Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hops in the Right Direction: The Driving Force

My parents have a miniature schnauzer, and Linka is scary-smart.  My folks' biggest challenge with her is how to keep her occupied and challenged so she doesn't turn that brilliant mind to getting into really creative trouble.  She's really got a work ethic, too--I have rarely seen a dog so eager for work.

Talking with my dad last night, and the things they work on in their dog class (like how to sit-stay on a moving skateboard) struck me as being motivated entirely differently than the things we work on in my dog class (like how to down-stay even when I leave her sight momentarily).  And those class motivations are why they suit our respective dogs so well--Linka and Prada are motivated differently themselves.

Linka is a thinker.  If she sees something new, her first instinct is to go check it out.  She wants to learn everything there is to know about everything.  She has a cheerful disregard for her own safety, sometimes.

Prada, on the other hand, is a feeler.  I am not saying by any means that she is not a smart girl or a quick learner, but if she has to choose between checking out something new and interesting and feeling safe, she'll choose security every time.  This means introducing her to new situations slowly, or in a way that sets her up to succeed.

I've mentioned before that slippery floors are a no-go for her.  So, when we go someplace new, I toss her rug in the car, so she'll have a safe, familiar place to sit no matter what flooring situation we encounter.  Or, if a couple of kids want to pet her while we're on a walk, I'll pick her up into her "safe position" (basically tucked under my arm like a football--she'll tolerate pretty much anything as long as she's in that position).  This way, she feels confident that this new and probably overwhelming situation is going to be okay.  (Plus, I can steer little hands away from Prada's chest, which she doesn't like strangers to touch.) 

And when new environmental elements come up, I take advantage of them.  On a walk a few nights ago, we passed a yard that had an in-ground sprinkler system.  It made a sort of hissing sound that Prada shied away from, so I sat on the sidewalk near one of the sprinklers and fed Prada treats and just let her explore as far as she was comfortable.  On the few occasions that she's stepped on a manhole cover, I've praised her effusively and had a little treat party.  (Yes, passers-by do think I'm crazy.  Whatever.)

All this so she feels safe.  Because, of course, no one can feel confident in themselves until they feel safe in their environment.

Adopted dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common:  they've had an uncertain past.  It's up to us as their guardians to give them certainty in their surroundings and encourage certainty in themselves, whether that's through cerebral challenges like the rally obedience my parents do with Linka or through the positive associations (treats) linked with brave actions (staying while I walk out of sight).  Tailoring our methods by knowing what drives our dogs helps us set them up for success--the long-term-happy kind.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stinks of Desperation

I've mentioned before that I have a cat named Cinco.  Her name is Cinco because I got her on the fifth of May.  I never call her that.  Long, long ago, her name got shortened and bastardized to Stink, and Stink stuck.

Stink tries to pass as an elegant dame, but the truth is, she's a bit of a nutcase.  (Probably the reason we get on so well.)

Yesterday was Tuesday.  Tuesday is dog class day.  After spending an hour and a half focusing solely on Prada, I was trying to devote some one-on-one time to Stink.  I petted her for just a few minutes before she decided she didn't want my hands on her body.  She sniffed in disgust and flounced off the couch to the floor by my feet.

Most people have a footstool or coffee table in front of their couch to rest their feet on.  Not me:  I've got pedals.  Like for a bike.  I generally pedal when I'm watching TV or a movie, because that way I can talk myself into believing that eating an entire can of Pringles at the same time is okay--I probably break even, anyway.

Well, I was pedaling now, and Stink stared at my feet in that creepy way cats have that make you wonder if you're going to wake up with a limb half-eaten.  Then she very deliberately sat in such a way that every rotation of the pedals had my foot stroking her back.  I shifted the pedals, but she repositioned herself.  I shrugged, mocked her, and continued--and Stink stayed put for the next six chapters of the book I was reading.

Foot fetish?  Freaky.

(True:  I have no idea if the term "stubble kittens," referring to barn cat litters born in the fall--when the corn is just stubble--is used anywhere but our particular corner of rural Wisconsin.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Judge, Jury, and Prescriptioner

Let me start this post by announcing that I am in my late twenties.  I haven't lived under my parents' roof since college, and I have been more or less financially independent since just a bit after that.

Also, my mom is awesome.

Also, periods suck.

Also, I hate my hometown drugstore.

Some years ago, when I did still live with my parents, I sat down with them to discuss the possibility of me going on birth control.  Because, you know, getting your period twice in one month is no fun, and also I'm a huge whore.  (I'm kidding on one of those.  I'll let you guess which.)  My folks, being reasonable and cool, agreed it was a good idea, and we never really talked about it again.

Fast forward to two summers ago.  I am visiting my parents for the weekend and realize I need to renew my prescription.  This is why I use a national chain drugstore--you can pick up your stuff anywhere.  My hair is growing out, and is a weird length where the only way I can get it out of my face is to put it in pigtails.

(This is probably when I should tell you that I look like I'm about twelve.  Especially when I'm in pigtails.)

I ask my mom to swing by Big National Drugstore on our way back from running errands, and of course it's no big deal to her.  She and I walk back to the prescription counter and I give my name and tell the pharmacist, a not-old man, which prescription I need refilled. 

He stares at me.  Then he flicks a glance at my mom.  Then he scowls at me.

"What's your last name again?" he finally asks.

I say it. 

"Can you spell that?"

I spell it, speaking slowly and clearly because I once worked as a receptionist, and hearing letters clearly isn't always as easy as you think.  He continues scowling at me, not typing or writing down my name.

"Can you spell that again?"

I do.

"One more time..."

(This is probably a good time to point out that I do not have a particularly long or difficult last name.  Sure, it's a bit on the Dutch side, but this is my hometown--plenty of other names like it.)

After he asks me to spell my name six times (I wish I were exaggerating), he finally turns to his computer and puts his hands to the keyboard.  He looks at me, waiting.  I spell it one last time. 

Very loudly.

Very slowly.

Very are-you-fucking-kidding-me.

He types.  He pulls up my info.  He sees my age.  He goggles and then finally does his job and starts filling my prescription.

(My mom held me back from throttling him.  Barely.)

Moral of the story:  Work more, judge less.


(True:  This.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thar She Blows!

It's been windy in Chicago this week.  I mean, really windy.  And Prada does not approve.

We've had to keep our walks very short, because every time a gust of wind catches her from behind, her fur billows like a sail and whips her butt-end off the ground to one side or the other.  Prada is left scrambling to keep the single front foot both on the ground and underneath her.  She's taken to army-crawling on the ground in the windiest areas.

This is probably not something I should find funny.

(One more reason I keep Prada on a leash--I don't need her actually blowing away!)


An important note:
Okay, this is actually important:  Diamond Pet Foods has voluntarily recalled several of their lines of dog food that may be contaminated with salmonella.  You can see the lines affected here.

(True:  This Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day.  My office is participating, and it's going to be awesome.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hops in the Right Direction: The Vow

We've always faced the reality:  sometimes relationships don't work out.  People get divorced.  People break up.  People rebuild their lives separately.

Dogs don't.  Dogs don't understand the "it's not you, it's me" thing.  They don't understand that you loved them, but now you've got a new job and you just don't have time for them anymore.  They don't understand that you just can't deal with the responsibility of dog ownership, or your new partner is allergic, and that they have to go.

Dogs are a "till death do we part" animal, and adopting one means a lifetime commitment.  (Incidentally, this is why so many shelters have a "trial period" during which you can decide this isn't the dog for you or this isn't the right time for you, and you bring the dog back before the dog gets too attached.  Good policy, and one I'd highly recommend you keep your eye out for if you are looking to adopt.  Sometimes, it's just not a good fit.)

This is especially important to remember with adult dogs with disabilities, be it an amputation, blindness, deafness, whatever.  Preliminary studies show that disabled dogs are even more attached to their handlers than other dogs.

Prada and my cat Cinco are my girls.  I am their guardian, and they are my responsibility and pleasure.  They are my family, and that means doing right by them even when that is challenging to me.  If someone comes into my life who is not prepared to accept what is to me, a simple fact of life, that does limit the role that person can play.  I mean, My Sister the Lawyer is pretty irritating sometimes, but if some asked me to give her up becuase they didn't like her, guess which person I'd choose?  It's no different with my pets.

So yes, I clean up my share of potty accidents and puke and hairballs.  I spend a couple of hours a week grooming.  I haul my butt out of bed at oh-dark-thirty to take the dog out.  I sometimes decline invitations because I have to go home and take care of those who are depending on me.  Sometimes, it's a real drag.

But in return, I get truly unconditional love and devotion, and it's so, so worth it.

(Update:  I understand I've hurt some people's feelings with this post.  Let me be clear:  I totally get that sometimes, things just don't work the way they should.  Sometimes, priorities conflict and you just have to do the best you can.  And sometimes, there are no good solutions.  I'm not qualified to judge these situations.  Unless your situation was your limited time to part-ay.  Then I'm totally judging you.)

(True:  Remember Mike the Deer-Puncher?  When we were in high school, he was fortunate enough to find Maggie, a very special dog who was really bigger than a lap dog ought to be, accompanied Mike on two cross-country moves and most of his hijinks, and had a bond with him that made you feel lucky just to witness.  We'll miss you, lovely lady!)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reason I Love My Job #172

Because I've had the opportunity to say, "Don't you hate it when the telephone ringing interrupts the strippers?"

(True:  This happened:
Not in my office sadly, but somewhere in the world. And that world is a better place for it.  You're welcome.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making your neighbors think you're batshit crazy and/or stupid? Priceless.

Someone in the building next to me is moving out.  And apparently, they will be travelling light, as it seems they are leaving all their furniture by the dumpsters behind the building.  So far they've abandoned a bed, a dresser, a desk, a papasan chair, and several end tables.  All of these have disappeared in several hours, bacause, hello?  Perfectly good furniture, and it's the kind that comes from real furniture stores, not Kmart.

I think these people haven't heard of Craigslist.

Anyway, none of this stuff interested me because, while I don't have a bed (just a bed frame, not like, a pallet on the floor--it's not quite that bad), I just don't need any of it.

Until yesterday.

Last night, they dumped a bookshelf.

As a savvy thrift shopper, I can assure you that bookshelves are resale gold.  You almost never see them in thrift stores at all, and when you do, they are hardly less expensive than they would be new.  Supply and demand, right there.  I can also assure you that I am in constant need of shelves.  As it turns out, I'm too possesive for libraries.  They expect you to give the books back, and I have a real problem with that.  Basically, I'd give my left, er, foot for more bookshelves.  Because, you know, I don't have a left one of the other thing.  Or a right one, for that matter.  (I know you were wondering.)

So, after a long day of tramping up and down all three flights of stairs to my apartment (I'm spring cleaning a bit late), I saw this bookshelf, in perfect condition except for a divet in the side that a bit of spackle and a fresh coat of paint should take care of, and I jumped on it.  If it weren't weird to make love to a piece of furniture in an alley, I'd have done that.  I hauled it over to my building, no problem.  It wasn't very heavy, after all, and I'm both stronger than my stick arms imply and stubborn.  I did carry my air conditioner up by myself a couple years prior, and that was way heavier.

I got it about halfway up the first flight of stairs when my arms and legs turned to noodles.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the shelves up even one more step.  Going back down wasn't happening, either.

It was in the mid-nineties.  I was sweating.  I was cursing.  I was mortified.  And I was well and truly stuck.

I did mention I'm stubborn, right?  Well, I'm also really proud.  So I'd been stuck there almost fifteen minutes (or possibly eons) when I finally started thinking about calling for help.  Phil on the first floor (which is actually the second) is a helpful, friendly guy.  Of course, he usually has at least two guests at his place, which meant his guests would get not just dinner, but also a show.  So instead of calling out, I just dithered a while longer, until even just balancing the shelves on the stair they were resting on was hard, wobbly work.

And then my neighbors from the second floor came in, wanting to go up, and my choice was made for me. 

"Er, I'm stuck," I said.

"Are you coming down?" Second Floor Guy asked.

"No?  I'm just a victim of my own harebrained idea to haul this up by myself."

"Don't you live on the third floor?"

"Well, yeah.  Yeah, I do."

"But you're not even to the first floor," Second Floor Girl said.

"I did mention the harebrained part, right?"

And then Second Floor Guy helped me carry the bookshelf all the way up to the third floor, and we all lived happily ever after if you just ignore the part where they think I'm special and I'm so embarrassed I'd happily throw the shelves and myself over the damn stair bannister--if only I had some help with the heavy lifting.


(True:  In my previous apartment, I wrestled my monster desk into my bedroom all by my damn self.  It took three people to get it back out.  So it's not like I don't know my own [lack of] strength.

Shut up.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Read This: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine


In a land where music and beauty are revered, Aza has the voice of an angel.  But her face?  Not so much.  At all.  I mean really.  But when the new, stunningly beautiful queen wants Aza to be her new lady-in-waiting, how can she refuse?  Especially when Prince Ijori not only doesn't cringe at the sight of her, but seems to actively seek her company.

Things go awry, as they are wont to do in fairy tales.  The king is badly injured, and the queen, ruling in his stead, quickly brings the country to the point of rebellion, dragging Aza into her intrigue and deceipt and possibly the worst of all, into the public eye.

If you've read Ella Enchanted, then you know Levine's writing style is deceptively simple--there is nothing here that is difficult to read or understand, and Fairest could easily be enjoyed by an eight-year-old.  And yet I couldn't put it down.  Part of the reason I love classic fairy tales so much is that they can be equally enjoyed by children and adults--refashionings of the tales don't always work that way.

As an adult reader, I see Aza worrying constantly about her looks.  Her looks have always been thrown in her face.  At her parents' inn, patrons don't want her serving their dinner or cleaning their rooms.  They cringe or laugh or grimace or pretend she's not there.  Even people she's known her whole life are unspeakably rude to her.  She's sixteen.

I don't know about you, but when I was sixteen, I was pretty worried about my looks too--and I've never been mistaken for an ogre.

On the other hand, Aza is also very confident in her voice, and her special ability to throw it, even when she's singing.  Singing and composing songs are how she expresses herself--there are a lot of songs in the book, and it's a rather lovely way to understand a main character, and far more telling than a simple "she was sad," or "she thought that was funny."

As the storyline progresses, Aza's definition of herself stop hinging solely on her ugliness (it's not that she's not pretty--she's actively ugly) and her beautiful voice.  She comes to know herself as someone clever, honest, and interesting.  She becomes a whole person.

Yeah, yeah, enough about her personal growth.  There are also murder plots (yes, that is plural), an evil mirror-dweller, potions that disguise and spells that beautify (or not...), personal and political betrayal, and a very discerning dog.

The lesson that beauty is only skin-deep is rather heavy-handed, but the grace with which Levine writes more than makes up for it.  Her version of the Snow White tale, with a more sympathetic queen and a cave-dwelling gnome-judge, and a king who is not dead but comatose in a country on the brink of civil war is not your everyday, perfectly parallel retelling.  It is something new altogether, and it's really rather wonderful.

(True:  I have read Ella Enchanted.  I've also seen the film version with Anne Hathaway.  The movie is supercute.  The book is far more sophisticated, and just plain better.  But the movie does have musical numbers, which is pretty great, too...)