Saturday, August 29, 2009


Half my family lives in Oregon, so I go up there every couple years to visit, usually with my sister and my dad and his crew.

This year I was excited to drive up there with Byrd, sightseeing along the way, but at the last minute, the company he works for decided they really needed him to stay and work. So I flew up there without him, and stayed for a week.

I eagerly anticipated that I'd be getting out of the Texas heat and into some pleasant weather. Come to find out, they're having a heat wave up there. Eugene's temperatures weren't much cooler than the 100s in Texas, but here's the big difference: low humidity and a cool breeze. In Texas, we have high humidity and the sort of breeze that hits your face when you open an oven door.

So even though my grandma didn't have air conditioning, it got cool enough at night to leave windows open, and the house retained that coolness throughout the day. That's unheard of where I live, at least in the summer. I even had to fix the settings on Grandma's A/C in her car, because she never used it.

My sis walking Grandma's dog out in the heat...

We spent the first several days at Grandma's house fixing things. My sis and I tackled some of the dirtier work, including cleaning out the garage/shed and recarpeting the vegetable garden.

Now, there are two things in this world that I really feel that I can do without. One is roaches. And the other is spiders. These two things are the only critters that can send me running and screaming like a two-year-old.

And let me tell you, working at my Grandma's house, I have never seen so many spiders in my life. The climate was really favorable for them this year or something.

Here we are gingerly peeling back the old carpet that was acting as a weed barrier in Grandma's garden...

We piled up the old carpet (notice the strawberry plant that had rooted itself to the carpet) and the spiders were even happier to have this fancy new home full of hidey-holes:

Well the last laugh's on you, spiders! (We took the carpet to the dump, spiders and all.)

And here's the garage, partway done. We got everything out of the smack middle, but there will never be enough room for Grandma's car unless she manages to find someone to buy the approx. 300 boxed-up collectible glass whiskey decanters that line the back of her garage (not pictured here).

We found three boxes of old magazines that Grandma said she just hadn't had the time to read. We tore off the address labels and recycled them. The boxes were full of spiders.

Even when I sought some respite from the dirty jobs of cleaning and organizing, there were spiders. I went to pick blueberries and found out the bushes were fave hangouts for spiders.

By the way, if you are ever in Eugene, there's this great little place there called Off the Waffle. EAT A WAFFLE THERE. You will not regret it. We found it purely by chance on our first day in town, and ate those waffles every single day we were in the city. I came back to Texas, bought a waffle maker, and made waffles (liege waffles to be precise) for the first time in my life because of that place. I would tell you how good these waffles are, but if you cannot go to Eugene and eat one, then my description will only make you horribly, possibly incurably, depressed. So I'll just say they were rockin'.

After three days of spiders, screams, and swearing, a group of us went on a little road trip to Crater Lake.

We took the boat tour of the lake. The boat ride around Crater Lake was educational and entertaining, and gave us great closeups of the lake's features.

Devil's Spine:

Wizard Island (large island to one side of the Lake):

My favorite, Phantom Ship (smaller island):

Just a few tips from me if you ever plan to stay at Crater Lake.

One, either bring your own food, or prepare to PAY for your meals. They have a captive audience there, and they know it. No civilization for hours in any direction.

Two, don't do the boat tour if you can't handle a serious climb afterwards. The path down is sandy, slippery, and steep. It doesn't change coming back up, and you've just spent two hours in a boat, likely developing hunger and thirst along the way. For the same reason, do the morning tour rather than the afternoon ones, especially in the late summer--earlier tour means a cooler temperature when you climb back up.

Three, take advantage of the ranger-led seminars that are usually offered in the evening. We went to one I thought would be really boring, but it turned out quite interesting.

Four, if you have any interest in stars--this is the place to look. We were there at the tail end of the annual Perseid meteor shower and got to see some really nice shooting stars (but it gets cold at night!).

The next day we were at the coast, and caught a Mail Boat speed boat ride on the Rogue River. Fun stuff! We got to see bald eagles, otters, turtles, a mink, fish, blue herons, and a lot of campers, fishers, and park rangers--and our fine captain did donuts in the river, which got quite a few people along the edges of the boat wet (if you want to stay dry(er), sit in the middle toward the back).

First otter I've ever seen in the wild:

Possibly the most fun job ever--biologist park ranger? These guys were catching fish to weigh and measure. Suddenly I'm thinking of a career change.

Bald eagle flying off a nest. There's another one roosting in the tree, if you look close.

After all this entertainment, we headed back to Grandma's. No more spiders for me--we headed north to Portland and the airport shortly after. A great trip and a nice break.

Came home to 179 unopened emails.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Demodectic Mange

Good news! Well, I suppose it's not really "good" to have mange, but let's just say the news is better than the alternative: Dubby has demodectic mange, the non-contagious kind.

Looks like we'll probably have Dubby for at least a couple weeks. He must be neutered before he can go to adoption events, and he has to get a little healthier and grow some fur before he can be neutered.

Learning that Dubby was not contagious (at least, not to healthy dogs that aren't being constantly exposed to his mite-infested body), I decided to let Star and Dubby meet during a potty break.

Star's reaction was completely opposite my expectations, especially since she'd been soooo curious about Dubby at first, during the time when we didn't know if he was contagious and kept them totally separated. She wanted to see and smell and touch, and I just said "no no no no" all the time while body blocking her as we passed on the way to the back yard for pee breaks.

So, at last, she got her chance!! Yes, she wanted to smell!! And then she did, and this look came over her face like "OMG, eww, this thing stinks! What a creepy nasty thing! Nope, changed my mind, I don't want anything to do with it. BYE!!!" and she ran off.

Honestly, he does stink. He smells just like every dog at an animal shelter, like cleaning products, animal byproducts, fear, and death. If you've ever been to a shelter, you know the smell I mean. And if dogs have flashbacks, then I'm sure Star would have been remembering her own frightening experiences at the shelter as she sniffed this pink little critter.

On top of that, there is the odor from the mange and the crusty skin infections.

Needless to say, I'm going to give him a bath tomorrow morning.

Dubby will be up for adoption at some point, so be sure to tell all your friends! ;) He rides great in the car (in his cardboard box), has a calm and quiet demeanor, hasn't had any accidents in the house, and is very attentive and curious.

Dubby napping in the car in his cardboard box.

Thank you for all the nice comments on the last post, btw. I love fostering, and I'd do it all the time if Dozer would let me.

I believe that since I don't hold down a steady job or make a living wage (which makes it hard for me to donate money), I should at least spend my time in ways that benefit the world somehow, even on a small scale. That's why I run my websites, volunteer for shelters/advocacy groups, help out at charity events, and foster when I can.

If anything, I think my husband is the real hero, because he's the one dealing with a crap job so we can have food and a roof over our heads. I couldn't do this stuff without his support. :)

Okay, so the next post will be about Oregon. It will be dull, unless you like hearing about other people's trips. And spiders. There will be spiders.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New foster

I'm back from a week-long trip to Oregon (visit with family) and will have plenty to share about that trip in a bit... but thought I would share this breaking news since it's way more exciting and a lot cuter.

We have a new foster puppy. This nameless little guy is about 11 weeks old and has some sort of mange. I have just started fostering for a local rescue group, Austin Pets Alive, and when they sent out the alert about him, I went and pulled him from the local kill shelter. At this shelter, most unclaimed dogs with medical problems (esp. mange) are euthanized unless pulled by a rescue group, so this little guy's life depended on finding a foster.

Since we don't yet know whether the mange is demodectic (not contagious) or sarcoptic (contagious), he's in isolation in our bathtub until we find out, presumably on Monday when we can take him to the vet.

Our dogs aren't allowed near him; the bathroom's been closed off with a baby gate to add an extra layer of separation. I also wash my hands every time I touch the puppy, and I have one of Byrd's large shirts in the bathroom, worn like a smock when carrying or handling the puppy. I sure hope the mange is demodex... it'll be hard to keep this up for several weeks if it is contagious.

I've decided to name him Dubby if allowed. This is because, a while back, there was another little puppy at APA that could have been this guy's double, mange and all.

I take him out to potty in the extra dog kennel, the one that previously housed Peepers when he was sick, the one that has also been used for doggy "time out" and for temporary containment of stray dogs and injured wild birds. I remind Byrd about this every time he talks about dismantling "that useless kennel."

Dubby is so cute, sweet, smart, and surprisingly quiet. I don't know how long it will last, but I presume he will start acting a bit more rowdy once his mange gets treated and he feels better. So, of course, I'm taking this opportunity to teach him some basic obedience.

Star would love to play with him, I'm sure, but that will have to wait for a while.

Monday, August 10, 2009


A bonafide miracle happened today. You won't believe it even if I tell you but I'm going to tell you anyway.

Byrd went to the grocery store. By himself.

This is a man who, despite his intimidating stature, is borderline agoraphobic and has panic attacks at the grocery store, so the last time he went was... hmm... it's been about two years, I think. And I went with him that time. He hasn't been alone in a store in a decade.

He said he wanted to take care of me, seeing as how I'm into a bedridden fifth day of high fever and occasional delerium. Awww, isn't he just sho shweet!! (Actually, I know the real reason he wanted to go--he finished off the last pint of his favorite ice cream the other day.)

I helped him with the grocery list, knowing he wouldn't stick to it--he's a compulsive shopper and will buy pretty much anything that looks edible when there's no one (me) around to restrain him.

And off he went, forgetting the recycling (which is conveniently on the way to the store), forgetting the canvas bags, almost forgetting the list.

After an hour with no word, I got a little worried. Then he called. He couldn't find applesauce, or yogurt, and he had been overwhelmed by brands of bodywash (for him!), and what flavor of cough drops did I want?

He came home looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, evidently having whole new worlds opened up due to his expedition to Planet Grocery. I was then treated to a show-and-tell in the bedroom as he hauled in find after find: here were some instant noodles for me, and look at the TV dinners he'd found, and can you believe they have tiny bottles of Coke with resealable caps!?

I don't think I'm strong enough to go into the kitchen and see what insane things he pulled off the store shelves. At least he covered the list.

And I'm not one to complain about a miracle.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dogs as smart as 2 year olds

Dogs as Smart as 2-year-old Kids
Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer
Sat Aug 8, 2:05 pm ET

The canine IQ test results are in: Even the average dog has the mental abilities of a 2-year-old child.

The finding is based on a language development test, revealing average dogs can learn 165 words (similar to a 2-year-old child), including signals and gestures, and dogs in the top 20 percent in intelligence can learn 250 words.

And the smartest?

Border collies, poodles, and German shepherds, in that order, says Stanley Coren, a canine expert and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia. Those breeds have been created recently compared with other dog breeds and may be smarter in part because we've trained and bred them to be so, Coren said. The dogs at the top of the pack are on par with a 2.5-year-old.

Better at math and socializing

While dogs ranked with the 2-year-olds in language, they would trump a 3- or 4-year-old in basic arithmetic, Coren found. In terms of social smarts, our drooling furballs fare even better.

"The social life of dogs is much more complex, much more like human teenagers at that stage, interested in who is moving up in the pack and who is sleeping with who and that sort of thing," Coren told LiveScience.

Coren, who has written more than a half-dozen books on dogs and dog behavior, will present an overview of various studies on dog smarts at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in Toronto.

"We all want insight into how our furry companions think, and we want to understand the silly, quirky and apparently irrational behaviors [that] Lassie or Rover demonstrate," Coren said. "Their stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity are reminders that they may not be Einsteins but are sure closer to humans than we thought."

Math test

To get inside the noggin of man's best friend, scientists are modifying tests for dogs that were originally developed to measure skills in children.

Here's one: In an arithmetic test, dogs watch as one treat and then another treat are lowered down behind a screen. When the screen gets lifted, the dogs, if they get arithmetic (1+1=2), will expect to see two treats. (For toddlers, other objects would be used.)

But say the scientist swipes one of the treats, or adds another so the end result is one, or three treats, respectively. "Now we're giving him the wrong equation which is 1+1=1, or 1+1=3," Coren said. Sure enough, studies show the dogs get it. "The dog acts surprised and stares at it for a longer period of time, just like a human kid would," he said.

These studies suggest dogs have a basic understanding of arithmetic, and they can count to four or five.

Basic emotions

Other studies Coren notes have found that dogs show spatial problem-solving skills. For instance, they can locate valued items, such as treats, find better routes in the environment, such as the fastest way to a favorite chair, and figure out how to operate latches and simple machines.

Like human toddlers, dogs also show some basic emotions, such as happiness, anger and disgust. But more complex emotions, such as guilt, are not in a dog's toolbox. (What humans once thought was guilt was found to be doggy fear, Coren noted.)

And while dogs know whether they're being treated fairly, they don't grasp the concept of equity. Coren recalls a study in which dogs get a treat for "giving a paw."

When one dog gets a treat and the other doesn't, the unrewarded dog stops performing the trick and avoids making eye contact with the trainer. But if one dog, say, gets rewarded with a juicy steak while the other snags a measly piece of bread, on average the dogs don't care about the inequality of the treats.

Top dogs

To find out which dogs had the top school smarts, Coren collected data from more than 200 dog obedience judges from the United States and Canada.

He found the top dogs, in order of their doggy IQ are:
Border collies Poodles German shepherds Golden retrievers Dobermans Shetland sheepdogs Labrador retrievers

At the bottom of the intelligence barrel, Coren would include many of the hounds, such as the bassett hound and the Afghan hound, along with the bulldog, beagle and basenji (a hunting dog).

"It's important to note that these breeds which don't do as well tend to be considerably older breeds," he said. "They were developed when the task of a hound was to find something by smell or sight." These dogs might fare better on tests of so-called instinctive intelligence, which measure how well dogs do what they are bred to do.

"The dogs that are the brightest dogs in terms of school learning ability tend to be the dogs that are much more recently developed," Coren said. He added that there's a "high probability that we've been breeding dogs so they're more responsive to human beings and human signals." So the most recently bred dogs would be more human-friendly and rank higher on school smarts.

Many of these smarty-pants are also the most popular pets. "We like dogs that understand us," Coren said.

We also love the beagle, which made it to the top 10 list of most popular dog breeds in 2008 by the American Kennel Club. That's because they are so sweet and socialable, Coren said. "Sometimes people love the dumb blonde," Coren said.

And sometimes the dim-wits make better pets. While a smart dog will figure out everything you want it to know, your super pet will also learn everything it can get away with, Coren warns.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Insensitive mongrels

Being deathly ill (ok, maybe not, but you know how it feels when you're really sick) is bad enough, but having two dogs that could care less... If I had the strength, I would wring their adorable little necks.

Dozer cries and lobs pathetic gazes at me without pause. He wants attention. Star barks and throws toys everywhere. She wants to play.

They don't want to sleep, which means no sleep for me, either.

It apparently hasn't occurred to them that "something is wrong with Mommy, because she's been in bed for five days and didn't even get up to greet the pizza guy." (Which I called for Byrd, since I wasn't in any shape to cook.)

Thank god my mom is coming over here today to feed me and entertain these awful, selfish beasts.

I went to the doctor yesterday--it took four days of worsening symptoms, but I finally developed an actual fever, which is my sign to seek medical help--with sore throat, achiness, swollen lymph nodes, and general malaise. As always when I get these sore throats, the doctor tested for strep (negative, of course), the flu (most painful diagnostic test on the planet), and then declared it some sort of mysterious noncontagious infection, prescribed antibiotics, and sent me home. Thanks, doctor.

This is a pattern. Every four months or so, this happens. They have my medical records, they should see this. And I keep telling them: "Oh, yeah, I can already tell you, it's not strep, mumps, mono, or flu. And ultimately, you're going to shrug, say something vague, and prescribe me amoxicillin. Just like the last six times this happened." WTF? Anyone want to suggest a real answer to this?

I'm recording each instance in my blog so I can track the frequency and record some of the details. I know it's not the most interesting post. Sorry.

Anyway, on to day five, and the fever's going up instead of down (lovely). Sure hope the antibiotics kick in soon. I've got two nutcase dogs and a flock of chickens that are starting to act like they're neglected.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A "pit bull" by any other name...

I've always hated the term "pit bull." The connotations are unavoidable, almost subconscious: vicious, fighting, aggressive. I hate saying it; I know my listeners are struggling with the same connotations in their own heads. I hate thinking it. It's like a dirty word.

The problems with "pit bull" are numerous, beginning with the fact that it is essentially undefinable. There is no agreed-upon definition. What is a "pit bull"?

Is it an American Pit Bull Terrier? An American Staffordshire Terrier? A Staffordshire Bull Terrier?

Is it a Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, English Bulldog, Boston Terrier, French Bulldog, Boxer, or any other dog that is somewhat related to the now-extinct Old English Bulldog that used to fight bulls, bears, and other dogs?

A recent news article headline screamed "Child bit by pit bull" when the body of the same article stated the dog in question was a Rottweiler. Dog bite articles in the past have labeled Dogo Argentinos, Cane Corsos, German Shepherds, Labs, and other unrelated breeds as "pit bulls." Are "pit bulls" any dog that bites?

Lakewood (OH) and Miami-Dade County (FL) are just two municipalities to make recent headlines after their breed bans resulted in confiscation of "pit bulls" that DNA tests subsequently proved were not "pit bulls," nor even "pit bull" mixes. Not that it mattered; these dogs were still prohibited because they retained the appearance of a "pit bull."

To municipalities with breed-specific legislation, it's not really about breed or type at all--it's about a dog's appearance. Any short-haired, mixed-breed dog can be labeled a "pit bull" in these places, depending on who is doing the judging. It is impossible to prove that one's dog is not a "pit bull" because the legal definition of "pit bull" is subjective (based on an individual's assessment of a dog's appearance).

The most recent embarrassment in Lakewood involved Otis, a dog that was obviously a Boxer, a breed that is not banned in Lakewood. The city nevertheless declared Otis a "pit bull" and kicked him out, unmoved by public outcry. While his owner prepares to move out of the city to join his dog, Otis is staying at... guess where... a Boxer rescue!

There's so much fuss and confusion over what it means to be a "pit bull" that the term feels worthless.

Yet, it's unavoidable in conversation. On the other side, people are trying to help these dogs known as "pit bulls." There are low-cost and free spay/neuter and training classes just for "pit bulls." There are advocates and rescue groups for "pit bulls."

How do we talk about saving "pit bulls" if we can't, or don't try to, define that term? So advocates come up with their own definitions for the term. They don't all agree, either.

Because of the negative connotations attached to the term "pit bull," some groups have proposed calling these dogs by another name--something more positive, more removed from violence and death. This has been attempted in the past, as well, with terms like "St. Francis Terrier."

Although I like the idea, I think it cannot work for practical reasons. It's already confusing enough without a whole new term to add to the mix. I don't know how I would reach people who are looking for information on "pit bulls" if I were calling them something totally different. I don't know how we could fight BSL if we weren't combating the public perception of "pit bulls" as naturally aggressive beasts.

Renaming to remove connotations doesn't really solve the fundamental problem. If people still believe that certain breeds or types of dogs are genetically inclined to "snap," eat babies, maul grandmothers, etc., then we still have a problem--total lack of public education regarding dog behavior. All the cutesy labelling in the world won't solve that. It just means people will add the "new breed" to their list of "dangerous" dogs.

Despite my pessimism, I wouldn't fight such an attempt to rename. I'd still like to see a well-thought-out plan implemented--something that would bring a unified, accepted definition of these dogs to the table. The most important part, I think, and the most difficult, is to get everyone on the same page. Whatever the new term may be, it cannot be applied subjectively and inconsistently, as "pit bull" is today.