Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Clinger

To anyone who’s seen the movie Wedding Crashers, the phrase “Stage 5 Clinger” may evoke images of a redhead with an irritating laugh who desperately throws herself at single men.  But I’m here to argue that as far as human-canine relationships go, a clingy dog is not such a bad thing.

Lately, it’s as if Izzy senses that her time as our “only child” is coming to an end.  And she’s right—only three months to go until Baby G arrives!  If dogs can sense that a storm is coming or that danger is nearby, surely they should be able to pick up on changes in the mother somewhere along the 9-month journey of pregnancy, whether it’s her growing belly or the scent of increased hormones (I have no idea if hormones have a scent, but if they do, dogs would be able to smell them, right?).  At any rate, I believe Izzy has picked up on something because she’s turned into a Stage 5 Clinger.

Loyalty is a trademark characteristic of all dogs, but greyhounds are known for getting fiercely attached to their human companions.  Izzy has always been a typical grey in this way—sticking close to our sides at the dog park and often following us from room to room as we go about our daily business at home.  But lately, Izzy spends most of our nights together imitating Velcro—the really sticky kind.  The fact that she doesn’t wear a collar around the house increases the eeriness of this behavior; she turns into Shadow Dog who silently appears by our side as we chop an onion in the kitchen, fold laundry in the bedroom, eat dinner at the table.  To reference another movie here, she reminds me of the creepy butler in Mr. Deeds who simply appears in each scene and says things like, “I am very, very sneaky,” in a thick Transylvanian accent.  Except that when Izzy does it, it’s adorable.  Whether her ears are sweetly tucked back in submission or perked up in curiosity, it’s always clear that she just can’t get enough of her people.
 
In a few short months, all of our lives, including Izzy’s, will change in an irreversible way.  There’s no doubt in my mind that our canine companion has figured this out and is trying to make the most of our days together—the “way things were.”  Thankfully, this hasn’t translated into annoying antics that drive us crazy.  For Izzy, it has simply meant quietly demonstrating her unconditional love for us on a daily basis.  I’m sure I can’t fathom the kind of love we’re about to have for our baby, but I’m also sure that this love won’t always be reciprocated (especially if he/she is anything like me during my teenage years!).  In those moments, I’m sure it will be nice to have a Stage 5 Clinger around, validating the worth of our existence... even if it is in the form of a dog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Anniversary

What better day to end my months-long blogging drought (thank you, pregnancy fatigue) than today, the day after Thanksgiving and the one year anniversary of when Izzy came into our lives?  As this time of year encourages us to count our blessings, I’d like to commemorate the one-year mark of owning our amazing greyhound companion by painting a picture of what our lives would be like without her:

1)   I’d sleep through the night with only Scott’s snoring to wake me up periodically, instead of the addition of sleep barking and even the occasional sleep howling to startle me awake with a smile.

2)  Walks would be a lot less frequent and a lot more boring.  I’d never take new routes and never stop to think about what’s so darned interesting about that sign post or that particular patch of grass.

3)  We’d be snuggle-deprived.  Sure, human companionship is great, but there’s something extra soothing about a warm animal curled up beside you, their unconditional love and admiration oozing out across your lap, as you read on the couch each night.

4)  I’d work a lot more hours.  If getting home to let out your pet who’s been in a crate all day isn’t enough motivation to leave work on time, experiencing their ever-predictable excitement over your homecoming is.  Who doesn’t enjoy being greeted by kisses, intense tail-wagging, and a victory lap around the apartment every single day? 

5)  Last, and perhaps most importantly, I don’t know if I would ever want to be a mother.  I realize that dog ownership can’t compare to human parenthood, but it’s sure been a good warm-up for us.  We’ve had to take on responsibility for something other than ourselves, sacrifice sleep on weekend mornings, and clean up poop and pee like experts.  But more than anything, having Izzy around brought to the surface some mothering instincts I didn’t know I had.  As lame as it may sound, she was one of the reasons I wanted to finally start a family.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the gist:  Over the past year, Izzy has brought more joy, laughter, and warmth into our lives than we thought possible.  To some people, a dog is a dog is a dog, and reading this may cause them to roll their eyes and think, “Good grief.  What’s the big deal?”  But I’m sure others can relate to how a pet can become not just a companion, but a member of the family.  In fact, we joke that Izzy is our first child, but there’s some truth to it.  The little charmer has captured our hearts in a very unexpected way, a way often described by parents.  If an animal can do that, what the heck is a human child gonna do?
 
Today, my heart is full as I think about the many blessings from this past year—Izzy definitely included—and the many that are coming soon.  Today, I am so very thankful.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Close Encounters

I’m not the type to believe in Big Foot or ghosts.  Even though I’ve been to the Loch Ness in Scotland, and it’s pretty tempting to believe those black waves are flippers of some mysterious underwater creature, I’m sure Nessie is just a myth.  However, some recent encounters with the night life in our apartment complex have caused me to question whether I should so flippantly dismiss the unexplained.

Because the incessant heat of the 2011 Texas Summer has forced us to take Izzy out only after the sun goes down, we first encountered It a couple of weeks ago on one of her late-night potty breaks.  As we rounded a bend, something stirred in a shadowy grove of oak trees.  At first, I was sure it was a squirrel—there are at least 13 for every resident in our complex.  But then it shifted, and I saw that it was much larger and a little silvery in the moonlight.  An armadillo, perhaps?  Or a possum?  We’d seen plenty of those around.  But then it started running away from us, and I swear to you, it morphed.  As it sprinted up the hill and into the distance, it looked like it was running on its hind legs.  What first looked like a squirrel had turned into an armadillo and then a hairy roadrunner with a bushy tale.  And that’s when all hell broke loose.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, but Izzy’s reaction was a bit more intense.  She began lunging forward, a grizzly bear in the body of a slender 65-pound greyhound, as she let out bursts of deep, guttural howls that can only be described as primal.  That’s saying a lot for a dog who we’ve only heard bark about 10 times since we adopted her last year.  Now, Izzy can stalk squirrels with the stealth and focus of a lion hunting its prey.  But this thing unleashed something entirely different.  Something desperate and intensely predatorial.  As I used every muscle in my body to keep her from breaking loose and chasing after Swamp Thing, it occurred to me that if I had any more than one greyhound at that moment, I would be getting dragged and dismembered through that darkened grass. 

Later, as I tried to explain the incident to Scott, he listened with the blank smile of someone who doesn’t really believe what he’s hearing.  Mystery creature?  Morphing?  I don’t blame him for thinking the moonlight had gone to my head.  But then he came face to face with The Thing the following night. 

“Okay, I believe you,” he said, the same wide eyes and look of shock I’d been wearing the previous evening.  “I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely something.”

After that, I started asking Izzy if she was ready to go see her friend, The Chupacabra.  It was a half-joke; I was starting to think even that was a possibility.  Whatever it was, it waited for us each night in that same darkened oak grove, ready to taunt and play dare with our hunting machine.  And so a routine was formed.  Izzy got her adrenaline rush for the evening, and I got my nightly leash burns.  Believe me, I tried taking different routes, but no matter what, we always stumbled across some other nocturnal being mozying through the grass.

At some point, I realized that it would be easy for me to find out what exactly this creature is.  All I’d have to do is go out there with a flashlight, sans Izzy, and flip it on at just the right moment.  After vacillating for weeks (I guess there was something appealing in the mystery of it all), I ventured out to the moonlit yard at the usual meeting time to solve the puzzle, once and for all.

Right on time and so predictable.  The mystery creature was rooting around in the same shady oak grove.  This was it!  Three, two, one…

Skunk.  It’s a freakin’ skunk.  At least I’m pretty sure that’s the same creature that was driving Izzy crazy and stumping Scott and me.  The black body with streaks of white explains my difficulty in pinpointing its color.  And the bushy tail, which it raised threateningly in the flashlight’s beam, could be why it appeared to morph as it ran away that first night.  All I can say is it’s a good thing we never had a closer encounter with the thing.  I don't know about you, but neither giving nor receiving a tomato juice bath has ever been on my bucket list.   

So, a plain ole’ skunk.  At least, I’m about 90% sure that’s what the mystery creature is.  It’s either that... or a Chupacabra.   

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obedience

When I researched which dog breed might be right for Scott and me, I remember reading a lot of positive things about greyhounds.  They typically have sweet, gentle temperaments.  Check.  They’re loyal and can become fiercely attached to their people.  Check.  They’re quiet and clean.  Check.  But obedient?  Now that I think of it, I don’t remember reading anywhere that they tend to be obedient.  We’ve had Izzy for close to a year, and now I know why I’ve never seen the words “obedient” and “greyhound” in the same paragraph.  She is quite the opposite.

At first, she did pretty well with her mini-training sessions, as if she were trying to let us know that we made the right decision by adopting her.  She already knew “sit,” she picked up “down” and “come” with ease, and we even taught her to “play dead.”  Over time, however, let’s just say she’s developed selective hearing.  Now, when we tell her to “come,” there’s a 50-50 chance she’ll remain draped across her couch wearing a defiant grin that says, “I’m really comfortable, and judging by the tone of your voice, I’m not too sure that you really need me to come right now.”  In fact, I’ve recently read somewhere that with greyhounds, it’s all about your tone.  If you don’t mean it, they can tell and will act accordingly.  Check.

To backtrack a little here…  Izzy isn’t a bad dog by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, she’s probably the calmest dog I’ve ever been around.  But her selective hearing combined with a few other bad habits (her lack of self-control on walks, her whining, etc.) has led us to one conclusion: it’s time for obedience lessons.  After all, I’m pregnant (surprise to those of you who didn’t know!), and the last thing I want to deal with when the baby comes is a surly dog sulking in the background.  So after asking around, we settled on a training program, Taming the Wild Side in Aledo, Texas.

I have to admit, I went into it the first lesson believing Izzy would be the star pupil.  The room was full of mostly puppies or adolescents with their gawky bodies and too-long legs.  Piece of cake, I thought.  Izzy’s gonna show these youngsters how it’s done.

Boy was I wrong.  Star pupil?  She was the last one to master each exercise, if she mastered it at all.  Mostly, she just stood around, watching the other dogs and panting.  We walked away with a long list of homework assignments for the week, discouraged by Izzy’s apparent ADD and lack of progress.  Fast forward one week to Lesson #2...  I’m happy to say that she did better, earning compliments from the instructor and a few other owners.  But let’s remember that she was starting at rock bottom; after last week’s performance, she had nowhere to go but up.

I’m sure there are a lot of things that we as dog owners do wrong to contribute to Izzy’s stubbornness.  Cesar Milan would probably say we’re not asserting ourselves as the pack leaders; he’d come in and do a little magic wave with his magic hands and utter a single word, and BOOM!, she’d be transformed into a calm, submissive state… forever.  Or Victoria Stillwell would arrive on our doorstep with her 50 different types of treats, spend an afternoon cooing and feeding Izzy warm chicken bits, and she’d leave us with a different dog.  Still, I think there’s something to be said for breed and personality.  I have a feeling that what we’re mostly dealing with here is your good old-fashioned case of stubbornness. 

After two obedience lessons, I’ve come to the conclusion that Izzy will never win the title of National Obedience Champion, and I don’t know that she’d make a great therapy dog like I once thought.  But hopefully, with a little more patience and work, we’ll crack that stubborn streak, just a little bit, making her that much more of an amazing companion.          

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trance Dog

We thought she just liked to sniff the bushes.  A lot.  As a reward for an especially obedient walk, we would lead her over to the giant fountain grass in our apartment complex where she would bury herself in the greenery and smells.  Or so we thought.  It turns out, Izzy could care less about the smells.  She just likes to trance.

Ya, you heard me correctly.  She’s a trancer.  We only heard of this odd behavior recently when we dropped Izzy off with the Sylvia Krause, aka the Greyhound Lady.  On Sylvia’s front porch, Izzy had found a ficus tree, which she proceeded to circle in slow motion. 

“Oh, she’s a trancer,” Sylvia said matter-of-factly. 

A what? 

“One of mine does that.  The big guy over there loves to trance,” she said, pointing to one of her greys.  “No one really knows why they do it, but it’s a common behavior among greyhounds.”

As I paid closer attention, Izzy did appear to be pretty mesmerized by the low branches of the tree lightly brushing against her back.  She walked slowly, gingerly, letting the leaves of each branch linger on her skin.  And her eyes?  Completely glazed.  Our girl had entered a different world.

It turns out that trancing is not unique to greyhounds.  Got a bull terrier or a basset hound?  You may catch your beloved dog trancing, too—those are a couple of other susceptible breeds.  Some owners misinterpret the behavior as seizing, but it’s really harmless.  While there’s not a lot of info out there about trancing, it seems that there’s not much to the behavior.  Some dogs simply love the feel of something on their backs.  Weird, I know.  Even weirder to witness, I promise you.

Lately, as the heat of the summer has kept us hibernating indoors, trancing under our fake tropical plant seems to be Izzy’s favorite pastime, a post-dinner ritual.  I finally caught it on video for your enjoyment:
video

And just in case you want more proof of this odd canine behavior, I tracked down a You Tube video of another grey in full trance mode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puklj3TXvOU.

No matter how many times I’ve seen her do it, watching Izzy trance makes me laugh.  A silent laugh, of course—I don’t want to break her from her trance.  Wouldn’t that be dangerous, like waking a sleepwalker?  Really, what I’d like to do is hand her a pair of glow sticks and throw her a little light-switch rave.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Endless Summer

So I think anyone living in Texas right now would agree that we are smack dab in the middle of some serious Dog Days (which is a phrase, by the way, that I’ve never understood—I think dogs are pretty awesome, unlike this god-awful weather).  If you don’t live in Texas, well, it’s freakin’ hot here.  This weekend, we’ll break the record for the most 100+ degree days in a row (42!), and I’m counting on us breaking the record for total 100+ degree days in a summer (69!).   When you pair that with the “exceptional” drought we’ve been experiencing, you begin to understand why people believe in hell.

You see, when it’s this hot outside, life becomes more difficult.  Tap water doesn’t come out any colder than about 83 degrees.  You may need to give up running for the summer because, even at 6:00 a.m., it’s in the mid- to high 80’s with impossible humidity.  You feel nauseas after that five-minute walk from the office to your car in the evening.  And you find yourself hibernating—in mid-summer—in the air conditioning (which may or may not be working at the moment thanks to all those rolling brown-outs) because the last thing you want to do is spend any extra millisecond out in this weather.

Okay, okay, I’m done ranting.  To tie it into the subject of this blog…  This heat is also impossible for dogs.  Izzy is used to two short walks each day, one in the morning, the other in the evening.  We’ve been able to keep her morning walk, but as the endless summer has grown hotter, we’ve had to nix the evening one altogether since greyhounds are especially susceptible to heatstroke.  The result?  An incessant boredom that has grown more monstrous with each Texas summer day. 

This boredom manifests itself in frequent whining and pacing the apartment when we’re home in the evening.  It’s at its worst when she’s been staring at the squirrels outside, as if she’s telling us, “I used to be able to get so close to them.”  When we do take her out for a potty break, she zones in on those squirrels with an obsession more intense than we’ve ever seen.  There’s an actual change in her eyes as she transforms into Honing Missile Izzy.  But who can blame her?  She’s in her crate during the day; if I were her, I’d be looking to get my kicks in, too.  You would think she would be more interested in toys, but I think she’s just too darned hot.  She spends most evenings, in between the pacing and whining, panting away on her favorite couch, which happens to be in the warmest room of the apartment.

It’s hard to believe how big of a difference the lack of evening walks has made in Izzy’s life and ours.  And I have a feeling we're not the only dog owners in this boat.  If there weren’t already enough reasons to long for that crisp autumn air, for us, being able to exercise our bored dogs is certainly one more.  But for now, all we can do is continue to endure this endless summer and the endless canine boredom that comes with it.                        

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Grey-Land

Recently, Izzy got back from her first “greyhound vacation,” all panting and smiles.  We had been out of the country for two and a half weeks, and before we left, we had spent months pondering what we would do with our girl while we were away.  Boarding for such a long stint seemed like animal cruelty, we didn’t want to impose on family, and we couldn’t seem to find an available pet sitter.  Then, on two separate occasions, Scott and I were randomly told about a woman in Aledo who operates essentially a greyhound paradise.  With only the woman’s name to go by, we looked her up the old-fashioned way—using a phone book—and lucked out. 

My first phone conversation with Sylvia Krause left me with a one-word impression: intense.  She owned many greyhounds herself, and she launched into a full-blown interrogation of me to see how Izzy would get along with them.  She asked about age, energy level, and whether or not she was an “alpha female.”  Apparently, my answers weren’t satisfactory enough; Sylvia wanted Izzy to visit before she would agree to take her for a few weeks.  Might I remind you here that we would be paying her for her services.

Still, we obliged with the in-person interview, and within moments of entering Sylvia’s home, I realized that my first impression of “intense” didn’t quite capture it.  Clearly, this woman was the greyhound world’s version of a cat lady.  First, there was the Greyhound Room: a large room with a grand piano, fireplace, and five dog beds, atop which sat five panting greyhounds.  In the breakfast nook, there was the Memorial Wall, an entire wall covered with pictures of deceased greyhounds the woman had owned.  I kid you not—there were at least 30.  Greyhound paraphernalia peppered the rest of the house in the form of statues, figurines, paintings, and pictures.  But the best part was the dog park-size back yard.  Or maybe it was the fact that there was not a crate or kennel in sight.  If Izzy passed the interview, she would have the run of a huge house dedicated to greyhounds for two and a half weeks.  She would have a ball.    

Fortunately, Izzy’s charms worked, and we were able to book a stay at Grey-Land.  Never have we felt better about leaving our sweet girl.  While we were away, Sylvia sent several status reports in the form of emails, which told us about Izzy’s stubborn but sweet personality, her affinity for stealing the others’ food, and her successful attempts to sneak into Sylvia’s bed at night.  Yep, that was our dog.  She also sent pictures, and in each, Izzy was smiling the way only a dog in doggy paradise can.  We began to worry that after two and a half weeks, Izzy either wouldn’t remember us or would refuse to get in the car to go home.

So when the time came, I braced myself to have to re-introduce myself to a dog who had lived with us for over six months.  Fortunately, my worry was met with a helicopter tail and several desperate attempts to jump into my arms.  Izzy remembered us and was happy to see us.  Still, her happy and relaxed demeanor told me everything I needed to know.  For the past two and a half weeks, she had indeed been in greyhound heaven.  To top it off, Sylvia had prepared a memento of Izzy’s first stay: a collage of Izzy pictures during her first “greyhound vacation” (see image on the right).  It’s now hanging on our fridge.
 
As intense as Sylvia may be, we couldn’t be more happy that we’ve found such a wonderful caregiver.  If you’re a greyhound owner in the DFW area and are looking for someone to look after your dog while you’re away, we definitely recommend Sylvia Krause in Aledo, Texas.  Cross your fingers, though, that you’ll pass the interview.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Life in the Moment

The other day, I cracked open a bottle of French wine that had been perched in our wine rack for two years.  We had bought it near Paris during the summer of 2009, and I had been saving it for some moment I deemed worthy of a wine bought from a small shop owner in Versailles who spoke very little English.  I have no idea how much this bottle cost, but because it was bought in a foreign place I may never set eyes on again, it was special.  Please note that two Thanksgivings, Christmases, and birthdays had passed, and I chose to open it on an ordinary Thursday evening in June.  There was no special occasion, and because my husband doesn’t drink red wine, I had no one to share it with.  Nevertheless, I popped the cork and enjoyed every sip.  In fact, I savored that bottle into the weekend.  If you’re a wine connoisseur, you might be banging your head against the wall by now, so disgusted by my wasteful act that you’re shouting, “Lindsay, why couldn’t you have waited for a nice peppery steak or at least a pork chop to drink it with?!”  All I can say is that I got tired of waiting.  On that particular Thursday evening, I eyed that wine rack sitting on top of our fridge and was motivated by one single thought: “Life is short.”

You might also think it sad that I was, in part, motivated by my dog. 

Most people would agree that a dog’s whole being is about living in the moment, much like when I grabbed the neck of that bottle and pulled it down to be enjoyed after two long years of gathering dust.  Our greyhound, Izzy, is a great example.  One of the things we will never know her is her past.  She was found as a stray in a Grand Prairie field last summer with no collar and no ear tattoo, the typical mark of a racing greyhound.  And so we will never know the answers to a plethora of questions: How old is she?  Was she a racer?  Did she live in a home?  Is she a mommy?  It’s all a mystery.  But what isn’t a mystery is that our dog, despite all of the unknowns, lives in the present.  She didn’t need psychotherapy sessions or medication to get over things in her past, which quite possibly include starvation, abuse, or being used to hunt coyotes (yes, that happens—more on that later).  All our girl needs to be content is a soft bed, a full belly, and a little lovin’ from her people.  Oh ya, and she also likes a daily romp outdoors and the opportunity to stare down as many squirrels as possible.  But like most dogs, life is simple.  As someone who struggles with contentment, I feel I can take a note about living in the moment from Izzy and our canine friends. 

So I tested this philosophy last Thursday evening, and just for the record, it was totally worth it.  That bottle of French wine was heavenly.    

Saturday, June 11, 2011

One Glorious Afternoon

As I’ve discovered this week, woe to anyone who tries to change their dog’s diet.  Please note: If you have a weak stomach, you may want to stop reading here.  I mean it.  This very next paragraph will be a doozy for you.

When I came home from work this Wednesday, I was greeted with the oh-so-distinct smell of dog poop.  It didn’t take long to discover the source.  As I walked into Izzy’s room, I immediately saw a puddle of watery brown liquid in one corner of the crate, and in the other corner, a very stressed-out dog doing her darndest to get away from the brown liquid.  Turns out there was much more than a single puddle in there.  Upon further inspection, I discovered that there were at least three different consistencies of feces hidden like little treasures for Izzy’s mommy to discover as she cleaned the crate.  How some of it got underneath the crate pad, or how some of it ended up in little drips on the wall, I will never know.  All I know is that our dog quite possibly had the most miserable afternoon of her life.  I kept picturing her whining in urgency, then when no one answered her cries, resigning herself to relieving herself in (and around) her crate, then spending hours curled up like a kitten in one corner, trying  to get away from the stench and the piles of poop.  Poor girl.

Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence.  In fact, this was the first accident Izzy’s had in her crate, and I blame it on myself.  You see, she hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours, and I’m sure that her stomach was so full of acid that it made her sick.  Why hadn’t she eaten?   Again, I blame it on myself. 

Over the course of the six months we’ve had our dog, I’ve managed to create a monster in the form of a picky eater.  Now, to justify my actions a little bit, I have to say that like human diets, there are conflicting opinions everywhere you look about how to feed your dog.  I chose to take the advice I had read in a book about greyhounds, which consisted of adding things like rice, steamed veggies, and cooked meat to dry food.  For months, Izzy loved to eat, and she ate like a queen.  But when she started balding on her neck and thighs, I finally wondered if a change in her diet was in order.  Our vet thought this might be best, too.  It was time to try dog food only.

So, bringing us up to present day and the cause of Wednesday’s glorious exploding diarrhea incident, it turns out that Izzy doesn’t much care for dog food only (surprise, surprise!).  Sometimes she eats, and sometimes she doesn’t.  The good news is that since she’s been on dog food only for the past month, her coat is growing back and she looks healthier than ever.

Thankfully, due to a tip from a friend (thanks, Donna!), I think we’ve discovered a compromise: wet dog food.  We tried mixing a little in with her dry food last night, and she gobbled it right up like the good ole’ days.  Hopefully, this means that her crate will be poop-free from here until eternity.

The moral of the story?  First, I will never let my dog go hungry for more than 24 hours again.  Second, if dealing with a picky eater and cleaning up mounds of feces doesn’t prepare me for human motherhood, I don’t know if anything will.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cockroaching

During the craziness of life this past spring, Izzy has kept us smiling, especially with her trademark antic: cockroaching.  What the heck is cockroaching, you may ask?  We wondered the same thing when it was listed as one of her favorite activities in her online bio that we read before meeting her.  But then we got to witness it first hand when she tried to cockroach on the concrete floor at the Meet and Greet.  That might not sound very interesting until you realize that “cockroaching” is when dogs roll over and rub their backs on the ground.  I don’t know about you, but rubbing my body all over a concrete floor doesn’t sound too soothing to me. 

You might also be thinking here, “My dog cockroaches all the time, too!  Don’t all dogs?”  Well, yes, but I would argue that none do it with the style of Izzy.  Whether it’s a short or long cockroaching session, she gets her whole body into it.  First, it’s a little back and forth motion with her hips.  Then she gets her legs into it, shooting them into the air with the full force of a ninja warrior.  Finally, “the urge” travels up through her spine and head until her entire upper body is rocking up and down off the floor.  If it’s a really good session, she’ll start to grunt.  All in all, it’s a hilarious and ridiculous sight, all at the same time.  You can see a couple of very tame examples of her cockroaching at the bottom of this entry.  I warn you, though, the videos really don't do her justice.  You have to see it in person to get the full effect.

What’s even more interesting is what she likes to cockroach ON.  At first it was just carpet, and oh yeah, the concrete floor of the Petsmart.  Then it was grass.  I can understand both of those things—they have texture and probably feel really good, like when we humans get a massage.  But then, she started to cockroach on really weird things, like piles of pollen.  I kid you not, this happened.  Walking by the Trinity River one day, I spotted a pile of tree pollen just off the trail.  You know the kind that looks like green caterpillars?  Well, it was as if someone had loaded up buckets of the stuff and dumped it in a massive, wet pile beside the trail.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed it.  Whether it was the sight or the smell of the thing, Izzy made a beeline to this pile o’ pollen and rubbed her entire body in it like it was bath time.  No wonder she’s so itchy all the time.

If you think cockroaching in tree pollen is weird, just wait.  I’ve saved the best for last.  Recently, we came across a rotting squirrel carcass.  It was lying in someone’s yard, bones sticking out and just a little flesh hanging on.  I’ll admit, I didn’t try too hard to steer Izzy away from it.  After all the times I’ve seen her go bezerk over live squirrels, I was a little curious to see what she’d do with a dead one.  So I let her go over and sniff it.  Just as it looked like she was about to take a bite, she dumped her body over and started cockroaching.  Thankfully, I had yanked her away just in time so that she was going crazy right next to the squirrel carcass, not on it like she so desperately wanted.  Still it was pretty disgusting.

What makes a dog want to bathe itself in the scent of tree pollen and rotting squirrel flesh, we’ll never know.  But two things stand out to me here.  One:  Clearly, cockroaching, at least to our eccentric dog, is not just about how it makes her feel, but how it makes her smell, too.  Weird.  And two: The sight of Izzy cockroaching will never fail to make us laugh.  Never.  It’s just one more way she adds joy to our lives.

video video

Saturday, April 2, 2011

30 Minutes a Day

So the last few weeks have been crazy and stressful for me at work.  My usually consistent workout routine has all but gone out the window, but my daily walks with “The Iz” (as Scott affectionately refers to her) have been lifesavers.  Here’s a list of the top 5 reasons why:

5)     Her Nose.  I’ve mentioned this before, but Izzy, like all dogs, would love to sniff every inanimate and animate object in the world.  By now, though, she knows I won’t let her do this.  So her compromise is to bend her long neck down so that her snout is just centimeters from the ground, and she sniffs as much of the world as she can get away with while she trots along, her eyes always searching the ground ahead.  I know this doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, but the way she does it with that long snout of hers makes me think of a hand-held Dust Buster people used to have.  She’s a really bouncy Dust Buster, but a Dust Buster nonetheless.  It looks like she’s sucking up all the delicious smells from the earth through her nose, and I love watching it.

4)     The Trot.  I know I’m a little biased, but I have to argue that my dog is one of the most beautiful dogs to watch walk in the world.  When she really gets going, her whole body shifts into trot mode, a speed halfway between walking and jogging (not to be confused with full-speed running—that’s in another universe of speed for greyhounds).  I think with horses, they call this cantering, and that’s exactly what she resembles.  Her neck and head straighten up, and her front legs start prancing over the sidewalk as if it’s a bed of hot coals.  It’s so dainty and beautiful that I can’t help but stare at my own dog.   

3)     The Ears.  When she really hunkers down into that beautiful trot of hers, her ears get all floppy and relaxed.  Before you know it, they’re flapping like boneless, black bat wings through the afternoon sunshine.  It’s freakin’ adorable.

2)     Grass.  Lately, Izzy has a newfound obsession with the green stuff.  Maybe the onslaught of Spring has presented her with a whole new plethora of scents to explore.  Maybe it was a fixation just waiting to bubble up to the surface.  Whatever the reason, our dog can’t get enough of it.  For one thing, she eats it.  She doesn’t even stop to do this—just opens her mouth and grabs a bushel of it, chewing as she trots along.  At first, I tried to stop this habit, but now I figure, Hey, at least she’s eating her greens.  Also, she loves rolling in it.  Pretty frequently, she’ll lay down at the end of our walk, then roll over and start cockroaching in the cool, green grass.  It really is a sight to see with her legs kicking and her body spasming like an epileptic dog, all to scratch some big itch on her back.  I enjoy it, anyway.

1)      The Smile.  Anyone who’s ever owned a dog before knows about The Smile.  For Izzy, it usually crops up about mid-way through the walk, as if the tension of waiting for my return all day has finally melted away.  Then she’ll glance up at me with the corners of her mouth crinkled back, her eyes intensely searching for mine—an expression that usually says one of three things:

“I love you sooooooooooooo much.”

Or, “I missed you soooooooooooo much today.”

Or, “Aren’t I the cutest thing on the planet?  So cute that you want to let me chase just that one squirrel over there?”

Whatever it is she’s really thinking, The Smile is contagious.  I fall for it every time and can’t help but return the favor.

Overall, I’m just so thankful to have a dog I have to walk every day—correction—I get to walk every day.  Sure, it’s a slight inconvenience to give up 30 minutes of your day to exercise your pet, but looking back on these three weeks, I wouldn’t have survived them without my spunky girl Izzy taking my mind off of all the things in this world that don’t really matter.  All with just 30 minutes of pure doggy entertainment a day.    

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Sunset

On one of those temperate Texas evenings in mid-January, I took Izzy for a walk along the gravel path behind our apartment complex.  It was a Good Walk Day; Izzy trotted calmly by my side, every now and then turning her face to mine with one of those sweet dog smiles, and to top it off, a brilliant sunset bathed the Trinity River in a watercolor blend of oranges and pinks.  We rounded a bend, and I noticed dark silhouettes dotting the water off in the distance.  Ducks.  Hundreds of them. 

Now, it’s pretty common to see small groups of ducks floating together on the Trinity, but I’d never seen anything like this.  Gathered thickly together in an alcove, it looked as if they were dancing on the water as they glided amongst each other, beating their wings and sticking their heads high in the air.  Instead of quacking, they whistled softly, a sound I never thought I’d hear from a swarm of ducks; combined with the woosh of the rushing river, it was beautiful music.  Intermittently, newly paired ducks took flight into the blazing sunset, the grand finale in a magnificent show.    

Wow.  Izzy and I stopped, human and animal, for several minutes just watching the spectacle:  Me, in awe of a moment so worthy of National Geographic or an E. B. White novel (he had written a famous book about water fowl, after all), and Izzy, patiently waiting for one of those ducks to waddle up the bank into her mouth.

It’s a few months later, and Spring has arrived in North Texas.  White blossoms burst like popcorn on the Bradford Pears, mosquitoes spawn in thick clouds above sidewalks everywhere, tulips and daffodils dab the landscape in pops of color, and I expect that any day now, the Trinity River will be dotted with the product of that January evening: ducklings (true, they will be mutant ducklings—it is the Trinity, after all—but ducklings nonetheless).  And to think—Izzy and I witnessed the very ceremony in which many of them were created.  I would have missed it had I not needed to walk Izzy, a fact that makes the nature lover in me that much more grateful to have a dog. 

Witnessing a duck mating ceremony at sunset might not seem like a big deal to you, but I can assure you that my words don't do the beauty and mystery of it justice.  Perhaps the best part of the whole event is that for those five minutes, I forgot about everything--stress at work, what to make for dinner, phone calls I needed to make.  I just couldn't take my eyes off of what was happening on that water.  It just goes to show, not only are those daily walks good for your dog and your own body, but they’re good for your soul, too.    

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Man and His Dog

The two of them are inseparable, Izzy and my husband Scott.  She lays at his feet when we watch TV and follows him from room to room.  On Sundays, the two of them cuddle on the couch, her head in his lap, while he rifles through the newspaper.  Every day, she looks forward to the click, click of the lock, signaling his homecoming.  She greets him with a great leap from the couch and her helicopter of a tail.

I’m not jealous (most of the time, anyway); just surprised.  You see, if you had told me a year ago that we’d have a dog, I wouldn’t have believed you.  Scott didn’t grow up with dogs, and so to him, they were annoying objects that smelled and slobbered and demanded attention at the most inconvenient times.  I can relate; I grew up with dogs, and until the past couple of years, I thought the same thing.  But Scott also spent the majority of his life believing he was allergic to dogs.  In preparation for our visits, my mom would scrub the house from floor to ceiling in an effort to remove all the hair from their shed-happy sheltie.  She even installed hypoallergenic air filters and changed out the bedspread in the guest room.  After years of my mom trying to rid their house of pet dander, Scott finally took an allergy test.  Dust mites?  Positive.  Fungus?  Positive.  Dogs and cats?.... Drumroll… Negative.  After this news, I started to plant the seed that having a dog in our lives would be a good idea.

It took months—close to a year—but finally, Scott agreed to take the plunge into dog ownership.  I was ecstatic, but I could sense a vague hesitancy in Scott even as Izzy’s arrival date approached.  It’s not surprising; not only had I been around dogs before, but I’m an avid watcher of “The Dog Whisperer” and other dog shows, and I prepared for Izzy’s arrival by reading greyhound and general dog books.  Even though he had resigned himself to dog ownership, in part to appease his relentless wife, Scott wanted no part of these dog-related activities.  While I was certainly nervous about his hesitation and lack of knowledge, I kept telling myself, “It’ll be different when she gets here.”

Now, I don’t always like to gloat when I’m right about something, but I was right.  The man who didn’t think he could like a dog, let alone love it, now adores one.  He plays with her, loves on her, and yes, even sings to her (usually "Sweet Izzy Girl" to the tune of "Sweet Caroline").  Thankfully, I’m still #1, but Izzy is a close #2.

It’s hard to imagine life without our “Izzy girl,” and if Scott were writing this blog, he’d say the same thing.  Funny how opening our lives to possibilities, even when we don’t know the outcome, can bring so much joy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The World Through a Dog's Nose

To watch Izzy on a daily walk is to feel as if one has not really lived.  As she trots along, her nose hovers above the ground like a Dust Devil, and if it were up to her, she’d stop to smell every rock and twig we pass.  Now, I know what fresh cut grass smells like, but what about a blade of grass?  Sometimes, Izzy will stop in her tracks, anchor down against my pull, and stick her snout on a blade of grass, her sides puffing in and out as she studies its scent.  Is she profiling it, mentally picturing every dog and animal that has brushed against it?  After a walk the other day, her face was covered in a fine white dust from running through a patch of blossoming weeds, the temptation of fresh smells too great for her to resist.  But Izzy’s true dessert is bushes.  She will push herself into them, her big black body disappearing as far as it can into the greenery as she (I imagine) fantasizes about every squirrel paw and bird claw that has touched each fragile limb.  That’s why, when she has been especially good on a walk, I let her smell the row of bushes by our apartment complex.  It sounds weird, I know, but to her, it’s the greatest reward. 

Her obsession with smelling food is no big surprise—she’s a dog, after all.  While we’re preparing dinner, she’ll follow us around the kitchen and sniff politely at the food just beyond her reach, her head just slightly below counter-height.  She’s big enough to where she could “counter surf” and steal a lick or two, but thankfully, she’s never figured this out or she’s just got some manners.  While we’re eating, she’ll sit on her dog bed, stick her nose in the air, and sniff away at the delicious smells curling across the room from our food.  Sometimes, this is just too torturous for her; she licks her lips before leaving the room altogether, as if to say, “I just can’t take it anymore!” 

Just for a day, I’d like to experience the world through a dog’s nose.  Watching them, you can’t help but realize that there’s a whole planet of smells out there that we humans know nothing about.  I thought this wouldn’t be the case for greyhounds since their placement in the “sighthound” category indicates that they are mostly ruled by sight, but ironically, this is Izzy’s first sense to fail when it gets dark.  True, her sense of hearing seems to be heightened, but ultimately, she’s ruled by her nose.  And according to the expert of all things canine, Cesar Milan, this indicates a healthy dog.  “Nose, ears, eyes”—isn’t that his mantra for a well-balanced pooch?  If that’s the case, our girl Izzy is the picture of doggy health.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dog Movies

While the Academy Awards are still fresh on our minds, I thought I’d take a few minutes to comment about dog movies.  Though it’s been out for a couple of years, Scott and I recently saw Marley and Me.  Now, I may alienate a bunch of my dog-lover readers out there by saying this, but I wasn’t impressed.  I mean, Marley got to do whatever the heck he wanted for twelve years, and then he died of old age.  What’s so movie-worthy about that story?  Frankly, I was annoyed that Marley’s owners never took control of his bad behavior.  Had Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson implemented just a wee bit of discipline, they could have saved a lot of money in damaged furniture and trips to the vet due to Marley eating socks or other inedible objects.  I know a lot of people who were deeply saddened by this story.  When Izzy dies (hopefully later than sooner), I’m sure I will be singing a different tune, but when I watched this movie, I wasn’t upset about Marley’s death.  I just kept thinking, “Man, what an awesome doggy life he lived.”

Now Turner and Hootch—that’s a good dog movie.  Who can forget Tom Hanks as the young cop forced to take a dog as his new partner?  And this isn’t just any dog—he’s a dog with some awesome slobbering powers.  Even now, I can picture the ever-present strands of thick mucus dangling from both sides of Hootch’s mouth, and I can hear a young Tom Hanks complaining about how everything, everything he owns is covered with slobber—his shoes, his clothing, the remote control.  But eventually, Hootch grows on Turner (Hanks), the pair becomes inseparable, and Hootch ends up taking a bullet for his human companion.  That’ll turn on the waterworks, no problem.

I could go on for days analyzing dog movies because, well, there are tons of them.  This just goes to show that there’s something special about the relationship between us humans and our canine companions that inspires story after story, whether it’s in the form of a movie or book or, well, a blog.  Now here’s the part where I alienate my cat-lover readers out there: How many movies have been made about people and their cats?  Let’s face it.  When cats are in movies, they’re usually playing an evil cat attempting to rid the world of dogs or a snobby cat who walks around saying things like, “Cats rule, and dogs drool,” their tails and chins held high in the air (Homeward Bound, anyone?).  But dog movies are all about loyalty, unconditional love, joy—things most of us dog owners out there experience on a daily basis.  Sure, dog movies can’t all be winners, but people can’t really lose when they welcome a dog into their lives.  It is a special relationship, indeed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Squirrels

Squirrel on our windowsill
I used to like squirrels.  The TCU campus is covered with them, and when I was in school, it didn’t take long during my outdoor study sessions to get distracted by their sleek brown bodies and bushy tails as they jumped from tree to tree.  So adorable, I used to think.  At our old house in Bedford, we had a “pet squirrel” named Rufus.  He was a big bully of a squirrel who would take over the bird feeder for what seemed like hours at a time, flipping his body around and sticking his greedy hands through the mesh triangles while house sparrows watched hungrily from afar.  So cute, we thought.

Now, squirrels are The Enemy.  You see, Izzy has a built-in Squirrel Radar.  She can spot their filthy rodent bodies from at least ½ a mile away.  And when she does, she locks in and starts pulling on the leash with the force of a small horse.  No amount of “Leave it!” or “No!” snaps her out of it.  I’ve even tried the “Cesar Milan touch,” a swift tap to her neck with my hand in the shape of an open claw.  Sorry Cesar, but it doesn’t work (of course it would if he were the one doing it because Cesar Milan is magic).  What’s worse is that I know those squirrels can sense the presence of a natural-born squirrel killer bearing down on them like a black missile, but they wait until the very last minute to bound away into the safety of an oak tree.  By then, Izzy is choking from lack of oxygyen, and I just got my strength workout in.  Needless to say, we enjoy walking her in the dark.

Window Time = Game Time
What’s worse than squirrels on walks?  Squirrels outside the window.  I can say with confidence that the squirrels in our apartment complex have created a game of Torment Izzy the Greyhound, which they play on a daily basis.  Sometimes, the challenge is to see who can get the closest to the window.  Other days, it’s who can sit in front of the window the longest pretending to eat an acorn.  And still other times, it’s an endurance test of who can last the longest in a game of chase with their partners, which they know is the one sure thing that will drive Izzy the Greyhound to whining and whimpering behind her glass prison.  I swear I’ve even seen them stick their greasy squirrel paws in their ears and whisper, “Nani-nani-boo-boo.”

Just once, I’d like to open the window and let those squirrels get what they deserve.