Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dream On

Earlier this week it snowed. It started snowing during the night and was still snowing early in the morning when Sandy woke up. This was exciting news from Sandy's point of view. She loves the snow, and it was such an important development that Sandy had to wake me up as soon as she noticed.

snow dog
Snow Dog

The first day she woke me at 6:30am. She showed up at the bedroom door and whined the way Lassie does when Timmy is stuck in the well. Next day it was still dark, but snowing, when I awoke thinking I'd better go see about that well. It was still sometime in the 5's. I didn't get up right away, but I didn't get back to sleep, either.

That night I went to bed thinking how great it would be if it didn't snow and I could sleep until the alarm at 7:20. Although it didn't snow that night, I dreamed that Sandy woke me up. She was in the dream with me. I heard her voice, like a human voice in the dream. She said, "Wake up, Cate! It's snowing! We have to go out RIGHT NOW!"

I woke up, got up, looked outside. No snow. I looked at the bedroom door. No dog. I found her sleeping soundly in her crate, and she was startled awake when I showed up. She sighed and stretched and turned around and settled down again, closed her eyes and went back to sleep. Maybe she dreamed about snow.

Math And Science

In his new book, “How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind”, Stanley Coren spends a part of a chapter discussing The Mathematical Mind of Dogs. Dogs, that count, dogs that can distinguish which thing is larger than the other thing, and canine calculus.

That dogs know math comes as no surprise to me. Certainly Sandy is much better at math than I am. We walk parts of the Mission Creek Greenway three or four times a week. It's a public park, crescent-shaped, and it follows the creek. At irregular intervals there are trash cans where dog owners are expected to deposit our little bags full of dog poop.

Dogs easily find the farthest distance between two trashcans
Dogs easily find the farthest distance between two trashcans.

In this crude sketch, the X’s mark the most frequent spots (!!) for dogs to relieve themselves. How do they know it's the farthest point from the can ahead and the can behind? I don't know. But I see a lot of people carrying these little bags, not just me. Yesterday I heard a man call his dog "Hypotenuse."

Dogs know something about science, too. Our dog, while not a scientist, is a willing participant in scientific experiments. Think of her as a technician.

She waits hopefully by the stove and by the kitchen table, ready to alert The Authorities the moment the laws of gravity are repealed. She'll know because food will cease to fall to the floor where she can pick it up "before the germs get to it."

This has never happened, but she remains optimistic.

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Winter approaches and with it comes snow. It snowed just a little bit last night --- enough to stick but not enough to cover the green stuff completely.

Sandy loves the snow. She couldn't wait for my alarm; she had to get me up at 6:30 this morning (Saturday) to let me know about the snow outside. If you were to ask her about it, I'm sure she'd tell you it took me way too long to get ready to go out.

We headed to the Enterprise off-leash area where there was a little more snow accumulated than in our back yard, and where the pond had a mist hovering about a metre above it. Can dogs see that? Sandy just plunged into the pond, stood there looking stunned for a minute, and then tried to act casual as she headed back for the shore. "I KNEW it was going to be that cold," she said. "No worries."

We played with a stick. We don't really play "Fetch." We play another game, which as far as I can tell is called "It's MY stick now!" Sandy doesn't mind chasing a stick, but bringing it back to me must seem like a pretty bad idea. "You're just going to THROW it again! Where's THAT at?" So I throw the stick, Sandy chases after it, picks it up, shakes it to make sure it is, in fact, dead, and then takes it far away and guards the hell out of it. It's a pretty good game. Sometimes we play it with a Frisbee.

Today she grabbed the stick, ran with it, dropped it in the snow and then rolled on it. She stood up and watched me. I could see her breath. She was beautiful and happy. She tossed the stick up in the air and caught it. She galloped around with it. In the end, she brought it back to me and when I threw it again, she sighed and went after it. It was a great morning.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Road To Recovery

The road to recovery was fairly short this time. I picked Sandy up at the vet, brought her home, and opened the liftgate on the van. Stoned on morphine and general anesthesia, Sandy tumbled out. So now she had a fat lip, but that didn’t deter her from having a pretty good bark and a lunge at the neighbor’s cat.

“Well," said Eric,” she’ll be fine, then."

The vet wrote a prescription for Tylenol + codeine. I gave Sandy half a Tylenol + codeine, and an antibiotic twice a day. Apparently Sandy will take anything if it's coated in peanut butter. She didn't mind taking the pills, but she hated the effects of the codeine. She staggered around for a day and a half until I discontinued those pills. She didn't seem fazed by the pain. When the antibiotics had run their course, I think she missed her twice-daily peanut butter treats.

Sandy had a drain in for about five days. It didn't really bother her until about four days. Once the vet took it out Sandy was a lot more comfortable and was ready for some exercise. Unfortunately, she still has stitches in, and the vet said not to take her to the dog park or let her get the stitches wet. Those don't come out till Tuesday, and in the meantime Sandy is ready to explode.

We've taken several long walks, all of them on leash. At first she stayed close by, which was fine with me. As she started to feel better she wanted to pull. This was a great opportunity to work on “heel.” At least I thought it was. Now, all she wants to know is “When does the running start?”

It might start Tuesday afternoon, after we've left the vet. I might bring her over to Enterprise for little play. I hope I'm up to it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Right Thing

Sandy got torn up by a Rottweiler cross the other day. This was a dog she knew and had been around many times. There were three dogs and two people, and suddenly the Rottie had Sandy on the ground with her paw on Sandy’s chest and her teeth buried in Sandy’s neck.

I pulled the other dog off, took a look at Sandy and phoned the vet to say we were on the way. Sandy had a deep wound in her right shoulder that needed stitches and a drain, puncture wounds under both her front legs, and tooth marks on her left foreleg. The Rottie was not fooling around. She was unhurt; Sandy never put up a fight.

The Rottie’s owner called me to see how Sandy was doing. I gave her the good news: her dog missed all the important stuff like blood vessels and tendons and internal organs. The bad news was the vet bill, and I asked for her help with it. Later she called and said that she didn’t believe that she was responsible for the vet bill, and that her dog would never have started the fight, and she was surprised that I would ask her for money.

What is the right thing?

In my mind, the right thing would have been for her to offer to help, or at least to agree to help when I asked. I believe, as she does, that we are each responsible for our own dogs, but I take that to mean that we are responsible for what our own dogs inflict on other dogs regardless of who looked at who sideways first.

She says no. Her dog has never done that before, and it couldn’t have been her dog’s fault, and it was irresponsible of me to ask for help with the bill. She didn’t say she couldn’t afford it. She said she wasn’t responsible for helping.

This makes me sad and it confuses me because I thought of her as a friend. I like her very much, and it’s hard to accept that we can be so far apart on something as fundamental as what is the right thing.

Sandy and I have a pact. I ask her to curb her natural tendency to brawl with other pushy female dogs, and in return I look out for her and try to put her in situations where she can succeed. Over the past two years we have worked very hard on this. I need her to trust me, and when she does I need to measure up.

The other day in the off-leash area, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to Sandy. She wanted to leave, and I kept talking to the Rottie’s owner. The Rottie came close to Sandy, taking up her space, pushing her over. Sandy knew she wasn’t allowed to fight; she submitted. She walked away. She came to me when I called her, but I still didn’t leave. That’s when the Rottie went for her, and Sandy never fought back.

What is the right thing?

Maybe by insisting on what other dogs see as submissive behavior I left her vulnerable to this attack. I let Sandy down by not leaving when she needed to. I left her in a situation where she was not going to succeed. She knew what is the right thing. She tried to tell me. I didn’t listen.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Dogs Are Not Cats

Last weekend Sandy had to stay in the kennel. She never has a real good time, and I can see why. The lady who runs the kennel is nice to her. She's nice to all the dogs. But it's not great staying in a cage all day, and wondering what happened to your people.

When I came to pick Sandy up on Monday morning, she was ecstatic. She ran to me. She jumped in the air. She barked. She rushed into the car. She rushed out of the car. She jumped in the air. She barked some more.

Dogs are not cats. A cat would've ignored me for three times as long as she had to stay in the kennel. But not my dog. Not any dog. That's what I like about dogs. They love us.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

How Does She Get So Dirty All The Time?

Sandy likes the Enterprise off-leash area. There’s an interesting pond there, and it turns out its so shallow she can run across it to the other side.

Enterprise Off-Leash Area
Enterprise Off-Leash Area

The first time she realized that, she was already ON the other side. I thought she’d head for the hills, but when I called her, she came running around the pond and showed up at the gate to the OLA. She was so proud of herself! It must have been just like a Disneyland ride. “Open the gate! I want to try that again!” And she did, several times. Charging across the pond, waiting until I called her, and then running up to the gate so I could let her back in again.

After a few circuits around the pond, Sandy shakes the dog.  This doesn't mean the dog is dry.
After a few circuits around the pond, Sandy shakes the dog. This doesn't mean the dog is dry.

The pond has bull rushes growing around it so dogs can disappear into the pond. There's plenty of room to run on dry land as well, and bunnies on the other side of the fence in the Shaw cable equipment yard. It's a great place to dig a hole.

There is something good between the top of this hole and the bottom of it.
There is something good between the top of this hole and the bottom of it.

Just past the off-leash area are the dirt trails to the places where homeless guys live, and people let their dogs run free. There are railroad tracks. There's a creek. There're lots of good smells. People come to watch the birds. Apparently, this place is on some sort of list of good places to go to watch the birds. One day Sandy and I were in the off-leash area when I noticed a couple watching us from the other side of the fence.

It turns out they were from out of town, and they thought the area was fenced to keep dogs out. I had to explain to them that here in Kelowna, dogs aren't allowed to go anywhere unless they're fenced in. They were amazed. It made no sense to them. When I thought about it made no sense to me, either.

Today the dog association had a little cleanup of the Enterprise OLA. In less than 30 minutes, half a dozen of us cleaned up the park. We didn't find much dog poop, but we did find lots of other interesting stuff. I thought I had the find the day with the baggie of stems and seeds. But someone else found three unopened beers! I swear to God we're licensing the wrong species.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel

Shortly after Sandy came to live with us, I won a bag of Pets First dog food. I fed that for several months, and then I changed to Nutro. She liked it better, it cost about the same, and I didn’t have to get it 40lbs at a time.

More than two years later, someone from Pets First phoned to say they’d noticed I hadn’t been getting Pets First food, and why was that? I explained that I was feeding Nutro that Sandy liked it and I was going to stick with it.

This guy said, “Well you know Nutro is an American product.”
“Well you know,” I replied, “I’m an American. So I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.”

“Well I just mean that sometimes it’s good to support a local business,” was his comeback.

Here’s the thing. It’s not as if I have the Nutro trucked in just for my dog. I am supporting a local business that buys Nutro from a Canadian distributor and I pay for it in Canadian dollars. If the only positive thing he could say about Pets First is that Nutro is an American product, I really have to wonder how the hell they are marketing Pets First in Washington State. Give your head a shake, man.

Samuel Johnson’s quote comes to mind: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. And appropriately enough, Johnson apparently meant false patriotism, not patriotism in general.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Homeland Security

Sandy is an All-Canadian, and maybe part Belgian Malinois. She stands on guard for us. Sandy has been key in the development of the Milkbone Threat Advisory System. It is a model of All-Canadianism.

The Milkbone Threat Advisory is bi-lingual, and although modeled after the system used by another large North American nation, this system has six levels instead of five.

Milkbone Threat Advisory
There are six Threat Conditions, each identified by a description and a corresponding Milkbone Flavour. From lowest to highest the levels and colours are:

Squirrel = Vegetable
Cat = Cheese
Garbage Man = Milk
Familiar Dog = Bone
Unfamiliar Dog = Liver
FedEx Delivery Guy = Meat

Milkbone Threat Advisory System
Milkbone Threat Advisory System

Menace Consultative Milkbone
Il y a six états de menace, chacun identifié par une description et une saveur correspondante de Milkbone. De le plus bas le plus haut aux niveaux et aux couleurs soyez:

Écureuil = Légume
Chat = Fromage
Homme D'Ordures = Lait
Chien Familier = Os
Chien Peu familier = Foie
Type De la Livraison De FedEx = Viande

What Kind Of Dog Is That?

Before Sandy came to live with us, she had been staying at the Kelowna SPCA. Picked up after a storm. No one claimed her.

The vet figured she was five or six months old. All the paperwork said “Shepherd X” but what kind of shepherd, and what was she crossed with? All ears and ribs. It was hard to tell. Maybe Akita, because of the tail. Maybe boxer because of the way she uses her front paws. Maybe Sandy isn’t a German Shepherd Dog at all, but some kind of Belgian Shepherd.

One day I got an email from a friend who had only seen Sandy’s picture. “She’s a Belgian Malinois!” my friend wrote, and enclosed a link to the AKC page describing Belgian Malinois.

Well, maybe. The head is wrong, but everything else fits. Body type, behavior, general attitude.

But that didn’t solve the problem. “What kind fo dog is that?” people would ask, as if they didn’t quite belive this was a dog at all. Standard list of responses:
· “No idea.”
· “We got her from the SPCA, and no one knows.”
· “Part some kind of shepherd, but the other parts could be anything.”
· “All-Canadian.”

Sandy was kind of odd-looking for awhile. Her ears were enormous. (We called her Sandy for the color of her coat, but we considered calling her Radar for those ears.) She was too thin for a long time, the result of being on the streets. Long legs and big brown eyes. Everything out of proportion to everything else until one day I looked at her and realized everything had caught up with everything else, and she was … beautiful. You will find pictures of Sandy here.

People still ask, “What kind of dog is that?” but now they mean “Where can I get one?”

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Keeping Track

Hey, here's a useful program for your handheld.

FreewarePalm: PetPal v1.0

Where The Trails Used To Be

Kettle Valley Trails
Sandy and I used to walk the trails behind the Kettle Valley housing development in Kelowna. They were excellent trails. Five minutes by car from here, and 500 feet or so higher than we are. In winter, it would snow there before and it snowed in our yard. That was good for Sandy; she loves the snow. In the summer, the trails were hot and dry, but the creek ran through a gully, and Sandy could almost always talk me into a side trip to the creek.

Dogs ran off-leash on the Kettle Valley trails, and Sandy loved it. Most of the time I would walk between 3 and 5 miles. Sandy easily tripled (at least) that distance, running ahead, running off to the side, running straight up a ridge, running around behind me, and then bursting out on the trail 10 yards ahead of me, tongue hanging out, pacing impatiently while I caught up.

We had an understanding. She could charge ahead (or behind, or parallel) but every so often she had to check in. I could always find her waiting for me around a bend or at the top of a rise. Once she knew I had seen her, she would take off again. The other part of the understanding was that she had to come when I called her, and, I agreed not to call her unless there was a good reason. As long as she checked in, there was hardly ever a reason. It all worked very well. I would get some exercise, she would get even more exercise, and she got to track things and find things and bark at things. Once we got home she would sleep for three or four hours.

Sandy watching a squirrel on the Kettle Valley Trails
Sandy watching a squirrel on the Kettle Valley Trails

The biggest golden retriever I ever saw
One morning we headed down a new (to us) branch of a trail that wound through the trees and eventually led to a small clearing. I don’t know why the clearing was there; it didn’t seem natural. Maybe it was made in anticipation of future development. I often saw the stakes that meant property had been surveyed.

Sandy burst into the clearing and came to a dead stop, ears up, tail up, everything focused on … what was that brown flash? At first, it looked like the biggest golden retriever I ever saw, moving at a high rate of speed. Then, I thought, “Man, that dog has a really unusual looking tail!” And then Sandy took off after it. It was a white-tailed deer, and it could really run. So could Sandy. I could hear her barking, and it was getting farther and farther away.

Well, I had to wait until I thought she’d come when I called. I waited, and then I called her. Another dog trotted up, followed by his man.

“You’re looking for that brown dog?” he asked? “She’s chasing the deer…over there.” (Sweeping gesture with his right arm.) “She’s really moving.”

“Ok, thanks,” I said.

“You know that’s a $500 ticket, right?

I called her again.

She trotted up to me, looking pleased with herself. “They have to catch me first,” I know she was thinking.

The bone
Sandy found a bone one day, right in the middle of the trail. It looked like a leg bone from something about the size of Sandy, maybe a coyote. It still had a little…gunk…hanging off it. She picked it up, glanced over her shoulder at me, and once she realized I wasn’t going to take it from her, off she went down the trial.

Sandy is not a retriever. You rarely see her carrying a stick or a ball, or a bone, or anything at all just for the sake of carrying something. If she can’t convince someone else to do it, she might carry something she wants from here to there. But only if she wants it there.

She carried this bone about 50 yards, then veered off the trail and dug a hole at the base of a tree. Into the hole went the bone. Again, this was unusual. Sandy doesn’t usually bury things. If she digs at all it’s because she thinks there’s something down there like a mouse or a mole. She came back, met me, and walked with me down the trail. When we got just past her hiding place, she went back, dug up the bone, and repeated the whole process farther down the trail. She did this half a dozen times. On the way back, she buried the bone in the first hole again before we left.

We came back a few days later, and Sandy went through the whole thing again. A few days after that, the bone was lying in the middle of the trail again. Sandy walked up to it, sniffed it, and showed no further interest in it at all.

What was all that about?

The fire
The summer of 2003 was hot and dry. One Friday night in August, two lightning strikes hit the wooded areas on the edge of the city, and within a couple of weeks 30,000 people and their pets and livestock were evacuated.

When we were allowed back home we found a sprinkler on our roof, 2 inches of ash on the deck, and we discovered that the fire came within 400 metres of here. The Kettle Valley trails were consumed by the fire, along with several homes in and near the subdivision. The devastation was complete. The whole area was closed, logged, and now the area is consumed by the construction of new homes.

Sandy doesn’t understand why we don’t go to those trails anymore. She loved running free up there. Other burned out areas are starting to come back to life. There are no trees, but there are beautiful flowers in new meadows. With the end of the KV trails came new construction. We walk up there now on weekends when there is not so much heavy machinery. Now there are roads, stop signs, mailboxes. Soon there will be “No Dogs Allowed” signs in the “pocket parks”. I wonder if Sandy even knows we are walking where the trails used to be.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

My Dog Sandy

Hello and welcome.

This is my dog Sandy. She came to live with us after being in the Kelowna SPCA, where she had been locked up for being a stray. We think she was born around October 1, 1999.

My Dog Sandy

Sandy is the best dog that ever there was, even though she's not always the best behaved. You can find more pictures of Sandy here.