Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bobcats, Coyotes and Tarantulas! Oh my!

We share our lives with some amazing creatures, both indoors and out.  Having lived in Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Maine and now Texas, I've seen my share of local wildlife.  Each new environment brings new creatures to marvel at, new animals to become familiar with and look out for.  These are those magical, natural  moments.

As a kid growing up just outside of Washington, D.C, I was mesmerized by the local deer.  We lived in a wooded area of northern Virginia, just a stone's throw from the city.  I used to scan everywhere for those secretive deer because I was drawn to their quiet mystery.  We'd catch glimpses of them in the woods, often just their white tails by the side of the road, trotting away from our headlights.

While in Louisiana, I lived in New Orleans, so my wildlife was more human than otherwise.  I was struck by the enormous size of the cockroaches and the gators.  This was my first brush with gators living so close to human homes.  And as far as cockroaches, I distinctly remember walking through the French Quarter one night after listening to music with friends and coming head on with a very large roach.  I looked closer (liquid courage on board) and it suddenly reared up at me.  Yes, reared up!  Terrors confirmed, I gave it a wide berth.

Florida is home to so many different kinds of exotic and amazing creatures.  There was the peacock that lived by the canal near our house; the same canal where we occasionally saw alligators.  There were snakes, both in stores and wild ones.  Large, colorful spiders, commonly known as banana spiders, love the dense Florida brush.  On our way to the Keys, we were lucky enough to see the highly endangered Key Deer (a tiny class of deer found on only a specific Key).  We saw iguanas and turtles pretty often.  One evening, while driving across Florida from the west coast through the Everglades, we had a truly scary experience.  T was still a young child, just past toddling stage.  We decided to take a quick leg-stretching break at a picnic site just off the road at a canal.  The picnic area was protected by knee-high stone walls at the water's edge.  We stood looking at the water as the sun was setting and I was struck by the many shadows on the water.  Having grown up in Florida, Matt knew better.  He grabbed a flashlight from the car and shown it out over the "shadows".  About 12 pairs of alligator eye shine stared back at us.  I startled, but having lived in Florida for a few years, I wasn't shocked.  What was surprising, was that over the next 10 minutes or so, the eye shines that were a good 50 yards away at first glance, had been advancing silently, slowly towards us.  Matt shined the flashlight again and the gators were no more than 20 yards away and closing.  We decided to take our toddler "snack" and get the hell out of there!

Maine was far less dramatic in the wildlife department.  We had a run in with a skunk or two, saw a few foxes, and a beautiful coyote family.  Sadly, we saw no bears, or wild moose.  Cold weather cut the available animals down quite a bit.  I hoped to see a wolf, but never got the chance - I hear wolf re-introduction is possible in northern Maine.  Fingers crossed!

I never imagined that Texas would provide so much wildlife exposure.  Since living here, we've seen a tremendous number of wild creatures.  We live in a fairly urban suburb of Dallas, between Dallas and Fort Worth.  We hear nightly coyote calls from the resident pack that lives behind our home.  There's a walking path next to a creek and across the creek lies thick brush-covered land.  Nearby is the DFW airport property - miles and miles of wild miles.  The coyotes are frequent walking path travelers, coming to and from their open spaces.  Just a year ago, we discovered a resident bobcat.  We've only seen him a couple of times, but what an amazing animal!  He's walked right past us while we had the girls about 10 feet away, and on one occasion, actually dropped down in a stalking stance at Miss Arwen (silly kitty).  One evening, I saw it toying with a rat before disappearing into the brush only about 20 yards away from my balcony.  I've also seen vultures, turtles, snakes, hawks, deer, a tarantula, a nutria, and a fox.  Who would've thought that so much wildlife could thrive in such a hot, dry place!  I'm glad for it, but I hadn't expected it.

Red Tail hawk - caught from my passenger side door eating a rabbit

Bobcat at dusk, toying with a rat captured from my balcony.

Tarantula in the brush about 20 yards from my balcony.

So even when we have wolves in the living room, it's nice to know Mother Nature isn't so very far away, and that we're still very much a part of nature.   It's nice to know that all we need to do is open that front door and let ourselves out!

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I just finished watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer, where Cesar Millan talked about getting the dog you need, not necessarily the dog you want.  I love "AHA!" moments like these.  I started thinking about this statement and how it relates to my own life.  No matter which dog you choose from a litter, or a shelter, or who finds you, you'll be transformed.  But only if you're willing to open your heart.  Can you think of any close, family relationship that hasn't impacted your life?  I can't - human or canine.

Sometimes the change is life-altering.  Our hearts soar when we hear stories about people who've welcomed a dog into their lives that later saves their lives in a fire, or in a robbery, or provides companionship during long-term illness.  Then there are the dogs that bring more subtle changes.  Those that teach us patience with their constant leash-pulling, assertiveness while becoming confident walk leaders, or even empathy when they lick our tears away. There are very few relationships that connect with us as purely as the one we share with our dogs.  How could we not be influenced by them?  Learn from them?  Be changed by them...

It's hard to say what a dog will teach you when they come home for the first time, but that's part of the magic of relationships.  With an open heart, one day at a time, simply learning.  

How to be calm and assertive

we'll see...

How to be a great leader!

Please check out my article on The Examiner about walking your dog here.
And please also check out my Etsy shop, ForPetsSake for goodies!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Praise of All Dogs

I was reading a recent magazine article about World Vets, an organization that sends vets and vet nurses abroad to help animals in regions with sparse or no veterinary availability.  Like the Peace Corps but for  animals.  I love this idea!!  Doing this would feed my soul for years!!  I know everyone reading this blog babies their pets like I do, but there are so many others that need care.  (I know there's a need for help here  too, but the idea of travel always romances me.)

World Vets provides pet sterilization and helps with zoonotic disease prevention.   

While reading this article, I noticed a picture of some of the stray dogs in Africa.  Among them, was a dog that looked like Fenway's twin.  This dog was proportionally shaped, with short brown fur, a dark snooter, white socks, a white star on his chest.   My imagination immediately led me to think of Fenway as a dog from an exotic land, somehow dumped in the suburbs of Dallas.  Maybe he was born in a freighter to some African stray who'd sought shelter in a shipping container just before birthing her litter.  Maybe he was part of a wild dog experiment, and had been shipped over from Africa for some canine genetics investigation.  Or maybe, and far more probable, is Occam's Razor:  this is what happens to dogs when we stop playing with their genetics.

A local dog from the World Vets website - another Fenway twin?

I'm certainly not against selective breeding for ability and appearance - Arwen and Nyxie's genetics were certainly the product of selection.  Their beauty is striking (I'm a bit biased, I know...), and they do just what they're "supposed" to do.  Nyxie protects and herds, Arwen pulls (we've made HUGE lifelong strides to reverse this one) and even at her age, has stamina to rival that of her younger siblings.  Regardless, breed selection should always be ruled by the guiding hand of health and sound temperament.

Beautiful girls undoubtedly to conjuring up mischief!

But in the end, Mother Nature gets it right.  My muttly little dog is both handsome and able.  His temperament allows him to play well and communicate appropriately with other dogs.  He is smallish, yet large enough - not quite a little dog, but not quite a big dog either.  Dogs bred to be tiny or extra large tend to have the most health problems, so "medium" seems to be the safest.  His color provides good camouflage over most terrain, and his quiet watchfulness would certainly draw little attention from prey or predator.

The Mutt of Mystery himself!

Fenway's coat color and thickness would be no match for arctic snows, and his size and quiet demeanor would make him the least effective Czech border patrol dog in history.  But today, in our home, this little brown dog rounds out our international Arwen's Pack.  He brings neutrality. From  his flexibility in playing rough and tumble with Arwen, to playing keep away with Nyxie and her toys, our little man has brought balance.  Who knows where he came from or what his genetics are... It's just a damn good thing he managed to get away from those canine genetic investigators, or from that litter of African strays!
Fenway - Mutt of Mystery!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solar or Hydro Powered Puppy?

Each dog has his or her own loves and preferences.  When you add a new pup to the pack, his loves unravel like a mystery.  Part of the magic of bringing in a new dog is watching his personality and habits emerge.

First, we're pretty certain that Fenway is hydro-powered.  Or maybe solar-powered.  I say this because he can always be found diving into the water bowl, gulping down huge amounts of water.  We still have him on kibble, which makes him drink more than the girls; but holy cow, can that dog put some water away!  He's like a camel!  It's truly impressive for his small and Runty stature.  "Runty" is his nickname, by the way.  He didn't want me to blog that, but it's irresistible.

If he's not hydro-powered, then Fenway is certainly solar-powered.  I've posted several pics of him laying in the glorious sunbeams, luxuriating in their warmth.  I suspect we'll need to get this guy some booties and a coat for the winter months, much to Matt's chagrin.  He won't argue too much if I suit him up in skulls...

The girls are still getting used to him, but now they're both playing with him.  Like the shiny new toy, he's in big demand.  We'll just have to get a bigger water bowl and slide his bed closer to the window.  I think we can handle that...

Check out my latest article on the health benefits of walking with your dog on The Examiner, Dallas!

And also please stop my Etsy store for some Halloween goodies!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Sundog

I'm in a peaceful state today.  My pack will be reunited again after a short, but difficult absence.

We heard the news last weekend that Matt's father was in the hospital.  While we stressed and fretted over the past week, we decided that he and T should visit him this weekend.  They left early Friday morning and will be back late tonight.  Matt's dad is recovering, the details of the illness are blurry and vague like most forays into the hospital.  But he is improving daily.

It's been difficult to be here in Texas without being able to provide support for my own family and my extended family.  I'm far better with the written word than I am with spoken ones, and that's just something I'll have to work on.  For over 10 years, Matt's dad has been a presence in my life, very different from that of my own father, but a father-figure nonetheless.  He is a strong man with a tough spirit, very similar to my Matt, but also different in many ways.

How I've missed Matt and T.  There was a part of me that thought I might enjoy the quiet and freedom of a weekend alone.  The quiet I appreciate, but the alone is much harder.  My heart has grown too many roots around them both to not feel torn when they're gone.

But today is a Happy Sundog Day because they'll be home soon and the Pack will be together again.  Matt's dad is healing and the family's pain is subsiding.  We've been holding our collective breath for too long.  So for now, I'll wait here and enjoy the quiet.  Because soon it will be loud again...just as it should be.