A tail we could wag

Last Locust puppy play date by abbyef, via Flickr. Our German shepherd Pyrrha gives a dramatic play bow. #gsd
Pyrrha during a play date.

β€œIn times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.”

β€” W.H. Auden

. . . . . . . . . . .

Happy Friday! Isn’t a wag such a wonderful, happy thing to observe?

One of my favorite facts about Pyrrha is that I can just look at her from across the room and smile, and her tail starts to wag. Or I say her name. Or, “Hey, good girl.” With a fearful dog like P, this is so deeply heartwarming to me, that just receiving a little verbal affection and recognition from me can make her tail thump on the floor.

Eden, however, is not prone to give many wags. She takes herself VERY seriously. We get lots of wags (and body slams and face nips) when we greet her first thing in the morning, or upon coming home from work, but she is not very liberal in handing out wags. But in play, you get a few intense, focused wags. It’s hard to explain, but they are much more focused than Pyrrha’s calm, slow wags; Eden wags with intention.

Is your dog very wag-gy? Or does he or she keep a more silent tail?

The little things

Oh, hi
Pyrrha gets up close and personal.

This photo cracks me up. And simultaneously warms my heart. It’s the little things with a shy dog, you know? The things that guardians of “normal” dogs probably take for granted: A wagging tail when you walk in the room, a stupid grin, a tongue lolling out the side of her mouth, rushing nose-first into your camera with a big smile. All these things indicate HUGE progress for Pyrrha. And so they’ll always make me feel a lot of joy. She is doing well and continuing to open up and every tiny sign makes me feel so happy and proud of her.

Coming up next week: Long, long walks and a visit to “dad” at work, plus thoughts on when to start more intensive training.

Happy weekend, everyone! Enjoy the little things!

Poem: The Dog Has Run Off Again

Go, dog, go! Click for source.

A sweet, simple poem by Mary Oliver about when the dog runs off…

The Dog Has Run Off Again
Mary Oliver

and I should start shouting his name
and clapping my hands,
but it has been raining all night
and the narrow creek has risen
is a tawny turbulence is rushing along
over the mossy stones
is surging forward
with a sweet loopy music
and therefore I don’t want to entangle it
with my own voice
calling summoning
my little dog to hurry back
look the sunlight and the shadows are chasing each other
listen how the wind swirls and leaps and dives up and down
who am I to summon his hard and happy body
his four white feet that love to wheel and pedal
through the dark leaves
to come back to walk by my side, obedient.

Happy Friday, all!

Hiking with Bo

Carter Mountain with Bo
Bo is paying extremely close attention to that apple in my hand. Source: Husband's iPhone

We had glorious early autumn weather here this weekend and so we decided to hike up to Carter Mountain Orchard with friends. Failing to be outside on a weekend like this would be a severe crime. Liz, Bo’s mama, was out of town for the weekend and we were left with the beautiful Bo as our charge. I thought he’d have a great time in the woods and so we decided to pile him in the back of our Jeep and head out there.

My husband informed me on our way up that it was Festival Day, which meant that the entire town–and their dogs!–were at the orchard. I was nervous. Festival Day at the orchard was stressful for me as a human; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be totally overwhelming for Bo.

Thankfully, however, our hour-long hike up the mountain proved to sufficiently tire him out, and by the time we reached the throngs of people, Bo was in a calm, resting state.

A few things I learned from the outing:

  • Bo is extremely even-tempered; he’s the perfect dog to handle a big crowd, especially once he’s a bit tired. Dozens of kids came up to him and most were very polite and sweet with him. He took it all in stride–even when a rather pushy father stuck his toddler in Bo’s face. The toddler kept grabbing Bo’s tongue and pulling it and Bo didn’t even flinch. I gently moved Bo away from the kid, who started to scream, but the father eventually got the message: Yep, it’s time to keep your kid from torturing patient animals. However, I was very relieved to have such a trustworthy dog with me.
  • Taking a retriever to an orchard means that said retriever will try to retrieve every fallen apple on the ground… even when there are literally hundreds of fallen apples. I think he was eventually overwhelmed by all of the tasty retrieving options and finally gave up.
  • I saw two German shepherd puppies among the crowd up there and got to pet one who had recently been adopted from a breeder in Chesapeake. The puppy was very sweet and didn’t seem too overwhelmed by the madness. As he walked away, though, I couldn’t help but notice his already extremely bent hindlegs, in the GSD show fashion. It made me a bit sad.
  • Bo is especially fond of my brother-in-law, Win.
  • Bo is weird about drinking water that’s not from his specific bowl at home. He was clearly thirsty when we reached the top, but when we offered him a bowl of water at the orchard, he only took one lap and then moved away. We kept trying to tempt him with it, but he was uninterested. Strange.
  • On the hike down, we took him off leash and he was wonderful. He’d wander a few yards ahead of us but always stopped and turned around to make sure we were still following. A quick whistle or call of his name would bring him back to the trail after he went bounding after a random scent or squirrel. His recall is not superb, but he will always stop and listen when you ask him to; it’s just getting him to come that’s the hard part. A play bow on my part was often a helpful incentive. And a ginger cat cookie from Trader Joe’s…
  • One of the most joyful things in the world is watching a dog running free in the woods.
  • Resounding opinion of all of our hiking friends: “Bo is the perfect dog.” He’s pretty darn close.

All in all, we had a perfect day and I’m so happy that Bo joined us. I can’t wait to go on similar adventures with our own dog! And hopefully Bo will come along too…

SPCA Day: The joy of Pooch

I confess that I went to the SPCA for my day of dog walking somewhat reluctantly this past week. The weather has been brutally hot here and last Saturday was no exception. The heat index on Saturday was showing something like 102 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the day. Even though I was sweating my face off, I was happy, because the dogs are always happy.

Pooch

My most memorable dog of the day was Pooch, a young male pit bull. Pooch was one of the last dogs I walked on Saturday. Unlike most of the dogs, he didn’t jump or bark at me when I stopped at his kennel to take him out. He quietly sat by the door and just watched me, somewhat shyly. I crouched down and put my hand out for him to sniff. He ducked his head in an anxious way when I put his leash on, but as soon as I turned around to walk, he bolted out of that kennel like a rocket. The kid was ready to GO!

Like most pits, Pooch used his low center of gravity and strong pulling force to drag me all over the trails. I wasn’t much use trying to calm him down, so I took him to one of the enclosed “agility” areas. As soon as I snapped his leash off, he went wild with excitement: Racing in circles around the perimeter, looking for things to chew and balls to chase. He was especially enamored with a stuffed lamb toy that had been left in the pen. To amuse himself, he would toss it up in the air and then jump and catch it. I was delighted to just sit there and watch him play. If I wasn’t engaged in the activity, however, he was sure to let me know that he wanted my full participation. If I sat down after throwing the ball, he would charge up to me and impatiently throw his paws on my knees, grinning the whole time.

Pooch taught me a few things on Saturday. First, that dogs can behave very differently depending on their environments and situations. Pooch was shy and still when in his kennel, but as soon as he got out, he was like a totally different (and energy-packed!) dog. Second, Pooch reinforced that many pits and pit mixes have almost boundless energy. Compared with the different breed mixes I’ve met at the shelter, it’s the pits who seem to be the most gregariously energetic. And third, Pooch reminded me of what a thoroughly delightful thing it is to just watch a dog play. It’s encouraging to find the dogs at the shelter who are able to maintain their play drives to such a happy extent–despite their circumstances.

I hope Pooch finds a great home of his own very soon.

Beauty

I was also taken with Beauty, a sweet-faced female hound of middling adult age. We have a ton of hounds at our shelter. I’d never seen so many in my entire life. This is because of the area in which we live, where there are many hunters and who go out with packs of hounds. These hunters don’t always take the best care of their hunting dogs, who may often get separated from the pack or breed with each other without any regard for what will happen to the bitches or their puppies.

I don’t know Beauty’s back story, but I do know that she’s a quiet and lovely soul. Many of the hounds I’ve met show little to no interest in people. I don’t know if this is because this is a “hound thing” or if it’s because of the way they’ve been raised, but it’s often hard to get a hound’s attention–mainly because they are usually following the scent trail of something that’s about a hundred times more interesting than I am. Beauty was an exception to this aloof, uninterested hound trait.

As we walked, she paused every so often to stop and just look me straight in the face. Not in a challenging way, not in a fearful way–but a look that communicated calm attention. I’m anthropomorphizing here, but to me, Beauty’s look also communicated gratitude. Every time she stopped to watch me, to follow my eyes, she seemed to be saying, “Thank you.”

I don’t know what she was actually saying, but I’m going to believe that for a while longer. She deserves a family who will appreciate and cherish her gentleness and goodness. I hope she finds them soon.

Finally, another favorite moment of the day was with the tiny beagle mix puppy that I got to cradle for a few minutes. (I don’t have a picture of him, which probably means that he got adopted!) He was in a small carrier on the floor while his kennel was being cleaned and the poor baby was just crying his heart out. I was in between shifts of walking and I couldn’t help myself when I heard him. I stopped, sat down on the ground, and let him walk out of the carrier toward me. I didn’t want to reach in there and grab him, as he already seemed very frightened and confused. He cautiously approached me and I picked him up. He had brilliant blue eyes and those sweet, velvety beagle ears. I held him for a few minutes and spoke softly to him.

I could have sat there all day, but there were big dogs who needed walking and so I reluctantly put him back. My wish for him is that he will find a family who will raise him well and give him a long, happy life in one household.

I’m looking forward to my next volunteering weekend and to all of the new things that I will undeniably learn!

(Also: Some exciting news about Penny, the hyperactive dog that I thought no one would adopt: Apparently, she was adopted by the DEA to be a drug enforcement dog at the airports! I’m excited for her and I hope this job will provide a great channel for her boundless energy.)