Mom Is Getting Jealous!

The social dynamics around my house are changing now that I am semi-retired and work at home. I’m home all day now, and it is affecting a very important doggy relationship. (We have cats, too, but they don’t care who’s around.) In particular, Mr. Little, Gayle’s favorite canine cutie, a critter who can do no wrong as far as she is concerned, is beginning to hang around Dad more and more, even at night when Gayle comes home from her substitute teaching gigs, when she has them.

Mr. Little Oct 2014

Mr. Little looking up while worrying his weasel, his fav toy.

Even now when Gayle gets home in the evening, Little, along with the rest of the guys, races to the driveway gate to meet her and escort her inside the house. It is quite the joyous celebration, and Little joins right in! In times past, however, he would attach himself to her at the gate like he was Velcro and that was that. Wherever Gayle went, Mr. Little was right there to make sure she didn’t leave again. NOW he peels off after escorting her inside and stays with me while I’m in my office or wherever. Now he’s done it. He has officially hurt Gayle’s feelings. Every night for the last week she has wandered into whatever room I’m in and asked where Little is. Invariably, he’s been lying at my feet or right alongside me on the couch. (I’m rather astounded that GrayGirl, the Chihuahua Couch Queen, tolerates this!) When Gayle spots him, she starts wheedling, remonstrating, and otherwise begging for him to get up and go with her. No dice. He just lies there like the proverbial rug. Occasionally, he’ll look up at her, and that’s the sum total of his response. I feel kind of bad for her. A couple of times, I’ve actually picked the little guy up and hauled him into the bedroom, where Gayle usually is, and plopped him on the bed beside her. He’ll generally stay–for a while. The next thing I know, I look down, and there he is! That will generally produce another forlorn foray from the bedroom as Gayle tries to retrieve her baby.

Goodness knows I’m not doing this on purpose! I am NOT passively encouraging this, either. Little is just betting on the guy who’s here most of the time, that’s all. I think kids with stay-at-home moms fixate on their mothers all the time for much the same reason. They favor the one they interact with most. This could turn into a problem for Mr. Little and me both! I simply must avoid being so charismatic, eh?

 

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Going to Prison! (To visit a friend)

I have a friend, Vince, in prison. He was a coworker who went a little crazy one evening back in 2014, and he landed in the Texas legal system and, ultimately, in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Wallace Pack Unit, near Navasota, TX (an hour or two from Houston). I’m taking advantage of a temporary situation and going to visit him soon because he’s a little closer nowadays. He’s been moved from South Texas to Central Texas and the Travis County Jail because a federal judge ordered him and others relocated because TDCJ was “deliberately indifferent” to the inmates’ suffering in sweltering heat. In Texas in the summertime, sitting in a concrete or metal blockhouse without windows, places that heat up to well over 100°, is indeed suffering.

Pack Unit Overview 160830

The TDCJ Pack Unit just south of Navasota

I applaud the judge’s order and not just because I have a friend in prison right now. On humanitarian grounds or even Constitutional grounds, it’s just cruel and unusual punishment. Honestly, when I became aware of it, I was living next door to a TDCJ guard in Teague, TX. That poor guy would come home from work looking like he’d been pushed into a cauldron of boiling water. He was wet from his shoes right up to the part in his hair. He looked whipped, too, slumping just a bit and hanging his head as he went inside his home. It was if he had worked in an oven all day. I don’t remember the guy ever smiling when I saw him trudging to and from his car. It seems to me that working in a prison would be a soul killing job in any event. Texas only turns up the heat on that process. I felt bad for that guy every time I saw him. It occurred to me at the time that at least he “only” had to suffer for 8 hours a day. The inmates never escaped the heat. It was a state-sponsored inferno all in the name of being hard on crime. Every year, I’d read about heat-related deaths at one prison unit or another. Every year. In Texas, where a guy can go to jail for years for such non-violent crimes as smoking a joint, every prison sentence can be a death sentence.

Politicians love to point out that plenty of citizens out here don’t have air conditioning in their homes. That’s sad, but it’s true. On the other hand, those same citizens can open a window, maybe turn on a box fan, or go outside and sit in the shade under a tree. They can even get on an air-conditioned city bus or go to an air-conditioned library or mall. Their lives can be miserably hot, but they can escape it when necessary. Prisons are built for precisely the opposite. No one escapes.

Good for for Vince. He’s got some air-conditioning for a while, at least until it cools down and he is transferred back to the Pack Unit. Even though he’s being punished for his criminal behavior, which he readily admits he deserves, he is not being tortured because some politician believes he needs to be tough on crime. The upside for me in all of this is that Vince is in the Travis County Jail in Austin now. When I go to visit him this Saturday, I’ll only drive about half the distance I would have had to drive if I were going to Navasota and the Wallace Pack Unit.

I’m happy for Vince and the other inmates rescued from the Texas summer heat. This should be an interesting visit.

This Black Cat Brings Good Luck

In addition to dogs and chickens, I have 4 cats to make absolutely sure that I’m never without some sort of pet-related chore to take care of. There’s Ms. Cuddles, a gray Persian Gayle brought home about 10 years ago, Ms. Missy, the pretty calico whom we found as a kitten, quite literally in the trash around the same time, our resident orange cat, Mr. Punkin, who, as a fist-sized kitten, was loitering near a Veterans Affairs Medical Center trashcan. Then there’s Mr. Shadow, the black cat. Make no mistake, I love them all, but today I’ve chosen to single out our somewhat elusive member of the family, Shadow.

The evening I met him, way back on a summer night around 2006 or 2007, I was returning from Houston and stopped at a convenience store along the highway, somewhere around Prairie View, for gas. After gassing up, I hopped back in my rental car to hit the road and then thought better of it, deciding to grab a soda, something with caffeine, to keep me awake. I pulled into a parking spot in front of the store’s big, glass double doors, and just to the side of the entrance stood a emaciated, desperate black kitten, who looked to be about two months old. Domestic animals like cats and dogs know they need us, particularly when they can smell food, and hunger had obviously overcome Shadow’s innate shyness. He was standing hesitantly to the side of the door, ready to run at a moment’s notice if necessary, and looking up at people rushing into and out of the store, too busy to notice a little guy like him while he silently implored them to show just a little compassion. As I went inside, I told myself that if he were still there when I came out, I’d feed him. While getting my soda, I bought a couple of cans of wet cat food, figuring I’d feed them to my own cats if the little, black kitten was already gone. When I went back out, there he was.

My original plan was to simply put the food down and leave. Goodness knows that even then I had plenty of pets at home. I just couldn’t do it. Shadow, the shy–but desperate–kitten, allowed me to pick him and put him in the car. I opened a can of cat food, placed it on the mat on the floorboard, and the rest is history. Besides, I was tired, and he helped keep me awake by keeping me entertained.  As it almost always turns out with pets, it was not a one-way street we were traveling. We were helping each other already.

Shadow is our under-the-radar cat who’s still just a tad on the shy side–except with me–and who prefers to stay outside, provided it’s not too rainy, too hot, or too cold. OK. He’s a fair-weather family member who, ironically, is absent during fair weather for the most part. During our more temperate times of the year, he’s voluntarily an outside cat. We regularly see him out in the backyard where we leave his food and water under the patio table umbrella. He knows, however, that all he has to do is show up, stare through the windows of our French doors long enough, and one will magically open to let him inside. When he wants back out, he will literally rise up on his hind legs and beat on the glass (or plastic or whatever that clear stuff is) of our storm door, the one that opens into the front yard, like Dustin Hoffman pounding on the glass in The Graduate. He makes just as much noise, too. I can hear him all over the house!

What he does while he’s outside is beyond me. During the day he presumably holes up somewhere and sleeps, and at night–well, he’s a black cat. Try watching a black cat on a dark night.  Most nights, if I go outside for a few minutes with the dogs, I may feel a bump in the night. That would be Shadow rubbing my leg to say “howdy.” In reciprocation, I’ll go back inside, find the Friskies Party Mix Original Crunch, his favorite, and give him a handful of something tasty. (As much as he seems to like them, I’m tempted to try a couple myself!) One of these days I’ll remember to just go ahead and take some Friskies outside with me.

Shadow 2008

A young Shadow wanting out.

I suspect Shadow is going to want to check back into the Elkins Street Motel pretty soon. The weather guessers, otherwise called forecasters, are calling for 94° and 95° temps this week. When he knows it’s going to be hot, and he somehow seems to know (does he watch the news from the window at night?), he turns up at the back door around dawn, the same time I’m letting the dogs outside to do their business. (The sun wakes up the dogs; the dogs wake up me.) Even then, he won’t just run inside unless I’m the one holding the door for him. (Being a doorman is apparently an art!) If Gayle, my beloved, is holding the door, he will balk and jump back over the fence. When he hears the door open again for any reason, he’ll reappear, and if I’m the doorman on duty again, he’ll saunter right past me (he never tips!) and take his position behind the flat-screen TV located on the third shelf of the entertainment center. For variety, he’ll sometimes locate behind the DVR located on the second shelf. Once in a while I have to push the DVR back toward safety because he’ll scoot it toward the edge of oblivion as he stretches out, but so far, so good. It used to bother me, but I’ve given in to the inevitable. He’s so shy that I’d just as soon not alienate him by fussing about where he takes his snoozes.

Shadow has been a pleasant, bemusing, and often amusing presence around here for about 10 years now. I hope to have hime around for another 10. Anything that brings you love brings you good luck, too!

Chickens Can Grow on Ya!

I’ve always had quite a few dogs and cats, and, goodness knows, I love every one of them dearly. They stay inside the house and only go outside to do their business or go on walks. Oh, if they want to stay outside in the yard and sun for a while, that’s OK, too, and some of them, particularly Trudy, really like lying out there and wallowing in the sunlight for an hour or so every day. When we got ourselves some chickens a few months ago, however, I promised myself that I would not get attached to them. I mean, they’re chickens! Birds! Not human like dogs and cats! I’m ashamed to say that I have broken my promise.

Butercup and Holly July 2017

Buttercup and Holly thinking about a dirt bath

I find myself starting to feel affection for those birds: Broodie, Harriet, Holly, and Buttercup. When I go outside to check on them, they are often clustered around the back door awaiting my arrival like frenzied fans awaiting an appearance from Elvis. As soon as I walk outside, they commence to running about and clucking to each other and, presumably, me. Regardless of where I go, they follow me around the yard making sure I don’t feel lonely. Now, I understand what’s going on. They expect me to throw them some goodies, and I rarely disappoint. Usually, when I pop outside, I’m carrying half a cantaloupe, a slice of watermelon, a split cucumber, or even some yogurt! When I put my cargo within beak-reach, they fall upon it like they haven’t eaten for a month! I was rather mystified this morning when I inspected the dish of yogurt I had placed outside for them. Every speck was gone–every trace. Unless a body knew what had been in it before, there was no way to know what the dish had held. It was like they had licked the plate. Chickens do have tongues. I suppose that’s what they could have done. It was clean.

One of the chickens, Broodie, the boss hen, follows me around more than the other hens. She will even hop up on my lap sometimes. Honestly, I don’t think she’s particularly after anything on those occasions other than, perhaps, a little attention. I give it to her in spades too. After all, I’m only returning the favor. Although I am steadily growing fond of all my girls, I have to admit that Broodie is my favorite. To keep the peace, I won’t tell the other girls that, but she is. The other hens will walk right up to me, but if I reach down to pet them, they scoot away a few feet. Not Broodie. She will stand stock still and allow me to pet her like a Labrador Retriever sucking up attention.

Broodie June 2017

Boss Broodie sitting on my lap

Every evening about a half-hour before sunset, I go outside and visit with the girls before they coop up and lock them in, safe and sound, for the night. It has become my favorite time of day. The girls know that the evening is when I throw  several handfuls of mealworms to them, and for a few minutes, I’m a rock star with frenzied females all around me. Once I throw those tasty morsels to them, I sit in my lawn chair  and watch them peck, peck, peck them up and then investigate a few yards out in every direction to make sure they haven’t missed one. Then one by one they waddle into the coop and jump up on the perch.

Harriet is usually the first one to go to bed. She will jump up on the perch and commence calling the others.  It’s a toss-up whether Holly will coop up next or if Buttercup will heed Harriet’s call more quickly. Boss Broodie is always–always–the last one to coop up. She stays outside of the coop and visits with me until the twilight gets dim enough to be worrisome. Then she, too, gives the nod to Mother Nature, and enters the coop with her three sisters. I think in part she’s showing the gang who’s boss, but I also think she may be prolonging her visit with me. At least that’s what I like to think. I’ve certainly lingered in the backyard to prolong my visits with her.

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Harriet (left) and Buttercup looking for mealworms

My evening visit with the girls is a peaceful break in an often hectic day. I may go back inside and deal with work or bills, but when I’m outside with my girls, I am content, satisfied. I can almost feel my blood pressure going down. I would have never thought chickens could have that effect. It’s hard not to feel an attachment for them. I’ve quit trying not to form that attachment, too. I’m a goner.

GrayGirl Wins the Food Fight!

Announcer: “In this corner in the blue pants we have George, 6’1″ and weighing in at 210 pounds. In this corner in the gray fur we have GrayGirl, 8″ tall and weighing in at 10 pounds, 6 ounces.”

The fighters move to the center of the couch, and shake paws.

Ding, ding, ding!!!

Announcer: “This epic match-up is on.”

“And George is down!”

That’s not far from how things went. I tried. I swear I did. When GrayGirl wasn’t eating so well a week or so back, I took her to the veterinarian, who promptly told me to start feeding that doggie dog food. I ran out and got Royal Canin and some Beneful, and on that first afternoon and evening it sure looked to me like things were going to work out. Nope.

Gray ate pretty well that first day, and then she began picking at her food again like always. I tried to stick to my guns, but that dog just WOULD. NOT. EAT. I’d wait until one of her feeding times, which, around here, is at 12:00 PM, 5:00 PM and 9:00 PM (she won’t eat in the mornings), prepare her Royal Canin and Beneful mixture, and present it to my princess, only to have her inspect the contents of the plate and then flash me a disdainful look over her shoulder before going back to recline in her bed. Sometimes–once or twice a day–she’d take a bite, and I mean “a” bite before she’d retreat to her bed. Meanwhile, she was getting visibly weaker and not doing much. She even gave up chasing Trudy, a gentle, rescued pit-bull-mix, away from her couch kingdom. I knew things were getting bad then. Harrasing Trudy was an act of pure joy for GrayGirl. I was able to stand the steadily deteriorating situation for about two days, and then I caved and fried her up some hamburger. She attacked it like a wolf slaying its prey. After that, she perked right up and became once again the GrayGirl that we, with the possible exception of Trudy, all love.

I know. I’m not looking forward to our next vet visit.

 

Who’s Training Whom Around Here?

The GrayGirl culinary saga continues.

pepper-12-12-2016

GrayGirl wearing her princess t-shirt. She is royalty here, and she holds court on the couch. (When the vet gave her to us, her name was Pepper, which is reflected in an earlier post.)

I went to PetSmart and got the Royal Canin food that the veterinary technician recommended. I also, as I stated in a previous post, got some Beneful since Graygirl is used to eating meat. The plan was and is to slowly cut back on the Beneful until my picky little Chihuahua is eating 100% Royal Canin. We are now on day 3 of our chow time switcharoo. She’s eating, but not much. I have to be strong, though! The vet said that I have to train her and not let her train me, which is what has been going on heretofore.

Day 1: When I first came home on Tuesday from PetSmart with the new veterinary- and store manager-recommended food, I mixed the Beneful with the Royal Canin and offered this doggie dining extravaganza to her highness on two separate occasions. Graygirl rather voraciously accepted my offerings both times at lunch and at dinner. (She more or less eats when I do.) I was ecstatic!

Day 2: The next morning, however, yesterday, she decided to go on strike. With hopes as high as Uncle Buck’s as he pulls into Golden Corral’s parking lot, I opened the kitchen cabinet, grabbed the ingredients, and whipped up another batch of DDE. (Remember? “Doggie Dining extravaganza”!) Laying it before my little queen, she looked up, snuffed the air imperiously, and then relocated to the other side of the couch, leaving me and the DDE to ponder our next move. Since doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of crazy, I rather insanely placed the dish of DDE right in front of her again. Again, she got up and ambled to the other end of the couch. Graygirl was determined to play hard to get, or at least hard to get fed. Bringing the full force of my superior brain power to bear, I then placed the dish smack dab in the middle of the couch. I cackled at the geometric genius of my ploy. No matter which end of the couch she ran to, she would be equidistant from the mealistic matter she was trying to escape. Graygirl yawned from her pillow on the end of the couch by the kitchen and promptly went to sleep. I sat there on the couch for about half an hour awaiting her return from Sleepyland to no avail. Finally admitting defeat, I put the mixture in the refrigerator to await the next battle of wills at dinnertime. I eventually lost that encounter, too, and ended up giving it to my 100-lb. lab mix, BigDog. It was such a small portion compared to what he’s used to eating that I’m sure all he did was inhale next to it, and it was gone.

The clock ticked on and on like an old teacher clucking her tongue at me, and TV shows came and went without much notice. About bedtime, however, I couldn’t help but notice that Graygirl had her nose to the floor and was patrolling the kitchen. That dog was looking for something to eat! This time I just grabbed the sack of Royal Canin, poured some in a bowl, and offered it straight up to my tiny hunger striker. Apparently, her willpower was a bit down, and she began picking at it. Oh, she didn’t wolf it down like she had the day before, but, indeed, she was eating, albeit reluctantly. What a relief! I’m not sure how much longer I could have held out. I tucked Graygirl into her bed and then got into bed myself (her bed is on top of my bed anyway), knowing that my baby had a little sustenance in her system.

Day 3: The strike was back on but weakening. I tried to feed her some Beneful & Royal Canin for breakfast to no avail. She tried to bury it with her blanket, and when that didn’t work because I kept uncovering it, she retreated to the far end of the couch again. OK. I put it all away in the fridge and dug it back out at lunchtime. Ten seconds in the microwave and we were ready to go! This time, she tried to bury it at first but then had second thoughts. I was watching a movie I had recorded a while back, and when she thought I wasn’t looking, she steadily and–to her mind–surreptiously ate her lunch. I think she’s starting to catch on that this is what mealtime is going to be from here on out. It’s for her own good, bless her heart. We’ve got to get her tummy to go back to work without any work stoppages, slowdowns, or hitches. I’m glad she’s coming around. I thought I might have to press charges and haul her into a food court. Whew! Meanwhile, dinnertime looms on the horizon. Excuse me while I practice my mantra: “I’m training her; she’s not training me. I’m training her; she’s not training me. I’m training her; she’s not training me.”

GrayGirl Goes to the Doctor

GrayGirl, the Elkins Street rescued Chihuahua, is at the best of times a delicate, little creature whose health is relatively fragile. As my regular readers may recall, she was the object of some pretty severe neglect and, after her owner died of Alzheimer’s disease, outright abuse; consequently, she’s not in the best physical shape. Our vet talked Gayle and I into taking her last November, and it was love at first sight for all three of us. It’s also been a bunch of vet visits for a variety of ailments: itchy skin, infected ears, and, several times, a testy stomach, as evidenced by a distinct disinterest in eating she displayed over the weekend.

GrayGirl July 2017

GrayGirl guarding the author’s lap against the potential mischief of one of our cats outside of the photo.

So it was off to Robinson and the vet. I explained that she had lost interest in eating sometime on Friday and hadn’t had but just a bit of food since then. They wanted to know if she was throwing up. Well, no, at least she wasn’t actually bringing anything up. Instead, her little face would contort in an odd way. She’d pull her lips back, and, if you can believe it, her snout looked a lot longer for some reason, and it sort of reminded me of an alligator’s mouth. I know. It did, though. Then she would open her mouth slightly and make low gagging noises, but not a thing would she expel. Nothing. Maybe there just wasn’t anything in there. For what it’s worth, her stools seemed normal enough. No diarrhea.

The vet listened patiently to all that, and then he wanted to know what we fed little GrayGirl. I explained that Gray is the world’s most finicky eater, and that we go out and buy her baked chicken and also fry up hamburger meat just for her. Once in a while, if it wasn’t too spicey, we’d slip her some of whatever we were eating for dinner, too, like pasta. It seems that was the problem. Gayle and I were changing up her food fairly often, which would jerk her little system around. If it was too fatty, like bacon or pork chops, it could even affect her pancreas. Whoa! The doc made a convert out of me. Before I left, his assistant recommended Royal Canin, a brand I’d never even heard of before. Out the door and into the August heat I wandered knowing something had to change.

pepper-12-12-2016

GrayGirl wearing her princess t-shirt. She is royalty here, and she holds court on the couch. (When the vet gave her to us, her name was Pepper, which is reflected in an earlier post.)

Since that change involved food, I brought GrayGirl home and then headed off for PetSmart. The veterinary assistant told me to look for Royal Canin, but I’m a compulsive, comparative shopper and had to compare and nose around. After walking down three or four aisles reading labels like a bookworm browsing the stacks at the library, I finally broke down and asked the store manager as he was passing by. Without mentioning any particular brand of dog food, I briefed him on the situation and emphasized that I had a picky eater on my hands. She wasn’t going to eat just anything. Wouldn’t you know it? Unprompted, he took me straight to Royal Canin’s dog food and the variety made especially for Chihuahuas. Who could doubt the vet assistant’s word AND the store manager’s opinion? Besides, I’d never run into a brand of dog food made for a particular breed. I was impressed. The package said it was blended to make it hard for a picky eater to resist, too. OK! I bought it with a great deal of trepidation, knowing how persnickety GrayGirl is, and came home.

My fears were unfounded. Since GrayGirl is accustomed to eating meat, I mixed the Royal Canin with some Beneful chicken stew I had purchased and laid my offering before the Elkins Street queen. Graygirl approached it hesitantly, sniffed it a few times, looked over her shoulder at me, and then, turning back around, snapped that stuff up like that alligator I mentioned above clamping down on its prey. Thank goodness! She got some for dinner tonight, as well, and threw it right down the hatch. I hope she continues to enjoy it. The doc said we’ve got to feed her the same stuff every day to keep her little tummy in line. I plan on slowly cutting back on the Beneful until she’s getting only Royal Canin. (The doc says that dry food is better for her teeth, and the vet assistant spotted some molars that could use a little work down the line.) Gayle and I are keeping our fingers crossed that Graygirl’s tummy troubles are over. Time will tell.