First day of spring in Second Amendment country

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Today is the first day of spring, and right on cue, it’s warming up in east Oklahoma. The leaves on the trees aren’t budding just yet, but the birds are tweeting and the first baby snake has already been squashed on the road. 

A couple of kids, brother and sister, stopped to talk to me about Roo while she was nosing around some trees at the top of a shallow ravine. Eventually the conversation came around to a Great Dane they have at home.

“We had three Great Danes, but the first one got shot,” the little girl said.

“And then the second one got shot, too,” the boy said.

“Yeah,” his sister said. “So we only have one now.

“How did they get shot?” I asked. 

“Our neighbor shot them,” the girl said.

“Why?”

“He’s just mean,” the boy said.

“Did the dogs attack him or anything like that?”

“No. They were just standing there. He’s just mean.”

I was stopping myself from saying what I wanted to say about their neighbor when I happened to look up from the kids towards Roo. It was the exact moment that she was falling down the ravine. All I saw was her head, like Wile E. Coyote’s, looking at me, her ears straight up in the air as her head, with a surprised expression, dropped into the void. I ran over and looked over the edge into the drop, which is about nine feet drop there — enough to break something. Some long ago paratrooper training must have kicked in, because she managed the fall perfectly, probably tucking her legs in and rolling when she contacted the ground. It’s the first time I ever saw Roo lose her footing.

She was fine. She spent the next ten minutes sitting with the little girl and letting her pet her.

Teaching the old dog a new trick

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Lots of people have been convinced, mostly because of the old adage they’ve heard since childhood, that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Dogs know better than anybody that this is nonsense.

The other day I had to spend a few hours under the truck to try to keep the complicated hydraulics that operate the suspension from failing. It’s not a complicated job, but it’s an unpleasant one, because without a lift, there isn’t enough room down there. And, because there are five times in the process when the hydraulic pressure is relieved and drops the truck as low as it will go, you have to stay out of the way when it comes down to keep from getting your head cracked open like a walnut. To relieve the pressure, all you have to do is open a tiny valve by turning a nut a quarter of a turn. First you put some hose around the opening so the hydraulic fluid — which is messy, messy red stuff — doesn’t dump all over you and on the ground, and goes instead into a water jug at the other end. I had the wrong size hose. Had it been the right size, it would have snugged on and held itself in place. Mine was a little too wide, so I was going to have to hold it in place when the fluid drained. This was difficult because four of those five valves are tucked up behind other junk. Another three elbows would have come in handy. 

Another problem was that I didn’t have the right kind of wrench. I thought I did, but I was wrong, and I didn’t want to drive all the way to town to buy one. I had a small adjustable wrench that would work. It just wouldn’t hold itself in place the way the right wrench would, but there we were. It was going to make it harder to do it all by feel when I’d have to get out of the way to keep from getting crushed, but I was going to try it

I had left the camper door open because I had to go back inside to check the computer for the instructions for this operation from time to time, and I didn’t want to get gunk all over the place every time I went inside. It was only around 11:30 AM —much too early for Roo to wake up — so I was a little surprised when she snuffed at my ear while I was lying on the cold asphalt with my neck craned and both arms snaked and twisted to hold onto the wrench and the hose in place while trying to move out of the way enough to get out of the way of the truck when it was going to come down.

“Well, if it isn’t Chiggi Bear Beker the dog,” I said. “What gets you out of bed so early of a morning?”

She lay down on the ground and gave me a serious look. I couldn’t risk opening the valve with her there, because if the hose slipped it could spew fluid all over the place. I had put a towel don to protect the asphalt in case that happened, but if it squirted on Roo it would stain her a deep hydraulic red that could take months to come out. It would be as bad as the time Orville had to sit there and have several garlands of flowers hung around his neck and red tikka powder sprinkled all over his white head on the day when dogs are celebrated in Nepal as representatives of the Hindu god Bharat (who is a dog, and the idea is that you need to keep the dogs happy because on their next life they get to come back as humans and you want them on your side). Orville had blotches of red on him for weeks.

Roo kept looking at me.

“Little Bear, please, get out of here, will you?” I said, but this had no effect. She just kept staring at me with her ears up and her eyes wide open. Roo has never been told to get away from me, so there wasn’t much of a chance that she would start now. By now, my shoulders were cramping up anyway and a crick was developing in my back from the awkward position and the cold, so I gave in and undid the hose and the wrench.

Roo kept staring at me. When I got far enough out from under the truck she sat up and smiled and wagged her tail. She got up and took a step towards the camper, stopped and looked back at me. She took another step that way again, putting a playful little hop into it, and looked back at me again.

I stood up. That made her prance back at me and then back at the camper. It was obvious that she wanted to show me something.

“Okay, okay, hold your horses,” I said. “I’m coming.”

I followed her back into the camper. She went in first and then stopped to make sure I was following her. When I was inside she went to the bed and sat at the foot and put her chin on it.

“You’re kidding,” I said. 

She rolled her head a little in my direction to look at me, cocking the downwind eyebrow way up, but she didn’t lift her chin up. She had her ears flattened out in the way dogs do when they’re asking you something nicely. What she wanted was my help to get up on the bed. 

“You have got to be joking,” I said. ‘This is what you brought me in for?”

The bed is high off the ground and it’s true that at seven-point-something years old it’s getting hard for Roo to jump up there herself. On the rare occasion when she wants to get up there she puts her chin up there like that and then hops her front paws up and I help her up by lifting her up the rest of way by the hocks. That’s what I did now.

Now, you know how when you get a dog to do something you praise them to let you know how pleased you are with them? Roo believes in that technique, too. As soon as she was up on the bed she dropped onto her back and started wiggling around the way she does in the snow and started snorting, enough to make her sneeze. Oh, she was pleased with herself. She kept wiggling and looking at me until I came over, patted her a few times on the belly and congratulated her. 

So, even if it’s one I might come to regret now that she’ll certainly try it out more often, that was the lesson in this. The way she congratulated me so enthusiastically pretty much guaranteed that the next time she pulls this on me, this old dog will have learned his lesson and learned it well. It wasn’t just getting me to perform the behavior she wanted — following her inside and helping her up on the bed — it was getting me to feel good about it that was the key.

So forget about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. I’m 60, and training me is a piece of cake.

Spring ain't here yet, but it's on the way

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Unless you’ve spent the last week safely tucked out of the way in one of the lower corners of the United States, you’ve undoubtedly been enjoying the current massive dome of Arctic air. We’re in southeast Oklahoma, not all that far from Louisiana, and it made it this far south and farther still. Man, it’s has been cold.

Last night, at around 2:30, just as it was getting down to 14 degrees, Roo woke up from a dream. Maybe she was dreaming about the bone she didn’t eat the night before, because she located it and went to work on it. She was too exhausted, though, and rather than risk letting it lie around inside the camper where, who knows, I might steal it, she picked it up and came over to where I was sitting, next to the door, with a big grin and a wagging tail.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “You want to go outside?” This had never happened before. Not once. Roo doesn’t take chances on going outside at night any more than absolutely necessary.

She kept grinning and wagging at me. But what could I do? Her eyes were so bright and happy. Of course, opening the door meant that the cold would instantly blast into the camper. It would take half an hour to warm up again, but I did it.

“You really want to go outside? It’s freezing out there.”

She hopped up and down on her front legs and grinned at me some more. I opened the door, she ran out and I got the door closed as fast as I could and watched her out the window.

First Roo put the bone down and took a look around. She took a seat, as if to appreciate the scenery and the breeze. Then she flung herself on the grass and rolled around, stopping only once or twice with her belly up, I suppose to cool it off. She rolled back onto her side and stretched herself out as far as she could, front paws straight ahead of her, back paws behind, her back arched. She let that go and took a nice, deep breath.

There’s a lake so narrow here that if you didn’t know it was a lake you’d mistake it for a small river, and on the other side there are a bunch of coyotes who occasionally lose their collective minds and all start yipping and howling at once. The cold was probably keeping them on their toes, and they began to make a racket. Well, of course Roo took this personally and started to bark at them as loud as she could. No one else is camped here — after all you have to be a world-class idiot to camp in this kind of weather — so it didn’t matter that Roo was making so much noise.

It must have worked, because the coyotes shut up. Roo seemed a little surprised at her own effectiveness. She nosed around a little more at a leisurely pace, but then the cold hit her, suddenly and all at once, and she came trotting back to the camper.

Now, one of the odd things about Roo is that she almost never goes through a door without reconsidering whether she actually wants to. She likes to stand there and look around and wonder whether she’s really prepared. This couldn’t be tolerated now. The cold was terrible and the wind was blowing right at the door. Any hesitation on Roo’s part and we would be doomed to hours of unbearable cold.

I swung the door open. Roo turned her head from the crack of the door to the prairie and the coyotes beyond. She noted the mooing of distant cows and wondered when the next Kansas City & Southern coal train was going to come rumbling.

“ROO! GET IN HERE!” I said.

She looked the other way, lowering her head to see beneath the door sill. Perhaps she was ensuring that no ice mouses were trying to hide under the camper. Maybe she was wondering why it was she never lay down under the camper for shade from the hot sun.

“ROO!”

She looked back in the direction of the coyotes. I slammed the door shut and looked at her out the window. Now that the door was closed, she wanted to come in again. Knowing that she was just going to start looking around again I had to jump out and chase her in.

Naturally, she thought she deserved a cookie for her unprecedented display of courage in the face of the night. I agreed and raised her a jerky.

It was a cold night.

 

The dog days of winter

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When you live in a tiny camper, weather is one of the worst problems. The main problem for me is the impossibility of maintaining a steady temperature. It’s always too cold or too hot, swinging from one to the other every few minutes. It’s a function of the small space.

But for Roo, the weather creates all sorts of other problems. When it thunders, you might as well be outside. When heavy winds blow and make the camper buffet, that spooks her. When it rains hard, it’s like being inside a snare drum, and that gets to her, too. And in the last year or so she’s lost her taste for going out in the rain, which makes no sense for a dog who regularly swims when it’s 35 degrees, which means that sometimes she’s stuck inside with nothing to do. Nothing is worse than boredom, and there’s nothing I can give her to keep her entertained. I tried one of those $22 Himalayan yak cheese chews, but she won’t touch it, so that was 22 bucks out the window. She enjoys chewing the tops of water bottles, but that doesn’t last long.

So, sometimes, she’s just plain stuck.

A very, very bad day in Ratland

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I probably shouldn’t post this. I wouldn’t, except that Roo was so proud of herself over the success of her most recent killing spree that I had to, because if she was editing this instead of starring in it, that’s what she’d want. Of course, the truth is, as much as I joke about the carnage — the poor victims collectively known as mouses — I try to dissuade her. Anytime she starts getting close to a kill I try to distract her, or walk away, forcing her to come after me. But sometimes there’s no stopping her. She’s a born predator, and when she knows she’s going to win you couldn’t stop her with a hydrogen bomb test. It’s not as if she does it purely for sport, though she enjoys it as much as any fox or wolf who subsists on mouses does (as many of them do). She has every intention of eating her kills. She buries them and checks on them from time to time to see how they’re cooking.

Anyway, yesterday she dug up a rat and killed the poor thing. Normally, as soon as she kills someone, she picks it up and takes it away to bury it, but this time, she flung it into the air and immediately darted back into the massive pit she’d excavated to unearth him, scrambled some more and then pulled out a second rat and killed that one. Then she took that rat over to the other one and picked them both up. This was the first time I ever saw Roo carry two things at once. I always thought the mathematics or logistics of a multiple carry were too much for her, but she did it without a second thought. She was so proud of herself that she carried the two of them around for ten minutes before interring them in a joint grave.

So, even though I hate to see it, I knew that for her it was one of her crowning achievements as a huntress. It put her in the best mood she’s been in for weeks for the rest of the day, until late at night, when the wear and tear on her arms and shoulders from the gargantuan effort of all the digging it took caught up with her. She was so sore that she spent the rest of the night letting out the occasional groan and waking me up to commiserate with her, which, after the second or third time, I refused to keep doing.

She slept until two in the afternoon, and then, back in her bright mood, wanted to head back to that rat den. I told her to forget it. Better to quit while she was ahead. Instead I loaded her in the car to take her farther away, to a place where I knew the pickings were slim.

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A sunny day in Oklahoma

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Just a pretty picture of Junior trying to disguise herself as a squirrel in Oklahoma. The weather here has been oscillating from 15 degrees one minute to 70 the next. Thunder and floods one minute, snow and windstorms the next. Today was sunny, perfect for considering tree climbing as an alternative squirrel hunting technique. We are both, as you can probably tell, losing our minds.

Executive Time

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As the walls close in on the administration, every backbiting liar, weasel and cheat in it is leaking everything they can get their paws on to the press more than ever, in the hopes of later being able to claim to only having been on the job to try to protect the nation from a would-be tyrant. One such despicable leaker just provided this image of the boss’ typical activities during Executive Time. Though it pained the editorial staff of The Dog in the Clouds to grant anonymity to the leaker, the sensitive nature of the disclosure obliged this rare exception to the standards you’ve come to expect from Your Home for Yellow Dog Journalism™.