Monday, July 16, 2018

Froby: The Great Dane Who Thought He Was A Deer

Froby: the Great Dane Who Thought He Was A Deer:
Part 1. How It All Began

“I confess I’ve been totally smitten
By a canine vast, not by a kitten.
He was found at the pound
But he’s bound to come round
To our house, when the papers are written.”

I penned this little ditty on July 19, 2011. We had just found the successor to Enkidu, our sensational Portuguese water dog, and were waiting for the animal shelter to deem us worthy of adopting one of their own. It had taken us quite a while to find a dog not thin enough to get between the uprights of our fence, not agile enough to jump over it, and not clever enough to dig his way to freedom under it. I was looking at the animal shelter's website when my eye was caught by a family of Great Danes: a female and her three, seven-month-old puppies. We hied ourselves to the shelter and asked to see the male.

Kobe was named after Kobe Bryant, the basketball player of Extreme Height and Even More Extreme Notoriety for Sexual Misconduct. “I’m not naming our dog after a rapist,” protested Eldest Son Iain, and who was I to argue? We changed his name to Froby after the notorious Sir Martin Frobisher, the man who single-handedly put the “fool” into “fool’s gold”  (But that’s a story for another day.) Kobe was duly brought out on a leash and handed to Robin.  What a sorry sight!  He looked for all the world like an English-style toast rack covered with a harsh, staring coat of black, gray and a rather grubby white. He could have been an illustration from a textbook: ”The Skeletal Structure of a Dog”, for every bone in his body was painfully visible. Great Danes are inveterate leaners, and true to form, Frobe leaned heavily against Robin, while fixing us both with his expressive, golden eyes. "Take me," he implored. “I'll do anything you want if you’ll just take me out of this ghastly dump. All I need is a little TLC, honest! You’ll see, I’ll love you forever, I promise!"

The staff looked us over critically. I was entering the 10th year of my adventure with Parkinson's, and my mobility was sorely compromised.  They were obviously wondering how I would cope. I thought about long walks, even runs, such a colossal dog would surely require and wondered too. Was I taking on too much— more than I could handle? Was it fair on the dog? What about my husband—was it fair on him? On the cats? My ruminations were cut short when the staff raised the subject of Wobblers Syndrome. They were pretty sure that our chosen one was developing this malformation of the spine that would lead to partial, then total paralysis of his back legs; that we were probably facing a short life for him, and not a very healthy one at that. They were not at all sanguine about the prospects of finding a better qualified, willing adopter, however, and so it was agreed. Kobe, now Frobe, would come to live with us, and we would all muddle through as best we could.

Froby was willing, even eager, to get into the car. So far, so good; maybe there was less to taming semi-wild dogs than I’d feared.  Call me Dog Whisperer . . . Home again, I leaned  down almost imperceptibly to reach the leash looped around his neck, with a view to affixing it to his animal shelter-issue collar, I was blown away by the sudden eruption of raw canine power that pulsed through his meager frame.  Talk about strong—the leash was ripped from my hands, and our brand new family member disappeared into the tangled, overgrown corner of the yard that none of us had yet ventured into.

We went to bed that night with three questions uppermost in our minds: 1) Is the yard Great Dane-proof; 2) Assuming it is and we still have a dog, How in the world will we begin to make his acquaintance, and 3) What will the good folk at the shelter say when we confess that we lost him already, less than one hour after they gave him into our care?

With these concerns buzzing in my brain, sleep was, to put it mildly, fractured. I had an inkling that I’d need to be well rested come the morrow, so I practiced relaxing exercises and waited, with some apprehension, to discover what the morning would reveal.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Whatever's the Matter with Percy?

Percy has been going through a rather difficult phase lately – staying out all night, snarling at her best pal Froby, refusing to come when called . .  . I'm not sure whether it's teenage angst or a midlife crisis. Yes, I am aware that it's generally an easy question to discern– age of onset gives the clue - but that's for humans, not dogs. What does middle age look like in dog years? In Great Dane years? In Great Dane with Wobbler’s Syndrome years? There is an unfortunate correlation between the size of a dog and its expected longevity: the smaller the dog, the longer it lives. Thus the demise of our faithful, 130-lb Newfie, Phoenix, from lymph node cancer at the tender age of 8; of our glorious, medium-size Portuguese water dog, Enkidu, of an enlarged heart at only 12. Meanwhile the tiniest Yorkies and Chihuahuas yap their way through as many as twenty-plus years. But I digress. Back to Percy . . .

 It all started with the kitchen door. Now, bear in mind she had used this door multiple times a day for as long as she’s been with us, about six years. Considering the number of times she asks to go out every day purely in order to bark a request for re-entry, I estimate her “kitchen door events” at approx. eleven thousand and fifty-seven . Despite this, I say, she simply refused the kitchen door, going instead to the dining room’s French doors where she sat on a  small rug conveniently placed, and waited  expectantly for me to open it.
Many years of living with Froby’s sporadic, prolific and entirely unpredictable incontinence meant that I took her urgent request to go outside seriously.  l hurtled over - “hurtling” being for me a relative term these days, implying not so much speed of movement as "with a mounting fear of the ghastly repercussions should I not get there  in time".  I decided to engage in warfare with her: she would return to using the kitchen door!

 All the dog training experts tell you never to begin a battle unless you know you can win it; I chose to ignore them all, and next morning, unleashed my opening salvo.
“Other door”, I commanded when she went to the dining room door. “Go to the Other Door.” Percy smiled at me, wagged her tail, and budged not an inch. I tried again, my words a little slower and louder (rather in the manner of a tourist in foreign lands convinced that the natives will understand proper English if only it is spoken loudly and slowly enough: “OTHER DOOR!!” Her smile morphed into a grin, Robin proffered his help, to no avail. My fundamental error of logic struck me full force: true, I had her breakfast held hostage, but she had a weapon infinitely more  menacing – after a full nine hours in the house, her bladder was FULL (and who knows what else besides?)

As they say at Wimbledon, Game, Set and Match!  Hastily I told her, “You can go out of any door you like, just as long as you Go Outside NOW! “
And. She. Went!
She has returned to her old, sweet, goofy self. True, she still insists on only using the dining-room door, but I have perceived a method to her madness:  the red tiles of the dining room are smaller and less smooth than the pale ones in the kitchen.
And thus less slippery!

So what appeared to me to be nothing more than arbitrary caprice on her part turns out to be nothing less than the far more laudable Instinct for Self Preservation: she knows that, with her Wobbler’s Syndrome worsening, walking into the kitchen has become a Very Bad Idea indeed. Her legs slide out from under her and her poor, bony elbows, ribs and knees hit the hard tile floor with a bang that makes my teeth curl.

Forgive me, Percy, for doubting the moral integrity of your actions.
Wow, but it’s hard to second-guess the mind of a Dane!

Monday, January 1, 2018

THOMAS: the Perfect Fire, Part 2.

I cannot recommend trying to sleep in a car, even next to such an enchantingly picturesque beach as Carpinteria. This is especially true if you have a cat yowling at full volume in the back seat. I wondered dimly if a towel draped over the carrier would shut him up, as it does a parrot, but was far too cold and stiff to go to all the trouble of finding out.

Our first day as refugees from the fire: actually, I suppose "evacuees" is more accurate than “refugees", which I think implies something political. Nuances of vocabulary aside, once a brief glance at the fire map had dispelled all hope of returning home in the foreseeable future, we needed two things in fairly short order: breakfast, and a bathroom.  (How I felt for families wjth babies or small children to care for!) The first café we tried could not serve us breakfast because power outages had played havoc with their computers, which were down for who knew how long. I briefly considered volunteering to scramble any number of eggs with no help from a computer whatsoever, but thought better of it. Which is quite possibly why I’m still alive today.

We were relieved to find a Motel 6 with a vacancy, and planned to spend the next night there. But ever-vigilant fire watcher Lorna had other ideas: parts of US 101 had been closed, or were in danger of being closed; Thomas was roaring north and would soon be threatening Carpinteria. She strongly advised that we move up the coast to Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, and adjacent to the airport.

Ah yes, the airport. For, in an act of cosmic serendipity, we were booked to fly up to Seattle from Santa Barbara that very Thursday, returning on Monday.  It seemed downright cavalier to leave our pet sitter in charge of a house that might burst into flames any moment, but she insisted she was up to the challenge. Knowing how much the dogs loved and trusted her, also that there was still absolutely nothing either Robin or I could do apart from look anguished and wring our hands - and I’m none too sure how to do even that. (Note To Self: watch more Victorian melodramas), we reasoned that, once evacuated, we might as well be in Seattle as in a motel.

Meanwhile, we looked into having the Humane Society go and rescue the dogs, as they were picking up large animals (horses, zebras, giraffes etc.) in the evacuation zone: they refused, unimpressed by my argument that both Great Danes were easily the size of a small horse. I'll swear I shrank a good three inches under the withering glare of the H.S. rep when I admitted that yes, we no longer owned a vehicle big enough to transport both dogs.

My special relationship with my clothes was getting pretty intense by now, and we were both longing for a shower; thus we disobeyed Lorna's explicit orders and drove home. That was probably the most extraordinary drive of my life. The air, as we crossed the Ventura County line, became putrid with smoke. Where it was thinner we saw evidence of the firefighters’ extraordinary work: over and over again, fire blackened hillsides reached right down to houses that stood unharmed at their base. But tragically, some still smoking piles of rubble amid charred trees marked the spot where a family’s life-as-they-knew-it was terminated, an enforced fresh start imposed

Hopes of a shower were thwarted yet again: Lorna told us that all four exit roads had been closed an hour or two previously, sealing off the flaming Ojai Valley from the outside world. One exit was now open, and we should take it while we could. Pausing only to grab a few clothes for our Seattle trip, and to reassure the dogs of our fundamental, all-appearances-to-the-contrary-notwithstanding dependability,
we bade our home au revoir, hoping it would not prove to be adieu.

I can prevaricate no longer: I must tell you about Tuesday and Wednesday nights. But first, a slightly more intensive geography lesson: the Ojai Valley sits roughly 750 feet above sea level and is approximately 3 miles wide and 10 miles long. To the north are mountains ranging from four or five thousand feet to the imposing Topa Topas, visible to the north-east from our dining room window, at close to 7 thousand. Mountains to the south, which our kitchen looks out on, are not to be sneezed at, checking in at around 3 thousand.

Only one road, the 150, traverses the valley, providing the sole exit to the east; to the west it is briefly joined by the 33, which offers a straight run to Ventura in one direction, a “gee, it sure looked shorter on the map” mass of sudden inclines and hairpin bends leading – eventually – to Maricopa in the other. Firefighters were making a desperate effort to redirect the fire to bypass Ojai to the south. That is to say, within a few hundred yards of our house. This critical time was to occur on Tuesday night; danger was directly proportional to wind speed.

Tuesday evening's weather forecast was far from reassuring; in fact, it was downright terrifying. The Chief Weather Guru waved his arms at a map featuring a massive, immobile high pressure area centered on us which, he stated bluntly, meant inevitable winds of at least thirty mph blowing the fire from the mountaintops, down the valley, straight at our little town. Losing our home looked like a certainty. “It’s only stuff” was the mantra I had heard repeated. True, true, but we are at heart a sacramental people, imbuing our “stuff” with all the power of the memories that it invokes.

We went to bed dreading what the morrow would bring – and yet when we awoke, the weatherman had been dumbfounded, the “inevitable” winds had failed to materialize. Ojai was saved! The fire chief himself called it “miraculous”.

To cut a very long story short, we had an almost exact replay on Wednesday, with the exception that the fire, driven by winds of 3-4 mph (not 30-40, thank you CWG) and strongly encouraged by legions of fire fighters, skirted Ojai to the north, threatening our good friends’ homes, but ultimately leaving most of Ojai standing.

Postlude:  January 1, 2018
And there the story of the fire – or at least, our involvement with it - comes to an end. Still no rain, but the winds finally show signs of abating, giving firefighters a chance to contain the active edges of the fire. But back in early December, Thomas was till 100% unchecked. We flew out of Santa Barbara the next day, Thursday, on a packed plane, returning on a half empty one four days later (funny thing – nobody wanted to be in Santa Barbara anymore). Our car was covered in ash, which blew off as we drove. Breathing masks were essential, both indoors and out; the air in town looked like diluted porridge, and was chokingly hard to breathe (shades of Beijing). Everywhere we went, we were acutely reminded of our good fortune: so many people were homeless, or had lost their livelihood – a car mechanic’s garage with all his tools, a potter’s barn, burned to the ground; a craft shop aimed at the tourists who ordinarily flock to Ojai, closed for lack of customers. Restaurants with a freezer full of spoiled food and no patrons. It has been inspiring - and truly humbling – to see how the community has rallied to help those affected by the fire.

Incidentally, the entire firefighting system was incredibly impressive – they fought with brains, not just water and fire retardant. Foreseeing a problem, they moved to extinguish it like a panther closing in on its prey. Would that our government acted with such grace and economy of movement! The police too were phenomenal, maintaining order and preventing looting.

It could have been so much worse, but Thomas still stands unchallenged as the biggest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California.