Waiting for Raspberries

Golden retriever Cali sits next to the raspberry patch, waiting for berries to ripen
Some day, my berries will be ready …

Cali is a raspberry fiend. When our bushes have raspberries, she’s constantly nosing through the canes, looking for ripe, almost ripe, or just about any berries she can reach. She somehow manages to avoid the thorns.

Throughout the winter, she also kept nosing around, trampling the canes and occasionally chewing on one. I kept telling her that she’d be sorry in the summer because if she ate the bushes, there’d be no raspberries.

I was wrong. I was completely ignorant of the benefits of a dog nosing through, trampling, and chewing on raspberry canes. Our patch is bigger and stronger than ever. And both old and new canes are loaded with potential raspberries. They are not even at the stage of underripe berries as I write this, but within a few weeks … Cali will be stuffing herself.

She’s excited. Every day she goes to check on them. She conducts a thorough inspection of every cane. She sniffs every emerging berry. She sits patiently next to the canes — for hours — waiting for them to ripen.

We’re going to have a bumper crop of raspberries. I hope that the humans get to eat a few.

Social Distancing When You Can’t See the Distance

Deni walks along a path with Koala, a black Lab. Deni wears a face mask.Guest post by Deni Elliott

Guiding Eyes Koala gives me advance warning when we are about to cross paths with another dog. I can feel added tension in the rigid handle attached to her harness. She keeps walking us straight down the sidewalk, but as the person and dog get closer, I can feel Koala rise up. She walks on her tippy-toes, restraining herself from sniffing as we scoot past the dog.

A person alone on the sidewalk is way less interesting; as far as Koala is concerned, they might as well be a trash can to walk around. In that case, Koala is likely to walk by without giving any indication that there is something that needs my attention. It isn’t until I hear footsteps that I realize that the obstacle we are passing is a living, breathing human being.

In this period of cautiously returning to public contact, what my guide dog communicates has become an urgent matter of concern. Guide dogs know how to squeeze and weave themselves and their partners around any obstacles. They aren’t likely to understand the concept of staying six feet away from others. So, the question for people who are blind or visually impaired is: How can we manage social distancing when we can’t see the distance?

I’ve found that the answer depends on how crowded your community is and on whether the guide dog team is navigating outside or inside.

In areas with lower population and more attuned neighbors, if people see a guide dog working in harness, they may naturally cross the street or provide space. In high population areas or or where sighted people are more focused on their phones than on other pedestrians, the guide dog handler will have to take a more proactive approach.

When walking on harness outside, if the guide dog signals that another dog is nearby, the handler should ask the person approaching to keep the distance. “Please stay six feet away,” is normally all that is required.

It’s harder when your guide gives no warning, and the handler suddenly finds herself  shoulder-to-shoulder with someone on the sidewalk. Again saying, “Please stay six feet away,” is kinder than shouting, “Can’t you see that I’m blind?”

Working a dog in harness inside in the COVID-19 era provides new challenges that most guide dog teams can’t overcome on their own. Some grocery stores have designated aisles as one-way. Any place open for business has six-foot markers for people standing in line at the check-out counter. People with visual impairments are not likely to see any of this. It is kind for sighted shoppers to offer directions, but unfortunately, many sighted people just stop and stare.

The blind or visually impaired person can do some advance planning to make the trip to the store as efficient as possible. If the store has special hours for vulnerable populations, it is good to take advantage of the smaller crowd and the likelihood that the other shoppers will also be working to keep distance. This is one time that it is a good idea to call the store in advance, explaining to the manager that the need for employee assistance. That helper can quickly locate items and help the guide dog team stay out of the way of others, while everyone maintains a six-foot distance.

Some people have pulled out their long white canes as an additional signal for sighted people to keep the right distance. Others who aren’t coordinated enough to handle the dog in harness on one side and cane on the other – I’m one of those – may need to provide additional visual cues for those around them. Vests, tank tops, and tee shirts that say “BLIND” or “VISUALLY IMPAIRED” in high contrast are used by athletes and are available at ruseen.com. These draw more attention to disability than most of us would like in our daily lives. But at this time in the world, it is better to be noticed than infected.

 

The saddest sounds

10-week old Cali, a golden retriever, lies on a brown dog bed
Don’t leave me …

A recent Bark column muses on humans’ susceptibility to manipulation by dogs. Specifically, by the sounds they make in sadness. Sadness that occurs only because we humans are not meeting their expectations.

Boy do I know how that works.

When Cali was a tiny pup and Jana a beleaguered 8-year-old with a new baby sister, I made a point of taking Jana for a (very short) solo walk each day. This was partly to get Cali used to being alone briefly. The first time we did this, within seconds, the saddest, most mournful howl I have ever heard wafted out through an open window. I was probably a whole 10 feet from Cali but, you know, there was a wall in between.

Cali has deployed this mournful howl a few additional times over the years. (She’s 7 now.) She’s added to her repertoire, too. She has a range of sounds, including sighs, snorts, scowls (ok, those are silent), exasperated exhalations, grumbles and mutters under her breath, and more. And, yes, a whine. It’s a tiny whine, very soft and short. It’s also very, very sad. Heartbreakingly sad. This whine is used only when Cali is outside and wants to come inside, and no one is there to make the door magically open.

This, naturally, happens only when Cali has refused to come inside despite being offered several opportunities, and I have given up(!) and gone upstairs to work. Within oh, about 3 minutes, there’s that tiny whine. I could easily miss it but somehow it penetrates whatever fog of concentration I am in. When I go back downstairs to let her in, Cali is always happy, relieved, and reproachful, all at once.

I’m not the only one to be expertly and repeatedly manipulated by a sad dog.

My doggy cousin, Jaxson, has created a magical combo, a unique whining sound plus guilt-inducing look, that gets him the most coveted seat in the house: Literally in between his mom and dad. The one space on the sofa he’s theoretically (very, very theoretically) not allowed. There’s nothing unique about dog whines, of course. Whole orchestras could be woven out of different dog whine. Jaxson’s whine is unique in that this specific note is deployed only when he’s on the sofa but not between them. That is, only one pair of hands can reach him to pet him and only one person’s attention is focused on him. The unique sound effectively terminates this intolerable condition.

The Bark column mentions research that found that humans with pets are more susceptible to animal distress vocalizations than other people and that “dog whines sounded saddest of all, and sadder than cat meows.” Other research has found huge changes in canine vocalizations as a result of their domestication. Sure. They’ve got our number. They’re pulling out all the stops in their quest for the upper hand … er, paw … in the household.

 

When your little girl no longer needs you …

Hangin’ out with the humans
Cali and Dora, golden retriever sisters
Cali and Dora wait to be served at their favorite microbrewery

Cali is so grown up. She has an entirely separate life that I know little about.

For example, the Morris Foundation Golden Retriever study’s latest newsletter featured a poem that I am sure that Cali wrote. It starts:

Well, the weather outside is frightful
But the snow is so delightful!
And even if mom (or dad) says no…
I will roll, I will roll, I will roll!

I had no idea that she was a writer!

Cali and Dora supervise breakfast prep

Even more poignant, she just took her first solo vacation. We dropped her off at her sister’s house in Berkeley. All she took was her leash and some food. (I could learn a lot about packing light from Cali.) She never looked back.

Cali and Dora had a wonderful time hiking, snacking, supervising, and hanging out with Dora’s humans. They even visited their favorite neighborhood microbrewery.Cali and Dora sit by the Christmas tree

She probably posted a bunch of selfies on her Instagram, too, but … I wouldn’t know where to begin to look for that.

I’m torn. I miss having her here, but I am glad that she’s independent and able to get out and enjoy herself — even if she does always seem to need a ride to wherever she’s headed. Next thing you know, she’ll want a credit card so she can have her own Lyft account. Oh, and she’ll need a GizmoWatch, of course.

(All photos by Cathy Condon)

 

Siberian Puppy a Link to Early Dogs

Domestic dogs may have evolved in several different areas of the world.

I enjoyed a recent Washington Post article about an 18,000-year-old puppy who might be a missing link between wolves and dogs.

The dog, actually a young puppy, was perfectly preserved in Siberian permafrost for 18,000 years. He’s so well preserved that his fur and teeth are intact!

Researchers first assumed that “Dogor,” a name recently given to the puppy, was a young wolf. Now, they’re not sure. They are sequencing his genome, but they are considering the idea that Dogor is neither dog nor wolf. Dogor might truly be a missing link, an actual example of a proto-dog from the still-mysterious period when many ancient wolf species were dying out and dogs were becoming domesticated.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how dogs came to be. It’s likely that domestic dogs evolved in several different areas of the world at different times.

Little Dogor might teach us a lot about the evolution of dogs in Russia and about the early relationship between dogs and humans. It’s an exciting find, and I am looking forward to learning more about this ancient puppy.

Cali Is Excited about Meeting Her New Best Friends

Cali is sure you’re going to be her new best friend!

Cali and I are working on becoming a visiting “therapy” dog team.

We met with the coordinator of the Wind River Canine Partners Therapy Dog Program this week for our first evaluation. We spent about an hour walking around in a Cabela’s store (very dog-friendly). Cali was excited about going shopping! And meeting new best friends!

I had warned the trainer that Cali’s main weakness is getting overly excited about meeting someone. Anyone. Especially men. She saw exactly what I meant when Cali pulled, hard, toward her. A random stranger in a parking lot? Clearly Cali’s long-awaited best friend. Oh wait, that clerk just inside the door: Definitely a best friend. Oh, there’s another one … and a shopper. Oh! A family with a kid!! A dog in a shopping cart!

After greeting a few people, Cali got down to shopping. It’s hunting season in Montana, so … lots of weird lure-type things with feathers? The plastic packaging wrap did not throw Cali off the scent, and she found them fascinating. She was not at all interested int he fake and dyed feathers, only the natural ones. She loved the fishing lures too. Mild curiosity about the actual equipment. No interest in plastic antlers.

Then … the toy department. The hobby horses who made neighing and galloping sounds were mildly interesting. But the small rocking horse, pink, with sparkly green eyes: Downright terrifying. It had a face. It moved unpredictably. And it was looking at her. She was not going near that thing no way no how … well, maybe just a quick sniff. Oh, wait, someone dropped a cookie nearby; maybe she can just reach over and … it’s looking at her again!

That was scary.

More people to greet, more toys to sniff. What’s this? A fake man with no head? Humans have the weirdest toys … Uh oh, that horse again. Huh, maybe it’s okay with cookies …

It was a tiring trip. Cali slept all the way home.

Cali passed with flying colors. Perfect temperament, obviously loves meeting people.

The handler? She needs some work.

Once we’ve improved our handling skills, we can start visiting. Cali would like to try visiting people at the hospital or maybe the veterans center. Anyplace without rocking horses is fine.

A Perfect Day (for Cali)

Cali, a golden retriever, swims in a riverI’d like to get out and hike more. It’s summer in Missoula. I’m an outdoor novice; I don’t go camping (which means I have Missoula all to myself on summer weekends) and I can really only do easy hikes. Even so, I like to get outside in our short, but stunning, summers.

But Cali’s not great off leash. She gets engrossed in something and next thing she knows, she’s miles away and 20 minutes have passed.

There are many wonderful trails where I can’t or wouldn’t let her off leash even if she were more reliable. They’re at the edge of vast wilderness, have too many tempting smells and critters to follow, and I’m not willing to risk losing her. Every weekend in the summer, the Missoula NPR station reads our lost dog reports, and sometimes there are pictures at the trail heads … it’s sad and scary.

So, when I have a little time and it’s a nice day, I face a dilemma. Do I pack Cali into the car and go off somewhere to satisfy my desire to hike? Or do I choose an option that will be more fun for her?

Hiking is fun for her, but still, it’s usually a long walk on a short leash in a pretty place that she’d love to explore, if only her mean mom would let her.

Compared with one of our standbys, a large open area inside Missoula where she can run off leash, and where I usually throw a ball for her to chase … well, no contest. Especially in the summer when there’s water to play in!

I feel a little bad each time I decide to head there rather than gear up for a more adventurous outing, but then, as I make the turn off of Reserve St., and Cali knows for sure where we’re going, her excitement reassures me. This is what she’d choose. This or a trip to Big Dipper ice cream (or both).

She dances with excitement as we get out of the car and I dig out her ball; she squeals with joy as I release the leash. Then she’s off, running, the instant I throw the ball. She doesn’t bring it back, of course, so I walk to her, she lets me take it, and I throw it again. And again.

We walk along the irrigation ditch, currently full of cool water. We walk through a wooded area. When we get to each of the two little pools, I throw the ball into the water for her to swim after. Now she does bring it back, over and over, so I will keep throwing it upstream. Her favorite thing is to get out of the water and drop the ball at my feet. Then, just as I bend to pick it up, she shakes off, sharing the cool water. We both get back to the car dirty, tired, and happy.

I think that she has more fun doing this, even if it’s the same outing two or three times a week (or daily) than she would if we went to new and interesting places … where she had to stay on leash. It’s not that dire; there are a few other places where she can be off leash. But in the summer, this spot, with the trees, water, and open space, is pretty hard to beat. Instead of worrying about taking her more places, maybe I need to focus on taking her more often for perfect Cali days … a swim, some mud, maybe a little ice cream!

So Cute in that T-shirt

Cute in her post-op T-shirt

“Your dog looks cute in that T-shirt,” Cali’s little friend said. We walk past a school-bus stop every morning, and some days, we beat the bus there. Two young children, themselves owned by a handsome male golden retriever, often ask to pet Cali. “But why is she wearing it?”

The little girl who asks a lot of questions is probably around 7, her quieter brother even younger.

“She had a tiny lump on her side,” I said. “It was removed, and she has stitches, but she’s fine.”

“So the shirt protects it?”

“Yes, it keeps the stitches clean and keeps her from licking it.”

“Oh.” My questioner nodded knowingly. Her dog has had stitches too.

We chatted for another minute, until the bus pulled up.

Deni and I talk about Cali’s “quarterly de-lumping” in resigned tones. Lots of golden retrievers are little lump factories. So far, Cali’s have all been benign fatty cysts, but … she’s a golden. She’s over 6 years old. I know the statistics.

That’s why Cali is in the Morris Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Cali’s personal physician, Dr. Jani Zirbel, also has a golden in the study. He’s about Cali’s age, a tall, gorgeous boy. She always says that I can leave the lumps and see if they grow, but I like to know that they’re benign.

I know it will only be a matter of weeks until I find the next little bump. But so far, Cali is fine.

She came home from her minor outpatient surgery a little groggy from the sedative and with a tummy ache. She had not fasted and did not have anesthesia, but after her procedure, the vet techs fed her. (Cali does a very convincing impersonation of a starving dog.) Whatever they fed her did not agree with her tummy …

Other than that, she recovered quickly and was delighted to run outside in her beloved yard the next day. And she does look cute in that T-shirt.

 

A Great Idea!

A screen shows the Tesla Dog MOde message, My owner will be back soon.

If only Cali could afford a Tesla …

Several weeks ago, Tesla rolled out a software update that introduces “Dog Mode.”

This is a feature that allows car-and-dog owners to set a cabin temperature for their dogs’ comfort while they go off and … do whatever it is people do while leaving their dogs in the car. The car’s heating or cooling system will maintain the appropriate temperature automatically. Here’s the cool part: The Tesla’s screen shows a message meant to reassure worried passers-by that the dogs are OK. It reads “My owner will be back soon” and displays the interior temperature in large numerals.

The main hitch I see is that the screen, which is usually used for the car to communicate with the driver, is positioned between the front seats. People passing by and noticing dogs in a closed car in extreme heat (or cold) may not peek in at the right angle to see the screen. They might still panic, break a window, call the cops, leave a nasty note for the owners, alert the security at the nearest store, etc.

However, this does raise a great possibility: An add-on product that could maintain a reasonable temperature in the car while displaying a prominent notice easily visible from the car’s driver and passenger windows. A solar-powered cooler that hangs inside the window perhaps? Any inventors out there? That’s a Kickstarter I could get on board with.

Seriously. Summer is coming. Don’t overheat your pups. Trade in for a Tesla today! (I wish …)

A Win for the Greyhounds

A greyhound racing dog runs, wearing a cape and a muzzle.
Florida votes to ban greyhound racing!

Hooray for Florida! Odd words for me to write as contentious election contests morph into contentious vote recounts … but Floridians of all political stripes stepped up for the dogs. The measure to ban greyhound racing passed with 69 percent of the vote.

Greyhound racing will at long last be phased out in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the 11 active tracks have until January 1, 2021, to end dog races.

Grey2K and other rescue and shelter organizations are already gearing up to handle an expected flood of retiring racedogs. Thousands of greyhounds currently race in Florida, and, though some will be moved to states that still allow racing, most will probably need homes.

And rehabilitation. Several years ago, while working on an article on prison-based dog-training programs, I visited a prison in Michigan. The head of the training program there, where dogs from a nearby shelter and retired racing greyhounds were getting training prior to placement, explained how much the greyhounds needed to learn.

They spend their racing lives in cages and don’t understand how to function in a normal environment. It took three men and a boatload of patience to teach the rescued greyhounds how to walk down stairs, for example — something that can be easily taught to a puppy in a few short sessions.

The few rescued greyhounds I’ve interacted with all seemed to grasp some of the greatest comforts of life-with-kind-humans pretty easily though, enjoying soft beds, warm sweaters, and yummy regular meals. They are large but quite gentle and often shy — perhaps a result of spending much of their early lives isolated from most other dogs and humans.

Spokespeople for the industry claim there was no abuse of the dogs, who were well cared-for; 500 deaths of racing greyhounds in Florida in just the last 5 years says otherwise, as do state reports of injuries and deaths, some with video documentation. Add in the rabid opposition from the industry to any kind of  regulation, like tracking injuries or prohibiting steroid use, and I somehow am having difficulty feeling too bad for the people whose livelihoods will be affected by the ban — track operators, breeders, track workers. I do hope they find work in a less-cruel industry.