Animal Behavior

Has it been that long? It’s the holidays again!

Wow!  Izzy and I have been so busy that we didn’t realize a year has gone by since our last post.  Well, time to catch you all up, I guess.

We are still working on the relationship between Izzy and Louis (Izzy thinks it’s Louis; Louis swears it’s Izzy), but they really do love each other — even though Izzy lets Louis know he was here first and the bed is, after all, his.

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A couple of times this year, we left Izzy with our favorite dog sitter and were greeted enthusiastically when we returned.  I often wonder what it would be like if we moved to another place, like Ecuador or Paris or someplace truly romantic, like Kenya!  Would Izzy feel a bit out of place or would it be okay because we would still be together?

I’ve been working nonstop on my writing since we last posted, and I’ve been fortunate to have some successes.  In September, I spent some time at the Weymouth Center for the Humanities to write (and to heal after a horrible family tragedy). Throughout the year, there have been several essays published, I’ve republished my back list, and I have a new novel coming out next September entitled The Mourning Parade (about the plight of elephants in Thailand and the heartbroken women that dedicates herself to one of them).  Take a look at what I’ve been doing, if  you’d like: http://dawnrenolangley.com   Throughout it all, Izzy sits and keeps me company, reminding me every couple of hours to take a walk!

Right now, this little four-legged guy needs a haircut, but I hesitate to put him back with the same people who did him last time — because for almost three weeks, he walked with his tail held sideways.  They’d clipped his skin in so many places, the poor guy still has scars.  I’m seriously thinking of learning how to groom him myself.

How about you folks?  Do any of you do the grooming yourself?

Hope you all are having a great holiday season.  We promise to be better about keeping in touch.

Peace.

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Izzy’s Christmas Portrait

During this time of year, things happen that are often surprising and heart-warming.  Sometimes when you plan on a great gift for someone else, it becomes a gift for you, as well.

It all started when my daughter, Jen, fell through the ceiling.

Yes, I’m serious.  She was in the attic getting some stuff down and took a wrong step, literally through the ceiling of her son’s room.  Long story short, that fall damaged a few things, one of which was a photograph of the dog she grew up with:  Jessie, a gorgeous German Shepherd who was the best dog I’ve ever had.

My all-time favorite photo of Jen is a pic of her on the floor in my kitchen dressed in pj’s with her arm around Jessie on the first day we had her in our home.  Jessie was about 8 weeks old, one ear up, one ear down, huge paws, tongue hanging out.  They bonded in that moment and after that, they were best friends.

When Jessie passed at the age of 19, Jen fell apart even though she hadn’t lived at home for years, but that dog was like the sister Jen never had.  Jen’s fall scratched up the portrait of Jessie at her best, sitting under the apple tree in our Vermont backyard.

I took the portrait from Jen, who asked me to get it fixed somehow.  She had a tear in her eye as she relinquished the photo.

My friend, Deborah Bradsher, is an artist who normally sketches houses for homeowners, but she’s done a few animals, so I asked her if she could create a pencil drawing of Jessie.  She took on the project with a promise to “try.”  I told her I wanted to give the sketch to my daughter for Christmas.

When Deb finished, we met for lunch in downtown Durham, where she shared the sketch with me.  It was wonderful!  Jessie came alive on that page.

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But even better than this gorgeous portrait of Jessie . . . Deb pulled another portrait out of her bag, one I didn’t expect at all . . . a portrait of Izzy!

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This was a huge surprise that I absolutely loved!  Just like she had with Jessie, Deb brought Izzy to life.  His eyes are perfect, and the look on his face is one that I see all the time.

I told Deb that she could sell these portraits, and she’s so modest that she doubted whether anyone would buy one.  I’m determined to prove her wrong, so I’m posting her information here.  If any of you dog lovers want a portrait of your baby, this is the artist for  you!

Deborah Bradsher, https://www.facebook.com/deborah.bradsher, or email her at deborahbradsher@centurylink.net

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Izzy’s Happy the Book is Done — and so am I!

You may have wondered what happened to Izzy and me.  You may not.  Well, whether you have or haven’t, I’m going to tell you.  I was finishing my novel.  Now it’s done, and I am edging back toward normal.  Or  at least what can be called normal for writer types like me.  Once I hit the last key and sent the novel on to my hopefully-new-agent, the crud hit me, reminding me that I AM a human being even though I often forget that part.  After a visit to urgent care and doctor’s orders to stay home for a week (bronchitis, verging on pneumonia), I’m back to tinkering on the keyboard.  Izzy has been a fine nurse for the past week, but I’m getting cabin fever, and as much as he likes me being home, I think he’s ready to have his naps whenever and wherever he wants them rather than following me around the house.

It’s funny, but this forced relaxation has made me ponder my writing.  I think of the novel-writing process as having physical stages.  There’s the Walking Stage.  In the very beginning of cooking up a novel, I take Izzy for long walks to let my brain work out the basic premise of the story where I don’t have to be bothered by techno-interruptions.  He loves that part.

Then there’s the Hopping Stage.  This is the part where I’m getting the outline down on the page.  There’s a lot of hopping up to get tea, then settling back in for a while, growling a lot, then hopping back up to get more tea . . . or if it’s past noon somewhere, wine.  Lots of wine.  Izzy gets patted a lot during this stage.

The next stage is the Scrunching Stage.  I’m at the table or on the couch or in the bed scrunched over the laptop or a pad of paper.  Unfortunately, my butt gets wider during this stage, Izzy is walked less, and I tend to eat a lot of brownies or chocolate chip cookies or pizza.  Definitely not a healthy stage.  But Izzy loves pizza crust!

The third stage is the longest, but the fourth stage–the Yoga Stage–is the best one.  Because my back and shoulders are so sore from the Scrunching Stage, I have to do lots of yoga to work out the kinks when I’m in the process of editing and proofreading.  Izzy’s really good at Down Dog, but he sucks at headstands.

Finally, the last stage.  The Staring into Space and Thinking Stage.  Not much physical movement other than with the eyes.  Often I’m rolling them at some stupid paragraph or closing them to imagine where I was going with a scene or rubbing them because I’m just so damn tired.  During this stage, my laptop is somewhere near at all times.  Izzy’s sick of the novel by this stage and pushes his way into my lap, no matter what kind of tasty treats I throw to the floor to keep him busy.  He protests that it’s time for him again, and he’s right.

Unfortunately, it seems that after the novel is done, I have a final-final stage when my body and mind are exhausted and need some rejuvenation.  It’s during this stage that Izzy earns his keep, because then he becomes Nurse Izzy, and though he often sleeps on the job, he’s the best Nurse in the world.

Now if I could just talk him into buying a publishing company . . . .

Sleepy Nurse

Sleepy Nurse

Izzy and the Holiday Shindig

Every year, I invite my faculty and staff to my house for an annual holiday party.  People tend to come in “shifts” — ten or twenty at a time, over a three-hour span.  During the past couple of years, I’ve had one of my friends “babysit” Izzy or I’ve left him in the back yard.  This year, I decided to give him the ultimate test and let him stay for the whole party.  This is a big deal considering he’s gone from being the most antisocial dog I’ve ever had to a dog that now likes to say “hey” to his neighborhood friends but is still nervous about me having anyone over for dinner.  I have to admit I was nervous.

I gave him a bath that morning.  He’s had an issue with dry skin recently, so I used that as an excuse, but the truth is that I wanted him to look and smell nice when everyone came.  My next door neighbor, Deb, told me that afternoon when I took him for a walk, “I’m surprised you don’t have a bow for him to wear for Christmas.”

Rummaging through  my Christmas paper and ribbons, I found the perfect one for him to wear and put it around his neck.  Black and white polka dots with silver trim.  He pranced around the house as if he knew he was too cute for words.

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Throughout the day, he monitored my cooking, aroused by the smells that I know reminded him of pizza.  That’s the one meal that he and I “share.”  Whenever I cook a pizza and eat it while watching TV, he shares the crust with me, the only human food I let him have.  This year’s food theme for my party was Italian, so the smell of two different kinds of lasagna, meatballs, and pizza dip must have reminded him of pizza.  He pranced around the kitchen as if excited about the possibilities.

When the first two visitors arrived, he did his usual barking, but, thankfully, they had dogs of their own and were perfectly calm when he “greeted them.”  I warned him to be quiet, and he knew what was expected of him.  Wiggling, however, was not something he could stop.

The next couple of visitors oohed and aahed over him, then my neighbor (Deb) came over, and I could leave her in the living room with him while I prepared the food.  Perfect.

People came and went.  Izzy greeted everyone and popped around from person to person, seeming to enjoy the attention.  By the time we were more than an hour into the party, he had taken up a spot on the living room rug, just watching the conversations and occasionally doing some harmless begging.

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At the end of the night, the two of us sat on the couch, and I told him how proud I was of him.  I think he actually understood because his fan-of-a-tail wagged.  Love this little guy!

Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo

It’s November and that means it’s NaNoWriMo.  National Novel Writing Month.  For those of you not insane enough to write, it’s the month that we writers stick our butts in our chairs and don’t move until we’ve churned out 50,000 words.  If you listen closely right before midnight on November 30th, you’ll hear a sound much like that one when you rip a bandage off a skinned knee.  That’s our butts as we collectively remove ourselves from our chairs and go back to a normal life.  Or at least what could be considered normal for someone who stares at a computer screen talking to invisible people most of the time.

Dogs don’t understand that, and that’s one of the reasons Izzy’s no help during NaNoWriMo.

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When I talk to the screen, he thinks I’m telling him we need to go outside or play with the ball or eat dinner or — the most exciting–go get a treat.  He comes to my side, sits his little self down on the floor, cocks his head and barks once.  If I don’t quite get it and don’t move immediately, his tush comes off the floor and he goes into a puppy bow.  Heaven forbid I continue talking to that invisible person on screen, because then it’s a full-blown insistence for my attention — and an immediate walk.  Do not pause, mama, do not talk to that person in the screen, do not tell me to wait ten minutes.  Now.  Walk.  Pee.  Poop.

Fifty thousand words in one month.  1667 per day.  5.5 pages a day.  Or maybe 3000 words on a weekend day.  7-10 pages on a Sunday.  2-3 every other day during the week.  And if you write by hand, a cramped fist.  If working on a computer, stiff shoulders and a crick in your neck.

One good thing about NaNoWriMo when you have a dog is that you are forced to get up before the sun rises to take the little bugger for a walk.  Izzy forces me up before the sun stripes the sky with fuschia, pumpkin and robin’s egg blue.  Bleary-eyed with my brain still out of gear, I negotiate the dark streets with him running before me, determined to examine every telephone pole and pee on every bush.  While he explores, I kick the novel-writing mind into gear and think about the next scene I will write, consider what the character will do and how those actions will affect other characters, what the actions will impact further into the novel, and whether I should wait that scene for a time that’s more apropos of the story.  As Izzy paces back and forth dozens of times looking for the perfect place to poop, I’m considering whether to flesh out the description of a scene I wrote the previous day and whether to take time from creating the requisite 50K words to mine back over the pages already developed to see whether they should be shifted around or rewritten.  But the point is to move forward like the boats that split icebergs.  Constantly forward.  Nothing to do but to forge ahead.

Dogs never move straight ahead.  Their traffic patterns run in swirls and squiggles and include squeezing out pee drops so they can let others know they’ve been there.  A NaNoWriMo for dogs would start on November 1 and end in July (the previous July).

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What Izzy DOES understand about NaNoWriMo is that occasionally I get stuck.  When that happens, he does his job quite well.  He moves into my lap, lifting my hand with his nose so that I know my job is now to pat his head or rub his stomach.  Taking a break is most important in NaNoWriMo for it is in those moments that the creativity creeps in and the mind is refreshed.

I guess Izzy knows more about writing novels than I give him credit for.

A Dog’s Vacation is Never Done

The past two weeks have been inhumanly difficult.  Not a dog’s life. Impossible, really.  And Izzy has known it.  Every night, he crawls up on my lap and lays his head on my hand.  If I try to work at night, he insists of being beside me, paw pulling my hand away from my laptop.  He stares at me with his dark, round eyes as if begging me to pay attention to him.  He knows that I don’t normally stay in anxiety mode when I get home.  I know yoga.  I know how to breathe.  I know how to relax.  But this past two weeks have required working non-stop and anxiety is my middle name.

It’s the perfect time for a stay-cation.

And Izzy knows that, too.

This morning, he crawled up on my lap while I was still in bed (doing my checkbook — yup, I know.  Enough with the nonstop work.) and insisted I pay attention to him.  You’ve been in another place for weeks, his gaze seemed to say.  You owe me.

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Last night, his eyes drooped as I stayed up until 1 AM reading.  This morning, he pulled me determinedly as we walked up Main Street, and he understood when we had to make a u-turn because I heard the old guy’s cane tapping as he walked his pittie mix a block ahead of us.  I didn’t want to deal with the dog’s growling and barking and pulling at the leash to get at Izzy.  I think Izzy understands when we have to make detours.  He knows who his friends are and who aren’t.  The black pug and the girlie boxer and the raggedy Shihtzu and the little Maltese are his friends.  He understands their names when I speak them, and he loves being able to say hello to them when we’re on walks, but he doesn’t mind at all when we don’t say hello to the pittie mix that hates us. Izzy’s smart that way.  He realizes that not everyone has to be your friend.  I need to learn that lesson.

This morning, Izzy kept close until I finished eating a late breakfast and took out the laptop again.  Then he looked at me, gave a little nod and moved into the other room to wait for the mail delivery.  This is our weekend routine, even though it’s not the weekend.  He knows our weekend pattern:  breakfast in bed, catching up on TV, some reading, then I go out for a while:  visit my grandson, see friends, come back every four hours or so to check up on Izzy, more relaxed, not stressed like during the week.

By the end of this little stay-cation we’re about to start, I will have let loose of the anxiety. I will write and read.  I will see friends and family.  Izzy and I will have walked long walks at least twice a day.  He will have visited the groomer and will have shed at least five pounds of fur.  He will have cuddled with me on the couch for hours.  He will have greeted some of my friends who will visit.  He will have taught me the meaning of vacationing.  He will have simply enjoyed being with me.  Living.

Izzy’s Summer Vacation

Why haven’t I written lately?  Because Izzy and I went to the beach with our good friends Ron and Alfie.

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Unfortunately it rained almost the whole time we were there! We spent time in the little house we rented.  The dogs cuddled while I wrote.  Ron took his writing to the local coffee shop.

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I definitely want to get to the ocean again, particularly because Izzy seemed to enjoy it much more so this year than he did when we went over my birthday last year. It’s also great for me to get there because it frees up my mind. The salt air clears out cobwebs and inspires me to write what I haven’t been able to write at home. I have the philosophy that breathing deeply of air that is not perfumed with car exhaust and not hindered by the sounds of industry and humans helps me access the creative genes I know exist deep inside of me.

Izzy and Alfie had many walks along the coast, and I think the air worked on them, too, but all it did was make them sleep more soundly.

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Now that summer’s over, more time to keep up with my blogs!

Animals and Emotions

Lately, I’ve been doing some research for a new novel that has an elephant as a main character, and though I thought I knew something about these fascinating animals, I’m finding out more and more with each page I turn.  I realize as I do  my research that the emotions we define as human-like are often simply instinct and the animal instincts we see are often emotions.

For example, last night, my friend Peggy came over with her dog Ellie (I’ve written about them here before).  As soon as Izzy heard her voice, he went into “play mode,” exceptionally excited to see both of them.  He ran over to me, tongue out, tail wagging, then went back to the door, over and over again, as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to open the door?  I’m excited!  Look who’s here!”  To say that he wasn’t happy to see them would have been the understatement of the century.

Then there’s the dog who lives across the street from me, tied to his tree all day, all night, every day of every week of every month of every year.  There are times we walk by him and he simply cries.  Sadness?  You bet.  And Izzy feels compassion for him because when he hears Tyson cry, he whimpers a little, too.

Elephants are said to have emotions.  They sense their own mortality and are known to mourn over the lifeless bodies of those who were part of their herd.  Baby elephants torn from their mothers and forced to work for the vanity of humans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Adolescents who lose their families because they’ve been off exploring are incredibly anxious about catching up with the matriarch.  And if a human abuses an elephant, that elephant will not forget.  Truly.

Over the recent Father’s Day holiday, I found a photo of my dad with one of his dogs.  I happen to know that the photo was taken shortly before my father had his sexy pompadour shaved, not long before he headed off to World War II.  That head of hair never grew back but was maintained in a crewcut for the rest of my father’s life.  That moment when the photo was taken was particularly poignant for my father who knew he might never see his beloved dog again, and I believe that dog picked up on the emotion, because he leans in protectively against my father’s leg.

My father and his dog, a Shepherd mix, circa 1943

My father and his dog, a Shepherd mix, circa 1943