jane ran off-leash for thirty minutes or so, never straying too far, always keeping an ear out for me. She wore herself out hunting groundhogs.

Hunting 'hogs

We slipped through a hole in the fence and went to St. John the Baptist Cemetery across the street (Why is there a separate Catholic lot?) where Jane met her guardian angel.

Jand and Her Angel

Jane got pretty hot, so I rinsed her off using one of the garden hoses that are scattered here and there around the cemetery. She hates when I hose her down (even though she loves swimming and walking in the rain), but it never fails to renew the spring in her step. We finally headed back toward town where we saw this really cool bus parked behind the Corner Brewery that appears to be someone’s home.

The Love Bus

I thought for awhile about how great it would be to live on a bus with Jane and spend our time driving around visiting interesting places like South Dakota and Alaska. (Yesterday I daydreamed about living on a houseboat with Jane.)

We continued on to Frog Island where several people were working in the community garden and a group of  guys were playing soccer, yelling at each other in Spanish. Some kids were playing fetch with an off-leash pit bull. I checked to be sure I hadn’t forgotten my pepper spray.

We crossed the tridge to Riverside Park where a few hundred people were setting up for the Heritage Festival. Riverside and Frog Island host festivals almost every weekend in the summer, but Heritage is the granddaddy of them all. Jane jumped off the pier into the river – she’s really proud of being able to do this now without too much hesitation – to the delight of a man and his two children.

We crossed over Michigan Avenue and walked through the southside ghetto. The Vietnamese men were out playing their hackey sack/volleyball/soccer game. We ran into Kokhang walking Pelu, Twinkle, and Berkeley. Kokhang thinks the men might be Cambodian. Jane loves Kokhang. He always has chicken for her and makes her perform tricks for it. He’s taught her to shake and to high-five. She also loves Berkeley – a rescue mutt flirt who delights her by chasing her round and round. I love Pelu, a fat little Buddha of a puggle who’s my second favorite dog in the world. We have a very special friendship. Whenever I see Pelu he runs up to me and lays on his back at my feet like an offering. Of course this makes me gush and shower him with praise and treats (so I’m sure it’s a completely conditioned reaction).

When Jane and I got back home, I realized we’d been out for over three hours. I was parched, and we were both hungry. It was only after I was preparing dinner that I realized that the disconnected emptiness I’d been consumed by earlier in the day had been replaced by endorphin-fueled peace, rest, and contentment. I can always count on Jane to put things into perspective for me, to get me back on track. I guess she’s my guardian angel.

The Best Girl

Dog Day Afternoon

In Posts on August 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Huron Jane

It’s miserably hot today. I’m not complaining, though, because it’s been such a mild summer. It’s really been perfect: warm, sunny mornings, afternoon showers, cool nights – it’s felt more like spring than summer. Today is a different story, though. The dog days have finally arrived. This is typically the warmest week of the year – summer’s unforgiving climax – but I’ll be rewarded next week as we begin our downhill slide toward fall. I am not a summer person. Never have been, never will be. This may be one of the reasons I get along so well with dogs: they’re as invigorated by cold weather as I am.

Despite my abhorrence of heat, I refuse to let it lick me. (I try never to allow the weather to interfere with my objectives.) So I slather on the SPF 70, keep myself hydrated, and brave it (relatively) uncomplainingly. Jane’s not a fan of heat, but she’ll still hike five to eight miles if she’s got continual access to a body of water where she can swim. The Unnamed Trail is perfect for days like today, because it runs parallel to the Huron River and much of it is shaded by mature trees. So that’s where we headed for this afternoon’s lunchtime outing.

After arriving at our starting point at St. Joe’s, Jane and I made our way through the woods and down to the river as usual. Rather than heading north like we always do, Jane tugged me south. So I followed. Sometimes it’s good to let the dog lead. Like children, dogs can be empowered by making choices. Jane took me off on a short sub-trail that we rarely travel and out to the railroad tracks. We don’t often walk by the railroad tracks this time of year, because there’s no shade. But this is what Jane wanted to do, for whatever reason, so I went along. We walked north along the tracks for about a half mile and then had to walk on a trestle where the tracks cross the river. We made our way across despite this warning.

No Trespassing

The sign both confused and irritated me. First of all, whose private property were we on? (They’re railroad tracks!) And what’s the harm in our walking there? We were being respectful, minding our own business, and having an adventure.

Outlaw Jane

Once safely across (and avoiding prosecution) I walked on, still following Jane’s lead, for about another quarter mile. We came to another overpass, much smaller and narrower, and made of stone. Jane led me off the tracks and down the east side of a brush-covered embankment (whereupon my feet got tangled in the remnants of an ancient, rusted fence and I fell flat on my face). Once down the hill, we were greeted with the sound of a swiftly running brook (I was instantly transported to childhood – North Carolina – mountain springs) and the sight of this beautiful stone bridge and boardwalk.

Secret bridge

I felt as if we’d entered a secret, magical place. It was silent, save the sound of running water, and a little bit mysterious, too. We followed the boardwalk over swamp and peat for about half a mile out to the Huron.  At the river we happened upon this shelter.

The Love Shack

Despite being covered with knife-carved devotions of undying love and requisite Kilroy scribblings, this weather-beaten, graffitied shack had a good energy about it. The plywood remains were surely saturated with memories of secret rendezvous. If those boards could talk!

After following the winding boardwalk for another mile or so, Jane and I took a deer path through a small copse that dumped us out on a paved trail in Parker Mill Park (which eventually converges with Gallup Park). We jumped back in woods, though, and followed a hobo path that led us back out to the railroad tracks. We crossed over finding ourselves at the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant. From here we walked west, parallel to Dixboro Road, and then back into the woods again along the Huron, walking two or so miles south to our starting point at St. Joe’s. It was one of the best adventures Jane and I have had yet (she gets full credit for it), and it’s especially interesting to me that it took place on the most miserable day of the year…

When we got back home, I checked the map to discover that our secret find is known as Forest Park. I’d seen it on the map before and had been curious. You can park your car on Geddes at the entrance to Parker Mill and walk or bike your way through to Forest Park, but I prefer Jane’s back door discovery. We will be visiting again soon.

(And now I have to give a shout out to Ann Arbor. Though complaining about the gentrification and dominant bourgeois culture of A2 is one of my favorite pastimes, the city must be commended for dedicating so much land to nature. Ann Arbor’s commitment to green makes it a truly livable city.)

Breakthrough!

In Recent Posts on August 12, 2009 at 1:19 am

Jane walked with me for thirty minutes off-leash today. It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge turning point for us. Huge. The bluetick coonhound is notoriously stubborn and difficult to train, and Jane is no exception. Their noses are always in the air (or on the ground) and when they pick up a scent they follow it – sometimes for hours. Their hunting instincts are so strong that they’re almost impossible to trust on their own.

That said, I knew what I was getting into when I adopted Jane. I researched the breed and realized she’d be a project and not just a pet. But what a wonderful project she is! There’s nothing finer than watching a dog bend to your will – no matter how slowly – and not just buy into your program, but celebrate it. And Jane is doing just that. It seems every few days we turn another corner, and today’s was the one I’ve been thinking would never come.

I enjoy living with dogs for many reasons, and one of the biggest is I dig their enthusiasm for exercise. They’re not only always ready for adventure, they require it – multiple times each day. Dogs keep me on my toes. They’re my personal trainers. Hiking is my favorite exercise – and it often turns into an adventure – so dogs and I are a good match. My last dog, Georgia, and I walked thousands of miles of trails in several states (I think her paws touched at least 15 ) and the bulk of it was leash-free. Absolute liberty is the only way to truly provide a dog with what she needs physically and psychologically, and the higher level bond that develops during untethered walking cannot be achieved when man and beast are connected by a leash.

I tried exercising Jane sans lead the first week I brought her home. It was a disaster. She ran away for an hour. (Fortunately we were in the woods.) After that she learned to climb the back yard fence and run away. (I can’t tell you how many times I chased her through the neighbors’ yards in my pajamas.) So not only did Jane have to be on leash on all of our outings, she had to be on a tie-out in her fenced-in garden. I eventually discovered the 50-foot leash for our hikes, and Jane finally assumed co-ownership of the house and yard and promised she’d stop running away. (I can’t explain how I know this to be a fact, but it is. It was after our six month anniversary. Maybe she held her head a little higher or began assuming the role of super watchdog, I’m not sure. I just know that one day she looked at me and I knew she wanted to stay and wouldn’t climb the fence again. And she hasn’t.)

Walking on the trail was a different story, though. In the early days I’d drop the 50-foot leash on the ground and run behind her. She still got away twice. The first time the leash was frozen and snapped (I was using a cotton lead – never again) and she took off for an hour despite my commands and whistles. The second time, we were in Stinchfield Woods in Dexter, and I was jogging along behind her trailing leash, and she bolted – vanished. Just like that, she was gone. An hour later I received a phone call (my number’s on Jane’s collar). She was wrapped around a tree in someone’s back yard. This episode really scared me. “Never again,” I told her. And I’ve kept my word.

Until today. We were walking in the field behind Highland Cemetery, and I’m not sure why, but I instinctively knew it was time. I took off her leash. And she didn’t bolt. She sat looking at me, waiting for my command. So I gave tons of them. I sent her off to check out trees and then called her back. I let her run 500 feet or so in front of me, and then gave her the whistle command to wait, and she did. Every time. Once I let her walk pretty far – maybe an eighth of a mile or so – and then I gave her the commands wait and sit with the whistle. She obeyed. Then I gave her a come signal, and she came flying at me with the biggest, sloppiest smile, her tail spinning like a helicopter. It was written all over her face: she was proud of herself. If she could speak English, she’d have been screaming, “I get it!” She does get it. I can’t believe it.

After our thirty minutes of success, Jane went back on lead and we walked together another hour or so. We’ll try it again another day. I’m really proud of Jane, and I feel good knowing we’re on the right track.

Jane's Booty

The Dog Park

In Posts on August 7, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Jane at Swift Run

Jane and I paid our first visit to Swift Run Dog Park, located on the southwest corner of Ellsworth and Platt Roads in Ann Arbor, on our second day together, back in October of 2008. We took a three-hour leash walk around town on the afternoon I brought her home from Broken Road Rescue, but it did nothing to tire her or quell her nervous energy. It was obvious to me that what she needed was to run off leash – to completely exhaust herself – but I couldn’t let her run untethered either in the woods or the parks near my house. I have a fenced-in yard, but to Jane it was nothing more than a place to sniff about and do her business. Fortunately, my neighbor Brent told me about Swift Run.

Swift Run, or just the dog park as I’ve always called it, was a godsend. It’s ten acres of fenced meadow where Jane could run and run and run until she fell over from exhaustion.

Grazing Jane

We visited five days a week, rain or shine, for about six months. For two hours I walked laps around the perimeter while Jane followed or ran around with her buddies. We worked on basic verbal and whistle commands and made numerous human and canine friends, settling nicely into a sort of dog park scene. On sub-freezing afternoons I’d huddle with other dog parents, sipping steaming lattes, discussing such earth-shattering topics as the pros and cons of rewards-based training and the consistency of our dogs’ poop.

Jane and Pal

During this time of dog park bliss, I began reading Cesar Millan’s books. In his first book, Cesar’s Way, he says that the dog park should never be used as a substitute for a walk. He specifically says the dog park is not a place for dogs to work off excess energy. In fact, Millan says dogs should be walked for an hour prior to visiting the dog park. I trust Millan – he’s is a truly gifted behaviorist – so Jane and I started dividing our two-hour visits into one-hour walks at Lillie Park followed by one-hour romps at the dog park. (The two parks are right across the street from each other.) Not only did this add variety to our lunchtime outings, it provided me with a better workout and satisfied Jane’s hunting instincts. The walks in Lillie Park had a much greater impact on our bonding, too, because we were working in concert on a shared goal. Connected (literally, by a 50-foot lead) Jane and I migrated and hunted and, most important, communicated. It was on those lonely, bitter, winter walks through Lillie that Jane started making sustained eye contact with me, anticipating my moves, and reading my mind. It was on those walks that I’d get snappish with Jane when she wouldn’t listen to me and then apologize with kisses, and it was about that time that I started falling under her spell. Those are wonderful memories that I cherish. It was so cold, and Jane was so beautiful and energetic and undisciplined…

Eventually, our visits to the dog park got whittled down to half an hour every day, then a few minutes every other day. Now we hardly ever stop in. Jane can’t stand it anymore. When I force her to go she sulks around like a bored teenager. She really acts like she’s too cool for it. I took her today, and she shuffled around behind me for fifteen minutes before walking to the gate and giving me a “Can we go now?” look that I swear was followed by an eye roll. When we walked across the street to Lillie Park, she perked up. When we got in the woods her tail went up, she treed imaginary raccoons, and she even convinced me to veer off the trail, jump over ditches, and run through a field of weeds taller than I am. Her bored teen facade was replaced with an ear-to-ear isn’t-this-the-life grin.

Smiling Jane

Apocalypse Wow!

In Posts on August 1, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Keep Ypsi Ghetto

Though Jane and I walk most afternoons in a natural setting, like some of the place I’ve written about, we walk in the city every day, too. Our schedule is two hours at lunch on the trail and an hour in the evening around town. We’ve covered just about every inch of Ypsilanti on our walks and are intimately familiar with the better neighborhoods like Normal Park, College Heights, and the Historic East Side. We know all the alleys of downtown, Depot Town, and the student ghetto. We even sometimes snoop through the township neighborhoods as far east as Ford Blvd. I’m equally at home in the city and the country. In fact, I’ve always longed for both simultaneously. The only place I’m not comfortable is the suburbs – too middle-of-the-road, indecisive. I like extremes: hot/cold, black/white, city/country.

I rescued Jane from rural Bath, Michigan, where I’m guessing she was someone’s abused, bred, and discarded hunting dog. Besides being a country girl, she was pretty skittish and high strung when I adopted her, and the city freaked her out. She was definitely a fish out of water. The first thing we did the day she came home with me was walk down Michigan Avenue. She jumped ten feet at the sound of every passing truck, but I held on tight (and held my breath) and kept at it.

Today Jane’s an expert city dog. We use the 50-foot leash around town, and she moves seamlessly between a coiled-up heel at my knee and greater liberty where it’s appropriate. She’s especially fond of overgrown lots and alleys, and one of our favorite places to walk is south of Michigan Avenue between River Street and Huron River Drive. It’s an abandoned tract of property bordering the river where time stands still.

Jane Ghetto

There’s an empty strip mall, winding roads, and two or three of what appear to be disused factories. It’s really bizarre, because it’s this enormous stretch of city property left completely to its own devices. It’s creepy and post-apocalyptic – the perfect setting for a zombie movie – but there’s also a certain melancholy beauty to the decay. It’s illustrative to me of the transience of our culture, a reminder of how fluid civilizations are. Our empire is crumbling like countless others before us, and Mother Nature is reclaiming her turf.

Urban Hunting

I’m completely comfortable exploring urban decay, and I’ve been fascinated by it since childhood. I like it. (I far prefer the bombed-out, cracked-out New York of the ’80s to the Disneyfied, glass tower, family-friendly theme park it’s devolved into.) There’s a stark beauty to things and places left behind, forgotten. And the trash lives on. You can’t kill it. It returns to nature. It becomes repopulated by birds and vermin and frequented by prostitutes, drug addicts, and assorted homeless people and eccentrics.

Keep Out

If you walk south of this particular property and cross the river, you come upon an overgrown park, ball fields, and the shuttered Ford plant. This place is really strange and always colorful. Hookers in platinum wigs mix with men drinking and fishing by the river and hipsters and Phish-heads playing disc golf.

Urban Decay

Lately there’s been a group of Asian men (I think they’re Vietnamese) playing an interesting game that’s sort of a cross between volleyball and hackey sack.

volley sack

They play really loud Asian pop music and let their children run around unattended. To add to the surreal feel of this place, the ground is covered in the late afternoon with feeding groundhogs. Not just one or two, but dozens. (I fell into one of their holes the other night. I’m lucky I didn’t break a leg.) The whole scene feels like a David Lynch film, like it shouldn’t be happening in real life. But you know, it is happening in real life. It’s my life. And as bizarre and unconventional as it is, it’s beautiful and strangely comforting and valuable. I often forget that I’m a participant in this post-urban subculture sprouting on the grounds of capitalism’s failures. I think I’m just observing everything, taking pictures, and making mental notes. Then someone speaks to me – like the obese man on a go-cart who passed me last night tromping over an overgrown baseball diamond, or the biracial pre-op trannie meth-head I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago sitting in the weeds reading (apparently stolen) junk mail and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes – and I realize that I’m a player in this absurdist masterpiece.

Rise Up