Izzy and the Black Cats

It’s no secret that Izzy doesn’t like cats.  Every time he sees one — across the street or across the universe — he charges.  Growls.  Appears ready to rip the cat to shreds.  The several times he’s gotten away from me, it’s because he’s been chasing a cat.

20150703_062206[1]Since we moved to my townhouse in Durham, we’ve come face-to-face with a black cat who appears to have no fear of dogs.  One morning, Izzy and I headed for the walkway into the wooded area in the middle of the neighborhood.  It’s a favorite place to walk because there’s a pathway that circles and cuts through the woods.  It’s quiet in there and the smells rival the forests leading to the lake I used to visit as a child.  Izzy snuffles around, exploring with a lighter pep in his step.  And, of course, he’s a boy, so he leaves his mark on almost every tree.

On that particular morning, a black cat sat on the walkway leading into the woods.  I truly expected that the cat would flee as soon as seeing us, but just the opposite happened.

The cat began walking toward us.  Izzy charged forward, ready to chew that cat.  Then, he stopped.  And the cat kept coming.  Running!

Is this cat rabid, I thought.  What the hell?

20150917_071130[1]Izzy glanced up at me, then at the cat, and almost simultaneously, we both turned and hauled ass in the other direction.

Several days later, we rounded the corner to head home and spotted the black cat coming toward us.  I prepared to sprint in the opposite direction, but the cat didn’t chase us this time.  Instead, the cat dropped itself into the nearest storm drain and disappeared.  Once again, Izzy glanced at me, puzzled.  And when we went by the storm drain, we both peered down, wondering where the cat went.

20150917_071248[1]The very next morning, we walked down Ellis Road outside the development.  We were early, the sky had just started to lighten and only a few cars drown down the road toward Route 147, a major highway leading to I-40.

My mind buzzed with work that I had to accomplish, so I wasn’t paying attention.  Izzy was, though, and when he started pulling at the leash and growling, I came out of my reverie to see…yup, the black cat.

He sat on a little rise overlooking the parking lot, forcing us to walk right by him.  The cat sat on the rise like a little king and licked his paws.  Lazily.  How brash, I thought.

Izzy  pranced and watched the cat with superstition, but we kept moving.

This morning, Izzy and I both realized something surprising.  That black cat that had chased us wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood.

This morning, we ran into the storm drain cat again, a fluffy,  Persian mix.  She appears rather wild because as soon as she saw us, she dropped herself into the storm drain again.  And, again, Izzy stared down the drain, wondering where the cat went. 20150917_071201[1] When I looked down the hole, I couldn’t see the cat.  The drain drops down at least twelve feet.  WTF.  Where does the damn cat go?

Then we saw the black cat who lives near Ellis Road.  She’s small, dainty, unperturbed, and sits on the hill overlooking the homes, happy to simply sit.

The attack cat is brash and when I saw it more closely, his ear is a bit crooked.  Whether he lives with another dog and is comfortable with them or whether he is more mountain lion than house cat.

One or three, Izzy still wants a bit out of them and it’ll be interesting to see whether we can dodge them when we walk the neighborhood in the upcoming days.  In the meantime, at least we know it’s not one cat with a split personality!

Izzy’s Fourth Birthday: No cake. Just bones.

IzzyWe celebrated Izzy’s fourth birthday quietly last week.  Just the two of us.  I don’t think he even knew it was a celebration until I brought out the new bone.  It took him about five minutes to eat it.  So much for that.

I’m not the kind of person who usually celebrates dogs’ birthdays.  I mean, I know generally when my animals were born, but I’m not going to make a cake and have a party and announce the day to the world.  Dogs don’t care.  Cats care even less.  But Banfield (where Izzy goes to the vet’s) sent me an email to tell Izzy “Happy Birthday,” and that kind of got me started thinking about the day, the time that has passed, and the many changes Izzy has gone through during the past three years (he came to me when he was 9 months old, so I don’t count that first year in “our” memories).


He spent his first year with very little human contact, which is probably why he loves other dogs so much.  They were his companions until he came to live with me.  In fact, he was so poorly socialized that I didn’t have to pay for him.  The person who ‘sold’ him to me knew that he would be a challenge, and she was right.  “You can have him for free,” she told me, “as long as you promise to work with him.”

I did.  But I didn’t know how difficult it would be or how long it would take for him to trust humans.

For the first three months, Izzy would not come near me.  I couldn’t pat him, and when I forced him to sit in my lap or to let me touch him, his body stiffened and he pulled as far away as he possibly could manage.

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I’m not quite sure when that changed, but finally, he found his way to my lap to ask for love and would look at me directly instead of in a sidelong fashion.

It took a lot longer to habituate him to other people.   He loved dogs much more (and still does).

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My next door neighbors are the ones I credit with socializing Izzy.  Deb and Danny never gave up, constantly talking to Izzy, sitting on the ground in order to touch him, and going for walks with us so that he would “feel” their presence.  It worked.  Three years later, he still gets excited when I mention their names, and when Deb came to visit us in this new house a couple of weeks ago, Izzy tried to turn himself inside out to get to her.

Still, when someone new comes by, he will jump and bark.  My new guy, Louis, is a bit frustrated by the fact that Izzy doesn’t want Louis near me, but we’re working on my four-legged friend.  Giving him treats when he sits quietly works most of the time and reminding him that he’s a dog who lives with humans rather than vice versa works, as well.  But it’s a work in progress.

I wish Izzy understood that dating is difficult as it is, and he’s making it even harder.  Thankfully, Louis is going to stick around for a while and knows that Izzy is “family,” so he (Louis) has to figure out how to get this stubborn little Shichon to chill out a bit.

After I got Izzy, I had the opportunity to rent a little bungalow five minutes from work, so we moved–which was probably the best thing I did because Izzy didn’t do well alone in my apartment all day.

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I kept a journal of our first year in Roxboro, and I’m now working on rewriting it, making the story more of a narrative that might someday find its way into a publisher’s catalog.  Rereading that work reminds me of how much Izzy has learned since arriving in a crate to the Raleigh-Durham airport one hot early summer’s day.  He has gone from being terrified to get out of the crate and say hello to “owning” his new house and making friends with all of our new neighbors.

He especially adored Ellie (and her human, Peggy), always perking up his ears whenever I asked him if he wanted to take a walk to see her.


It’s been an uphill battle for this first four years, but I’m proud of my little guy, of the commands he’s learned, and the way he has adapted.  We have a mutual love-fest going on that I know will continue for as long as we’re both around.

They say dogs are humans best friends, and I truly agree.  They are also our rescuers, even though we might be the ones doing the initial rescuing.

So, Happy Birthday, little buddy.  And thank you for coming into my life.



Izzy’s New Friends: How to Introduce Dogs to New Dogs (and People!)

Since moving to the new place, Izzy and I have settled down and are now meeting new people (and dogs), both in the neighborhood and in life.  The good part is that we have a much more positive life now (Izz y’s life has always been good, but mine . . . well, suffice it to say I was ready to commit hari kari in my last job.  It’s much easier being my own boss!).

At first, we explored every inch of the neighborhood, meeting those dogs/owners who walked at the same time we did.  There’s a twenty-something woman who walks a cockapoo named Callie (who Izzy likes a lot), a middle-aged guy who lives with his girlfriend and walks her Shih-Tzu named Little Man, a woman my age with a Bichon mix that looks like Izzy’s cousin, and several people who have young and energetic Pitbull mixes and a pair of twin dachshunds.  I’m sure the people introduced themselves to me, but to tell the truth, I remember the dogs’ names but not the humans’.


Izzy has discovered that he likes ‘overlooking’ the neighborhood.  He perches on the bed in the guest room overlooking the parking lot and lets me know whenever someone walks by or a strange car pulls in.  He takes his job very seriously, like any good ‘guard’ dog.  I wonder sometimes whether he thinks I need his protection or whether he would do it even if I wasn’t home.  Of course, it helps that he has a new squeaky ball he can take upstairs with him.

Meeting the new neighbors and their dogs (whether from his perch on the second floor or on our walks) has become our part-time gig.  There’s a protocol in meeting dogs.  Izzy’s often on a retractable leash (I let him run out to the end of it on our morning walks because I figure it’s his best chance of getting exercise), so I need to reel him in when I see another dog coming.  He loves going over and “saying hello,” and usually, that’s all he needs.  He’ll go on his way happily after just a few moments of sniffing and doing his puppy bows.  But I won’t go near another dog with him unless I call out to the owner first.  If there’s any hesitation in answering the question, “Is your dog friendly?”, we’ll keep our distance.  And reading the other dog’s body language is important — no matter what the owner says.

Body language that tells me the other dog’s attitude:

  • Tail down/relaxed (not tucked) or wagging:  means the dog is relaxed and open to meeting someone new
  • Ears back and tail tucked:  the dog is nervous or frightened.  Any dog with those body language attributes might be fearful enough to snap at someone in order to protect itself.  Fear often sets a dog into a zone that might result in an attack.
  • Head up and listens to owner:  that’s a great thing, but if the dog is more intent on pulling at the end of the leash than listening to its owner, that’s not a good thing.
  • Lays down and shows stomach:  submissive dogs are easy for us to meet (Izzy usually doesn’t lie down for any reason other than a belly rub when he’s with me, but other dogs might do that — and that’s a great thing).
  • Sniffing and puppy bows:  getting to know each other means dog sniff butts.  Though it sometimes grosses people out, it’s dog language, so that’s a good thing.

So far, so good with all the dogs.  However, it’s a different situation with the kids in the neighborhood.

Last week, we went on a walk and a group of kids who were playing outside came running to meet Izzy.  “Look at the puppy!  Let’s pat the puppy!!!”  The kids, aged 6-12, came toward Izzy with their hands out.

Not the way Izzy likes humans to come at him.

Since he’s scared of hands reaching for his head, I corrected Izzy and pulled him behind me while I talked to the kids.

Little Mikie (the 6 year old) wanted to know Izzy’s name, so I told him, and then I explained that dogs like to sniff people so he should stand still and let dogs look at him before he reaches out.

“Give him your fist,” I told Mikie.  “Not your fingers.”

“Like this?”  Mikie caught on fast, and instead of ducking away, the way Izzy usually does when meeting new people, my dog wagged his tail and sniffed at Mikie.  Thankfully, the older kids learned quickly too, so when they encircled Izzy, he sat his butt down and looked at each of them, one at a time.  But I knew that being surrounded wasn’t exactly comfortable, so we moved on quickly.  Hopefully, the next time we see the kids will be easier for my Izzy and he’ll be able to accept his new kid-friends.

And then there is Louis.  :-)   Louis is a new person in my life and someone who will probably be spending a lot of time with Izzy and me, so it was important that the first visit with Izzy would be a calm one.

Izzy has a habit of barking at a new person who comes into the house, and I have to correct his behavior, getting him to sit and stop, before I’ll pay attention to the new person.  Sometimes even after I get him relatively calm, I can walk away and Izzy will revert to barking and jumping.  That’s not a good thing.  20150705_091850

Louis came into the house in a calm fashion, speaking briefly to Izzy, but not reaching for him until Izzy calmed down.  After about fifteen minutes, Izzy decided the new person was boring, so he went to lie down on the living room floor with his bone.  Success.

I’m sure we’ll still be learning the new people and dogs in our life, but so far, Izzy’s doing great.  And so am I.

Izzy’s Big Move

On the third of July, Izzy reluctantly climbed into the car with me, and we waved goodbye to Roxboro and to our friends, to the streets we walked in the early hours of the morning, to the job I had for eight and a half years, to my little bungalow and the gardens that bloomed better last week than they have all summer long.  Goodbye for now to Deb and Danny (though I expect them down for dinner soon!) and to Mr. Mendoza across the street (I couldn’t even say goodbye to him before he left for his annual trip to Mexico) and to Ellie and Peggy around the corner.  Izzy will particularly miss Ellie, his best dog friend.

It was a day of mixed emotions for both of us.  Izzy spent most  of the day in the backyard as the guys moved the furniture out of the house.  He barked and ran from one side of the house to the other, straining to see what those strange men were doing in his house, very worried that I was in that house with those strange men without his stalwart protection.

The first night at the new place, Izzy jumped at every noise and when we did our evening walk, he couldn’t figure out which blade of grass to pee on first.  He bristled with senses so heightened that they were almost too much for his brain to handle.  I have to admit my own senses were on tilt, too, and when we crawled into the bed in the new bedroom that night, we both sank into a sleep both deep and confused.

We rose at 5:30 for our longest walk of the day to explore the neighborhood.  New bushes.  The smell of other dogs.  Streets we hadn’t walked before.


Though I had driven the neighborhood many times before moving in, we hadn’t walked the streets, so it was time to learn the neighborhood.  This new place is nice, well-kept, and the neighbors seem to watch out for each other, but I’m amazed that I’ve moved to a place where each house resembles the one next door.  I’ve always said that I want a house with character.  Well, this one only has character because of the “things” I brought with me.  Without the “things,” this townhome would look the same as everyone else’s.  Unless you look closely, this neighborhood is fairly bland.


As we did in Roxboro, we sniff out the possibilities and explore the hidden corners, and on that first walk, we found a little gift:  a walking trail in a cool copse of trees.


There are dogs to meet here, and people, too, and roads to discover, trees to sniff, and adventures to enjoy.  But, for now, we’re tired from unpacking and would love some serious downtime before getting back into the work of being our own boss!


For now, Izzy says he’ll hold the bed down :-)

Izzy and the Summer Haircut

Another name for Shichons is Zuchon . . . and yet another is Teddy Bear.  One of the reasons Shichons are called Teddy Bear dogs is because most of them are brown, and they do, indeed, look like cuddly little teddy bears.  See?

Though Izzy is black and white, he still has that teddy bear look when he needs a haircut.

I love when Izzy’s hair is this long and his eyes are rimmed with inch-long eyelashes, but let’s face it:  North Carolina is hot in the summer and when Izzy’s hair gets longer, he needs some relief from the summer heat.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like the same dog when he comes out of the salon.  Here’s the before:


Yes, my boy needs a bath in this shot, but he’s also particularly cute with his little Elvis curl in the middle of his forehead.  I took the picture because I knew that once his “locks were shorn,” he’d look like an underfed Terrier rather than the cute Shichon he is.

And I was right.  Sarah at Spaw, a dog groomer in Roxboro, always does a great job.  Everything is even.  She cleans up his face and makes sure his ears are trimmed.  But no matter what she does, Izzy looks skinny and scared after his haircut — and he can’t wait to get home!


You can tell he’s nervous because he’s panting.  The only other time I’ve seen him pant is when he’s been playing too hard with another dog (and that doesn’t happen often enough).

This will be his last haircut for the summer, and I’m certain that he’ll be in the bathtub at least once a week because this little boy has discovered the places in the yard where he can dig — and he’s so happy when he does!

Izzy’s New Friend: Meeting Alan

Let’s get something straight.  Even though Izzy thinks he’s rough and tough, he’s not.  He’s a 17 pound cutie of a dog whose bark is truly worse than his bite.  Occasionally, he “gets” that, but there have been many times he IS the one bigger than the others and can flex his doggie muscles (like when he pees on chichauhas). In years past, I’ve had big dogs who thought they were lap dogs (like my British Mastiff, Joshua, who weighed 175 pounds and always wanted to sit in my lap), but I’ve never had a little dog before and I’m constantly surprised at the amount of attitude this Shichon has brought into my life. Last weekend, he was made very aware of how little he truly is.

One of the things I’ve always tried to do with Izzy is to “introduce him” to my friends’ dogs.  He sees my daughter’s two dogs regularly, he loves playing with my friend Theresa’s Jack Russell, and if I even mention his little maltese friend Ellie’s name, Izzy does the cocked head-wiggly feet dance until I leash him up and we head around the block for a visit.  But all of these dogs are either Izzy’s size or just a little larger.  Meet Alan.


Alan’s a Great Pyrenees, a hunk of an ol’ man who doesn’t have to throw his weight around.  All he has to do is shift every once in a while, and the world rocks.

When we walked into Alan’s house, he moseyed over to meet us, and Izzy looked up, tail wagging, curious about this behemoth in front of him.  He poked his nose against Alan’s leg, sniffed, then touched noses with him.  They wandered around the yard together, Alan peeing everywhere Izzy did (sometimes I wonder where boy dogs get all their pee since they “water” everything they pass, but that’s another blog for another day).


By the end of the night, they had come to the point of ignoring each other.  A dog’s way of saying, “you’re okay.  I’ll let you hang around in my place.”

Next week:  Izzy and Alan go to the beach!

Izzy and the Crazy Chihauha

Whenever I ask Izzy whether he wants to visit Ellie (his Maltese friend who lives around the corner), his head cocks, his eyes brighten, and his tail wags furiously.  He pulls me excitedly as we walk down the street, often turning to wait for me as we round the corner, as if to say, “Come on, come on!  She won’t wait for us!”  Obviously, he loves his little girlfriend.

In order to get to Ellie’s house, we need to pass by the big yellow Victorian house (that’s always decorated for holidays) and the Chihauha that lives in a fenced-in area on the front lawn.  That’s the dog that chased us down last year, knocking me on my butt and freaking out Izzy.  The dog is nasty.  Plain and simple.  He barks (translation: yaps) constantly, running back and forth along the fenceline, growling at anyone who passes by.  You know that if he gets out, he’ll rip into your leg.

Usually, Izzy will ignore the dog, happily bouncing past because he knows he’s excited about going to Ellie’s, but the other day, I think he just had had it with the yappy Chihauha.

We made it to Ellie’s house, the two dogs played, and Izzy wore himself out.  On the way home, we passed the yellow Victorian again, and the Chihauha went ballistic.  Casually, Izzy walked the fenceline, looking the little yapper right in the face.

You’re behind the fence, acting the fool, Izzy seemed to say.  Is that really necessary?

The Chihauha charged the fence, in a barking frenzy now.  Izzy was way too close for the other dog’s comfort.  Izzy stared him down, unmoving, then when the dog came close, Izzy lifted his leg.  Perfect score. Right in the Chihauha’s face.  The other dog shut up immediately.

As Izzy bounced happily down the street in front of me, I couldn’t stop laughing.  Boy, how I wish I was a boy dog sometimes and could have the last laugh the way Izzy had.  Bravo, little boy.  Bravo.

Izzy and his best friend, Elllie the Maltese

Izzy and his best friend, Elllie the Maltese

Watch out for EAGLES!

Shichon owners are in love with their “teddy bear” babies, as I can attest.  Our little dogs have great temperaments, are known for being cuddly loves, are fairly quiet, and do not shed.  Always playful, they make the perfect family pet, and they’re pretty smart (though some can be stubborn).  Whenever people see Shichons on the street or at a dog store, the instant reaction is “Awww, isn’t he cute?”  Owners of Zuchons, as Shichons are often called, band together to discuss their pups, talking about the best food to feed them, comparing cute antics and some even share photos of their dogs dressed in various costumes.

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups of Shichon owners, and we carry on about our dogs, commiserating when one of them has an operation or is about to be spayed or even when one has his/her first haircut.  (I know it’s silly, but I’ve also received some great advice and shared some info about what works for Izzy and the types of food he eats.  It’s definitely great to have that community.

When one of my FB buddies wrote the other day about her female Shichon’s battle with a giant eagle, we were all aghast.  Even more shocking was the photo of the poor pup with five huge holes in her side – where the eagle’s talons had been!  Thankfully, the pup’s human mom was close by and able to chase away the eagle, who had the pup in its talons and struggled to fly away with it.  After a quick emergency trip to the vet’s, the dog is on antibiotics and recovering from both the physical damage as well as the emotional.

Shichons are little dogs, usually less than 15 pounds.  Izzy is barely 17 pounds and most Shichons are smaller than he is.  Because they’re fast, furry and often a light beige or white, they can be mistaken for other small animals such as rabbits and mice by flying predators like hawks and eagles.  High-flying birds scan the ground constantly for what will constitute lunch or dinner, and they’re not always right about which small objects would make a good meal.  If you scan the internet, you can find plenty of exciting videos of eagles snatching babies off the ground or attempting to fly away with a deer or wolf in their talons.  Normally, eagles weigh less than 10 pounds and usually can only carry a 3 or 4 pound animal, but every once in a while they break the rules.

Raptors aren’t the only ones lying in wait for small animals.  Coyotes, bobcats, and even raccoons will drag away a small dog or cat.  Dog owners who live in the country or the mountains have to be exceptionally careful to keep an eye on their pets because a hawk, owl, eagle, coyote, bobcat or other predator can steal a small animal in the blink of an eye.  It’s important to be vigilant in order to keep our animals safe.

I’ve had some close calls with Izzy and larger dogs (as I wrote about earlier), but as much as I watch the birds when we go for our walks, I’ve never thought about worrying that one of them would swoop down and carry my pup away.  But now I worry.

Izzy and the Easter Bunny in the Bush

It’s been a busy month. Izzy took care of me while I was sick for a week around Valentine’s Day, then we had two weeks off from work because of snow, and by that time, it was mid-term week at the College, so I’ve been slammed with doing evaluations for my faculty. Izzy has been patient, teasing me occasionally with his ball, forcing me to remember there are other things in life besides work. I’m so grateful for that.

This morning when we walked, I realized it might be time to put away my winter jacket and to let Izzy out without his Thundershirt. The weather has turned. The jonquils have bloomed and the pear trees are giant puffs of white blossoms. Spring has come to North Carolina.

And so has the Easter Bunny . . . he’s nesting in the bushes around the corner from my house, and this morning when we walked, he lit the way. Izzy thinks it’s weird. So do I.



This Winter’s Snow & Izzy and His Food

This winter’s snow has definitely kept Izzy and me busy.  We have tromped through mushy snow, icy snow, solidly frozen snow, and snowflakes.  It doesn’t matter what kind of snow it is.  He loves it!  You’d think he had some Husky in his 17 pound body.  He pops like a bunny through the deep stuff, but he never shies away.  And even when he had balls of snow stuck to his legs, he didn’t complain when I threw him in the shower to melt the snow off his body with a warm bath.  He’s a trooper.

The one thing that we HAVE had a problem with this winter is his skin.  When he has a Thundershirt on every time we go out, the heat is on in the house, and he tends to sleep away most days, it dries out his skin.  He actually had a bit of dandruff a couple of weeks ago, and I knew I had to do something.  I put a combination of olive oil and fish oil on his dry food in the morning (which he’s not crazy about), but something was bugging me about the food.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t satisfied — and to tell the truth, I don’t think Izzy was either.

This weekend when I finally got out of the house to go shopping with a girlfriend, we ducked into a little pet boutique in Durham, North Carolina called “The Other End of the Leash.”  I figured everything would be more expensive and that I would end up leaving without buying anything, but I wanted to see what they had for dog food.  The owner of the store asked lots of questions about what I was currently using and proceeded to give me a great education about the types of dog food on the market and how the “filler” a lot of them use is sawdust.  Yup, you read that right.  Sawdust!

Even the most expensive foods — the ones that tout that they’re made in the USA — can actually be produced in another country, and that country might not have the quality control that we have here.  That was all she needed to tell me.

After some discussion, we found a food that would have a high content of fish oil (salmon) and would be grain free.  The price was good, as well.  What I hadn’t counted on was that Izzy LOVES it!  So, here I am doing a testament for Canidae Dog Food.  

And sending out some love to the women who run Other End of the Leash in Durham, NC.  They were fantastic — and I love that I can now be assured that the food my little guy eats is good for him!