JD Allinder

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

The River Wild

In Posts on July 27, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Today I learned where skunks go in the middle of the day. Jane showed me. Getting sprayed in the face didn’t seem to faze her at all. Much to Jane’s chagrin, we cut our outing short to come home and take a bath. Now she smells like skunk and shampoo. It’s always something.

I’d say Jane and I had our first real adventure over the weekend. Friday and Saturday were miserable. We got about six inches of rain (which we needed), but it was complicated by tornado warnings, heat warnings, flash floods, power outages, and downed trees. The heat was insanely intense, too. It was in the 90s even in the evenings, and the air was thick and heavy and difficult to breathe. Fortunately the sun didn’t come out for a couple of days, so the house stayed relatively cool and I didn’t have to close the blinds and feel like a shut-in. Jane and I managed to creep around town, and both of us seemed to be getting used to this exceptionally uncomfortable summer. We’ve worked our way back up to three full hours of exercise each day, and we’ve lately had some really great workouts, arriving home and falling on the floor like limp dish rags.

The rain was replaced by blinding sun on Sunday. After taking a dip in the Huron at Frog Island, Jane was sufficiently cooled to make the unshaded mile-long hike down to Highland Cemetery. Once there, we walked the half mile or so Native American footpath down through the thick woods and back to the river. At the foot of the trail, there’s a five-foot-wide opening in the brush where Jane can scoot down a steep, six-foot incline and into the river for a swim (or a stand – she loves standing, which always makes me think of bathing in the Ganges for some reason). Off leash, of course, Jane reflexively sprinted down the ledge to test the water. She was instantly sucked into it, though, as if it were some living, heaving beast. In a flash, she was being violently dragged away. I was stunned. (I’m pretty sure Jane was, too.) I called “come” several times, and, though she was paddling upstream with all her might, she was no match for the flood-driven current. My first thought was to run along the bank calling to her and following until she was able to get herself closer to shore. The bank along this particular stretch of the river is virtually impenetrable, though. (Georgia and I carved out a trail years ago, but it’s since been reclaimed by Mother Nature.) When Jane disappeared from view, I walked into the river. Fully clothed. From the time she got swept up until I entered the river was no more than 20 seconds, but Jane was already 1/8 of a mile downstream. She was facing me, paddling away, but still being swiftly carried down river. I walked along the river bottom, the water rising to my neck. Finally, the current picked me up and dragged me under. I’m a good swimmer, so I wasn’t worried about myself, but I was calmly panicked about my girl. I called to her the entire time I made my way down the river to her, and I found the best thing to do was give up and let the current carry me. When I reached Jane, I grabbed her collar (relief!) thinking I’d swim her to shore in the human lifesaving position. But as I reached for her, her whole body sort of floated to the surface of the water and gave itself up to me. All four of her paws were pressed up against my chest as my arms enveloped her like a baby. It all unfolded in slow motion, as stressful events sometimes do, and it was strangely, weirdly, beautiful. Something about her trust and giving up her body to me really moved me. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to her.

Of course I wasn’t really processing any of this until we arrived safely on the shore. We both shook off and stared at each other for a couple of minutes. It was then that I realized we’d had a real adventure, a bonding experience we’ll reminisce about when we’re old. We crawled our way through the quarter mile or so of thick brush back to the point of entry, Jane remaining at my (squishing) heels the entire time. And, despite being filthy, I was actually invigorated by the swim. So we hiked another hour.

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Life with Elsa

In Posts on July 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Friend and neighbor, Elsa, has been staying with Jane and me the past week while her human companion, Elena, prepares to have a baby. Elena’s due date – July 4 – came and went, but still no baby. She was scheduled for labor inducement today, and I hope she and her doctor moved forward with that plan. I know how eager she is to have her baby boy – Griffin! – and start their new lives together.

In the meantime, Elsa’s been a welcome houseguest. She’s a perfect lady indoors and out. She’s sweet, thoughtful, attentive, and obedient. In many ways she’s the yin to Jane’s nutty yang. (And that’s not meant to be a criticism of Jane, even if it kind of sounds like one.) Elsa walks perfectly off-leash, instantly obeys all of my requests without complaint, and is grateful for any attention, exercise, and kitchen tidbits that come her way. She’s a great companion for Jane, too, and the three of us have been enjoying daily trail hiking and city leash walking.

Elsa’s a wonderful leader on the trail, followed by me in the middle and Jane at the rear with her nose to the ground, and, despite the heat – it was in the low 90s today – we’ve all been keeping up with daily eight to ten-mile lunch hikes. Jane is much more enthusiastic and engaged with a canine partner, and the two girls make a good team: Jane’s got the nose and Elsa’s got the speed. Today Jane demonstrated for Elsa the finer points of treeing.

Jane and Elsa have been friends since shortly after Jane came home with me in September 2008. Still very puppyish at the time, Jane groveled at Elsa’s feet when they first met, and Elsa demonstrated her alpha status with growls and nips to Jane’s upturned neck and belly. Even though they’ve both grown up and Jane’s developed tremendous confidence and (a little bit of) status, the dynamics of their public relationship remain the same. The minute Jane sees Elsa, she melts into a whimpering pup. That power dynamic completely shifts, though, in our house. At home, Jane stomps around like the boss, keeping a watchful eye over all her resources (eatables, creature comforts, affection), and evil-eyeing Elsa into total submission. Poor Elsa! Jane is really a bully – sometimes even demanding food from Elsa’s mouth – but Elsa’s being a good sport, and I’m being provided with new opportunities for teaching Jane about hospitality.

Elsa’s visit has helped me articulate some of the unique characteristics of Jane’s personality. Many of the things Elsa does are what I consider typical dog behavior. For example, she follows me around the house from room to room. When I fetch the leashes for a walk, she does a little spinning dance. When I work in the garden, she’s beside me the entire time, taking great interest in all that I do. Jane, on the other hand, doesn’t do these things. She doesn’t really care where I am in the house. When it’s time for a walk, she very calmly and pragmatically waits until the last possible second before she rises from her lie down and dispassionately moves towards the door. When I tell her I’m going to work in the garden, she gives me a look that says, “You go ahead and have fun. I’ll stay here on the sofa in the air conditioning. Wake me up when it’s time to hunt or eat.” Her behavior is often puzzling to me because it’s atypical to that of all the dogs I’ve ever known. I don’t know if her quirks are unique to her or typical of coonhounds. There’s just something very logical (for lack of a better word) about her. Elsa will endlessly chase pebbles thrown into the river. She understands that the pebbles are not alive, that she’ll never catch them, and that it’s just a silly game. Yet she loves it and throws herself into the activity with great relish. Jane, on the other hand, stares at Elsa and me like we’re insane. Her body language says to Elsa, “You’re not seriously chasing rocks are you?” Then, while we’re occupied in the game, she tries to sneak away into the woods to do her coonhound stuff – stuff that she’s intensely driven to pursue on her own.

When I first adopted Jane, I couldn’t understand why she was so different from all other dogs I’ve known. I found I didn’t always know how to motivate her, and that my ideas of fun and hers didn’t always converge. Like a parent who wants or expects his child to be something other than what he naturally is, I tried to make Jane conform to my expectations of what it meant to be a dog. But instead, thankfully, my love for her expanded my rigid definitions. She didn’t have to change to become a member of my pack, my pack principles had to evolve to accommodate her. I love Jane so much. Having Elsa here exhibiting all of her typical dog behavior has somehow made me appreciate Jane even more. If we know how to listen, animals teach us everything we need to know.

Summer in Hell

In Posts on July 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm

This week’s record breaking heat wave has raised misery to new levels. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Jane’s certainly aged from just a year ago. Last summer she never let the heat interfere with having a good time. This year she’s clearly struggling. Her dark fur and absence of an insulating undercoat have pretty much turned her into a wet dish rag.

Today is our fifth straight day of temperatures in the 90s, and I’m beyond uncomfortable. All of my senses seem warped. I feel jetlagged and confused. In a vain effort to keep the house cool, I’ve kept all the blinds closed, and that’s made me feel disconnected, like I’m holed up in a cave. (I hate not being able to see outside.) I feel trapped in some existential nightmare. Pretty dramatic, I know, but that’s how whacked out the extreme heat makes me. (Note to self: never summer in Singapore.) Jane’s right with me, and she hasn’t complained once about lying in front of a fan all day. We’ve got one window unit air conditioner in the bedroom, but after five relentless days of this oppression, our 120-year-old house is as hot as an oven.

So we’ve had to be flexible in our exercise. I’ve trimmed about 30 minutes off each day’s walking, and we’re staying close to home. We’ve been crawling for an hour in the mornings along the river followed by an hour and a half in the evenings when we sometimes ramp it up to a light stroll. Jane’s doing okay as long as she can spend most of her time in the water.

Our evening walks have been mostly off-leash (there’s virtually no one outside) and Jane’s doing really well listening to me, staying with me. Our walks coincide with grazing time for the rabbits and groundhogs – it’s amazing how many of them have adapted to city living – and Jane lives for sniffing them out and chasing them into their holes. (I’m not kidding; it’s the only sport she really cares about anymore.) She’s gotten lots of exercise in these pursuits this week, and I’m so happy that this need of hers is being satisfied, but I’m careful not to let her overdo it. (I’m also careful not to let her catch a groundhog. She’s killed a couple of little ones in her time, but I don’t think she’s a match for some of the 20-pound mammoths I’ve seen.)

This afternoon I was working as usual – in front of the fan with all the blinds closed. When I took a break and peeked outside, I was stunned and excited to see it raining. I got dressed in a flash, and Jane and I took a glorious, full-speed march through the neighborhood and down to Highland Cemetery. It was really heavenly. For the first time in days I could breathe without discomfort. Jane had a little wiggle in her trot. Unfortunately, after 30 minutes the rain stopped, and we found ourselves walking in a sauna. The deer flies came out in full force and swarmed Jane’s front and back ends and tirelessly dive bombed my head. Jane was in full hunting mode, too, and I was afraid she’d have trouble walking the mile or so back home. Fortunately, we came upon a garden hose and I sprayed her down (which she hates, for some strange, unknown dog reason) and we made our way home. Our return trip was as hellish as our outbound was liberating. When we got home, my body was covered in slime. My clothes had to be peeled off like a second skin. Jane and I collapsed on the floor in front of the fan. Within minutes, though, she was recovered, begging for the calories she’d just expended.