How many critters can fit inside one small house? We seem determined to find out. (BTW, did you get the reference in the title? Lemme know.)
A few years ago I thought Wilderness was something you kept OUTside and decently somewhere else, where it belonged. These days, however, I make room for all KINDS of wilderness: Squirrels (and the occasional woodrat or mouse), cats, dogs, resident carpenters, coyotes, deer, racoons, possums, raptors, foxes, and probably yeti.
I have to admit it’s a lot more fun than civilization, sometimes. What started with two opinionated, part-serval kittycats has now become a full-blown, totally mad zoo, and I love it, though it regularly makes me nuts.
Dogs have been one of the more exotic adds, at least for me. I’m a classic cat person; my long-dead corpse will be found a month after my demise, partially consumed by the hundred or so cats I’ve adopted. Dogs have NEVER been on the menu except by accident.
In fact, until a couple of years ago I’d only really gotten to know four big dogs: Presley, my long-ago racetrack greyhound who was really more of a skeletally thin, furless cat, my aunt and uncle’s ex-military Belgian Malinois, a very sweet Great Dane, and Abe-the-Wonderdog, who owns my friends Jenn and Ron.
They taught me that big dogs are quiet, exceptionally well-behaved, and perfect lovebunnies who only want to sit calmly beside you. Then I met Thor Cuddledog, who belongs to Nathan’s brother, while still wheelchair-bound. Thor is a golden Staffordshire terrier, AKA “pit bull,” with the heart of con man. One mournful glance from those big, brown eyes and you’ll give him your lunch, apologizing for the lack of steak.
I know what they say about pit bulls, but honestly? I’ve never met a nasty pitbull; I’m sure they exist, but the ones I’ve run into prefer cuddles and kisses to ripping out spines and whatnot. Thor seems to simply be an exceptional example of the breed.
Andrew brought him to visit one night. Thor laid his big head on my knee, asked for cuddles, and I fell in love on the spot. In fact, Thor became my rationale for adopting Grizz. “I want a BIG dog, one I can RIDE, who acts just like Thor.”
Obviously, big dogs are calm, rational, well-behaved, and QUIET. Little dogs…aren’t. (famous last words of a cat person)
Grizz, our long-haired German Shepherd, easily meets the “big dog” test. Behavior-wise, though, he’s stubborn as hell, herds the cats to distraction, can’t be left alone if we want an intact house, needs his Nathan every waking (or sleeping) second, and unleashes a ginormous repertoire of ear-piercing barks, yodels, yips, and moans at the merest whoosh of a butterfly’s wings. In Perth.
He has what trainers call “COVID puppy syndrome.” He was born right before COVID hit, and grew up in lockdown. To Grizz, humans have always been constant companions who rarely leave the house. Pick up the keys, put on your outside shoes, or eye the door…and his screams of anguish can be heard for blocks.
No, neighbors, we don’t beat the dog. Grizz is merely miffed that Nathan took out the trash.
You can love a dog to distraction and still long for the day he matures and shuts up, right? That was my secret motivation for inviting Thor to live with us.
Divorce proceedings have temporarily deprived Thor of a stable home. He’ll go back to his adoring human at some point, but as far as I’m concerned he can stay forever. And teach Grizz some manners.
Thor’s had a rough time of it, the last few months. He misses HIS human something fierce; Andrew’s traveling so much, between work and divorce (the ex has moved back east with their son), that Thor has been the odd man out for awhile. Plus, he’s older, with a now-cured ear infection leaving him nearly deaf. He has osteoarthritis, so getting around isn’t always easy.
He arrived silent and sad, but Nathan’s not the animal whisperer for nothing: He beefed up Thor’s diet with the most nutritious senior food we could find, got religious about clearing up residual vet issues, and we both made sure Thor gets lots of love and healthy exercise in the big back yard. With cuddles, and treats, and a lot of doggy playtime, Thor is coming out of his shell and he can now hear us (a bit).
It’s pretty incredible, really.
Grizz is lonely. He gets plenty of love and toys (and a new wading pool that lasted maybe 45 minutes) but really wants friends. He long ago discovered that the cats would happily kill and eat him if only they were big enough. Trips to the dog park to play with other dogs are fine but probably not frequent enough.
Grizz wants the four-legged contingent of our pack to PLAY with him, something that Lola and Nikki refuse to even consider.
To be fair, if I were a 7-pound cat facing a boisterous, shrieking bear-like critter who thought nipping was the way to play, I wouldn’t consider it, either. We’ve been debating getting another dog to keep Grizz company instead, but worried that pack mentality might exacerbate the dogs-rule-cats-drool controversy. Gentlemanly Thor is the perfect solution.
Grizz loves it…to a point. As Thor’s health improves, and he feels more secure, he’s coming out of his shell and romping around with Grizz. They play hide-and-seek and wrestle. Grizz has (sorta) moderated his incessant bark-yip-bark at passersby, large trucks, and falling leaves and he’s beginning to imitate his big little brother a bit.
However, we’re having the expected difficulties with jealousy. Grizz is used to being the only dog. He’ll share his toys, but insists that Thor not intrude on his personal humantime. Or treats. Or comfy snooze spots. Or water. Or food. Or just about anything else Grizz owns…which he believes to be everything.
Thor will back off when Grizz intervenes, which means it can be hard to get him to eat or drink sometimes.
Add “sharing” to the long list of teachable Grizz-moments. Sigh.
On the great side, Thor has gone from stumbling slowly up the stairs to bounding up them, right alongside Grizz. And he’s not shy about asserting himself when he’s tired of Grizz’ antics. He has a growl-woof like an angry bull; when Thor speaks, Grizz backs off. (good for you, Thor!)
The nasty-long Portland drought is finally over (we hope); we had our first big rains two weekends ago, followed by a bit of coolish sun, perfect for mushroom hunting. We took the dogs up to the mountains to pick chanterelles last Saturday, and everyone had a glorious time.
I had my doubts about Thor; his osteoarthritis is MUCH better, but he’s still a bit stiff and where we go isn’t easy terrain. We head up old, abandoned logging roads, looking for secluded bits of old forest–the best sites for ‘shrooming–and what Nathan calls a trail is what I call jungle. It’s basically a slightly clearer part of the undergrowth, covered with elk poop.
I’m getting pretty good at negotiating such things with two trekking poles and a lot of determination, but Nathan still has to route me around the worst of the fallen logs and steep drops. How would Thor negotiate such things?
Just fine, as it turned out. He romped and played up and down the trails until he’d had enough. Then he’d sit down and rest, keeping us in sight. Grizz did his usual bounding back and forth; he’s exceptionally skilled at stomping on the beautiful patch of mushrooms you just uncovered (sigh).
The drought pretty much destroyed the early mushroom harvest, but we hit the jackpot on this trip. Nathan, blazing the trail, found patch after patch of gloriously golden chanterelles. We saw new species we didn’t recognize (he’s part of a mushroom-recognition group so we carefully photographed our finds to learn more (see the slideshow)).
I’ve been a bit more cautious in the woods ever since I had the hornet disagreement a few trips ago. Nathan and Grizz had forged far ahead in difficult terrain, so I took an easier shortcut. The flies were buzzing furiously; I figured there must be a LOT of elk poop around, or possibly some predator’s recently deceased dinner. The buzzing grew as I moved on, and then somebody drove a hot nail into my breast.
I looked down and the hornet looked up, grinning evilly. His buddy followed suit, stinging through a coat, a thick sweatshirt, and a bra.
There are undoubtedly worse places to be stung, but I can’t think of them. Ouch. I emitted a small shriek.
“What’s wrong? What happened? Are you OK?” yelled Nathan anxiously, as Grizz raced toward me.
“Stay back!!! Hornets! I thought that buzzing was flies,” I warned, making a fast retreat which, to be honest, isn’t all that fast with The Leg. Another hornet took advantage of this while Nathan scolded.
“Flies don’t buzz in the woods,” he said, a bit disgusted, “If you hear loud buzzing, it’s hornets.”
Ever since, the merest “ZZZZ” in the woods makes me stop and peer warily for evil critters. I’m not sure I buy the “flies don’t buzz in the woods” bit, but I’m not taking any chances, and it’s definitely slowed me down. “I think,” Nathan said, “You’ve developed hornet PTSD.”
Yup. Just one more critter to add to The Zoo.