They Say Don’t Give a Pet for Christmas…

…But maybe it’s OK  to get one yourself.

Watch this video and just SEE if it doesn’t make you smile. You might even take their suggestion at the end..

Give Those Dogs a Smoke

Below is a video of these two dogs having a meal at a busy restaurant. It’s funny because they have human hands, which they use to drum and point and cradle their chins as they wait for the food, then eat the food and finally finish the food, all with knives and forks.

The crowd noise in the background is excellent –  you can hear the hostess calling out numbers when it’s time to seat the various parties – and the waitress is very believable. I just would have like to see them each pull out a cigarette and smoke it afterward but I guess that’s a silly thought. Smoking isn’t allowed in restaurants anymore, right, never mind what the animal rights people would have to say about blindly waving live coals around the furry snouts of two such trusting creatures.

What I do wonder is how the two hand-providing humans have themselves are situated for this shoot. I assume they’re under the sweaters the dogs are wearing but are they behind the canines and cradling them with their thighs? Are they under them somehow?

That’s Amazing Thing Number One. Amazing Thing Number Two is that 4 and a half million people have watched this video in the last three months. The question I ask there is one I asked through all my childhood (a) Where are the grownups?   and (b) how can we keep them from catching us and keeping us from having all this fun?  

The Tenants

Off and on all spring we’ve had these thumb-sized mice darting around the kitchen baseboards faster than the light from a laser pointer. Off and on all spring we’ve had these shiny black ants using their delicate feelers to probe all the soaps and sponges in the bathroom.

What to do? Mousetraps work, sure, especially when baited with peanut butter, but how many mousetraps can you set before you start feeling like a serial killer? How many exquisitely fashioned insect bodies can you crush before you feel twinges of shame?

Yet I enter the kitchen nights and see a mouse scooting so fast around the baseboards my eyes can hardly follow it. I enter the bathroom mornings and the place is a-shimmer with ant-dancing.

Our problem is we’ve grown tender-hearted enough over the years that we’re much slower to spring for the executioner’s implements. (I once watched as a little spider landed on David’s nose, a tiny thing that began rappelling down toward his chin like a climber descending a cliff-face. He just unhooked that delicate rope of web, went to the door and set the whole thing down outside.)

Now, to complicate things even more, a sparrow has built her nest inside the glass globe of our front porch light.  We realized it because every time we set foot on the porch we there was this great and general fluttering. It took days before we thought to look over our heads to see where she flew from.

We can’t actually see inside the light’s globe – its glass is opaque – but we’re think she’s hatching a family in there.  Also, a tiny egg appeared under this light fixture one day, smashed in pieces on the porch floorboards. Poor bird! She didn’t know she lived inside an oven; never guessed how likely it was that a switch could be slipped, wildly overheating her nest. Is this what happened, and the egg was damaged, so she nudged it overboard?

Last summer, a mourning dove made her nest on the sill of an upstairs window here and for six straight weeks we watched her sit her eggs and tend her babes – not one, but two separate batches of them.  It just took us outside ourselves to watch them; softened our hearts to see the way she came to trust us. We could stand within inches of her, watching through the window glass and she would only regard us calmly as she stooped to feed and nuzzle her struggling offspring.

So maybe soon this sparrow will trust us too. Anyway we’ve taped the light switch in the ‘off’ position, so no one will again set her nest on Broil. The mice and ants will move out soon, we know, but our thoughts keep returning to this small tenant, who is so like us in a way: who lives and moves and has her being entirely  oblivious to the fact that eyes more powerful than she can picture or imagine are daily upon her, watching,  to keep her safe. 

L’chaim, L’chaim to Life!

I ran into my new friend Morgan today who said she saw that picture of the dead bird on my blog yesterday and wondered if I knew what kind of bird it was. I had to say that I didn’t because the snow is too deep for me to get close enough to the poor thing.  She then told me that in her yard they have a squirrel who eats a little and then lies right down in the snow – just lies on one side, chewing before eventually getting up and trotting off . She doesn’t know what the problem with him might be.

I suggested so look it up on the Internet and then did so myself the second I got back home again. It’s of course hard to know just how to ask the question that will give you information about a reclining rodent but I finally Googled “signs of sickness in squirrels” and got taken to a site where I read the following. Right church wrong pew maybe but good to know nonetheless. It says:

“We have encountered a few cases of blind squirrels. These have been easy to spot, as they tend to hop around in circles trying to get their bearings, and will often bump into things. A blind squirrel may even have a sore nose for this reason. In our experience blind squirrels tend not to be aggressive (in fact can be quite docile) if handled gently. Be careful obviously just in case. The cause of blindness may need some investigation by a vet  especially if the eyes (or ears) look unhealthy, but a blind squirrel can lead a long and happy life in the right hands…” – hands like the ones above presumably since it says this is the right way to hold a squirrel.

So see? You really can find anything on the internet. And when I Googled “blind animals” I got this beauty of a cartoon. I know blindness isn’t funny and certainly death by one’s own hand isn’t but still: how great is this? The guy is TRYING to leave a suicide note next to the tracks while he lies down on the tracks, selfishly taking his dog with him it seems, but the dog sure had other plans. Look at that little smile!

There’s that life force again, God bless it. Now everybody sing, “L’chaim, L’chaim to Life!” from Fiddler on the Roof.

Which Is Better, Dogs or Cats?

This is my late dog Penny asking for a second coat of polish on her nails (that’s a can of acrylic.)

OK so here’s a good way to start a lively conversation: go down the path of which is better, dogs or cats. Crosby does this in an episode of “Parenthood” when he’s talking to his girl Jasmine about what she should do to make her new place homey. His recommendation? Get a dog. “Uh, I’m actually more of cat person,” says Jasmine with a look. “Grody, you’re a cat person?!” answers  Crosby. Cats suck! They’re narcissistic, they’re always licking themselves, they’re kinda OCD… ”

“Hmmmm” you think hearing this. Cats are grody? because they lick themselves? Maybe we’re the grody ones, putting spit on our fingers to wash the faces of People Who Are Not Us. As for narcissistic, until Jasmine and little Jabbar came into his life, Crosby’s the most narcissistic person on the show. And cats are OCD? Has he never seen a dog settle down for a nap, the way it goes round and round in a million circles before finally flumping down? I say forget the generalizations, let’s look at real life:

When I was five we had a kitten who kept trying to climb up on our heads like a panicky swimmer.  Now in adulthood I’ve had several cats, none of them fitting the nasty cat stereotype. The black one with the little white flame of fur at her throat used to leap INTO the Christmas tree every year. Perched there darkly, she acted more like Poe’s raven than any feline you ever heard about. And the grey one struck lots of people as mighty doglike with his blithe outgoing ways. Once he brought a live chipmunk into the house, not in his mouth but running alongside him, like a little kid arriving for a playdate. In they both burst the second I opened the door. “Hey, wanna see my ROOM?” he seemed to be saying to the wee thing.

Come to think of it, my old dog Penny didn’t fill the standard expectations either. She was more like a goat; she ate everything. Salad. Wood. The whole bottom of her food dish and that was made of metal. Then, when company came, she sank her long retriever’s nose into everyone’s drink. And speaking of obsessions, she was obsessed with ladies’ underwear, which she presented to all visitors every time the doorbell rang. The minute the parish priest showed up out – boom!  – out came bras, stockings, panties – all our dainty washables. Stunning to behold.

So don’t talk to me about “Dogs are like this” and “Cats are like that.” For my money all such talk is dumb. Dumb leaning toward hurtful, because every animal – every person too – is unique. And dogs are great just as cats are great. Hamsters and birds too, and even that four-foot-long iguana my friend Mary has under those eerie purple lights in her upstairs hall.

Remember the old Little Caesar’s Pizza ad, “I taught my dog to say I love you”? “As if dogs could talk!” is the joke. Well all I’m saying is Never underestimate what an animal can do. Because it sure does sometimes seem they’re a whole lot smarter than the two-legged fools wielding the can openers.

good old Abe in hound-dog mode

What I Learned at the Zoo

If you want to really scare yourself for Halloween, consider spending time around creatures who get blood popsicles for treats. I’m talking about the big cats at the New England Stone Zoo whose care I learned something about during a special backstage tour I got to go on last week. I was  guided by amiable Assistant Curator Pete Costello who for 23 years has worked at this small jewel of a zoo, sister to the venerable Franklin Park Zoo some ten miles to the south.

“Keep in mind,” he warned us as we ducked inside to watch a bit of the jaguars’ training: “These animals are not your friends,” a point reiterated by Animal Trainer Dayle Sullivan-Taylor. “Don’t stand anywhere NEAR the bars,” was her stern warning. “We train these animals so they can bear to be touched in case we have to examine them for medical issues but make no mistake: they’re dangerous.”

The young jag Chessie has been training with Dayle since she was eight weeks old and does in fact follow commands beautifully. “Open,” Dayle says and she opens her mouth. “Paw” and she extends her paw. “Over right” and she lies on her right side. Each time she obeys in this fashion, Dayle clicks her clicker, then throws meat into the cage.

“All this just desensitizes them to human touch,” she explained. “Once, Chessie here got something caught between her teeth and because of this training I was able to extract it – right through the bars” – without, she did not need to add, losing her arm in the process.

But the animals don’t undergo these lessons only for when they’re sick or have thorns stuck in their paws. The training entertains and stimulates them and is part of their overall enrichment program. Props of all kinds as well as sounds and smells are used to keep them interested and alert and happily curious.

It’s been discovered, for example, that the big cats are wild about Calvin Kline’s Obsession for Men when it is sprayed around on their environment – something about its complex pheromone-rich bouquet. Giraffes, otters, gorillas, parrots and even goats have toys and “train” as well. And last weekend on a just-for-fun return visit to the zoo I saw one of the gibbons swinging through the air holding the handle of a plastic jack o’ lantern – with her tail.

Environmental enrichment of this kind gives the animals the chance to make choices and experience new things, just as they would in the wild. They like different textures, from straw to soft blankets to wood shavings. And they’re hugely compelled by certain scents, with kinds of animal urine topping the list.

And then there are snacks: besides blood popsicles, the cats also like to see the occasional frozen mouse tossed onto their rocks now and then. I have a friend who had herself donated two bottles of Obsession.

Accordingly, at the end of our tour I asked Pete what else they could use.

He cited the big capsule-shaped toy that we had seen Chessie mounting and biting, much as she might bite the necks of her prey in the wild. “That’s called a Boomer Ball,” he said. “They come in all shapes and sizes and people can to contribute to the purchase of one by going to the website that virtually all zoos have these days.” (Theirs is http://www.zoonewengland.org )

“Is there anything else I should say to people?” I asked as we shook hands at the gate.

“Just tell them to visit their zoos!” he called back to me over a little distance as he began trotting back to his charges.  “Just have them come and see how much they learn!”

Frozen mice bodies also get tossed into the cage for another kind of ‘popsicle’; this male jag was briefly stymied: it landed in his pool and really he’s not much on swimming.

Sometimes You Eat the Bear and..

Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. We’re out in nature this weekend and the nights are mighty rackety. The sound a fox makes when it’s mating would take the skin clean off your face it’s so scary. You can hear it here. There’ll be some birds first and then about ¾ of the way in you’ll hear a sound that makes you wish you were in a steel house with bars on the windows, and not out under the stars with sly little creatures slinking past all night.

We keep looking for the martin reported to be living under the cabin, though we hope never to see it. They say a martin can tear your cat apart quick as thinking and leave nothing you’d even recognize as your dear little freeloader of a housepet.

Sigh.

This is our first year here without our two cats, both safely in Heaven now. It feels weird  having only humans in the house. Humans have such poor antennae. I know animals can’t see into the future but they sure can see in the dark. We by contrast: we’re just kids in the backward-facing sat of the old station wagon with no clue at all as to who – or what – has its eye on us for lunch.