A cheap substitute for DNA testing

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According to a careful study of our web analytics being circulated in graduate business schools, if you're reading this you're either a human or a dog. Our cat numbers are too low to even bother trying to capture that market. And not to digress, but this is representative of the poor ability cats have to understand even basic messages and a problem I am no longer interested in trying to correct. If cats don't want to visit the site, that's their right. I've posted about them twice, a wonderfully flattering portrait of one of them, and then the film of Roo's nightmare, in which she is prevented from chasing a cat. That's not good enough for a cat. There just isn't any satisfying them, and I'm through trying. This site can — as it so often has — go to the dogs.

If you're having any trouble determining the category of reader you are in, this photo should help you. If you're a human, your reaction to this mud pit would be one of avoidance. If it calls to you, if it seems to be inviting you to slosh through it, you are probably a Labrador. If it is demanding that you roll in it until you resemble the mottled carcass of a marmot unearthed by paleontologists studying ancient mudslides, you are a Golden retriever. Save the money you would have spent on one of those DNA testing services and simply take your dog to the nearest mud slide or quicksand deposit to find out.

Do not mistake that for the nose of an old dog

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Woeful is the Golden with a black nose. Well, woeful is not most of them, but the nose color featured in this photo is one Roo is proud of.

Originally, Roo's nose was the jet-black color of the leather used on the steering wheels of Lamborghinis supplied to oil sheiks. One day, I was alarmed when I noticed that it seemed to be changing. That worried me because when my dog Orville came down with lymphoma, he developed a liver-colored spot on his nose. So, naturally I was worried about the blanching, or livering, of the Kahoo's nose, until I learned from a vet that it is simply the mark of a life being well-lived and nothing to worry about, because unlike the skin of mere humans, which darkens in the sun, the noses of Goldens often lighten to the color of puréed chicken liver seasoned with a little too much paprika.

I have never seen another Golden who has achieved an equal nose hue. Reaching the consistency of this color required daily exposure to the sun, which, in turn, required the complete financial and professional ruin of her attendant. If you ever see Roo's nose reverting to its original onyx shade, you'll know something has gone horribly wrong for her.

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The Historic Roo Video Collection: Brave new rescue puppy Roo learns to get in the car

I just checked our YouTube channel, which is pushing 10 million views. Last month, people spent 1100 hours watching Roo videos, which, if you extrapolate across the spectrum of YouTube viewership, might account for why no one has the time to learn things like how not to allow lying con artists into the Oval Office.

Now, even though staggering viewership numbers like that generate so much revenue (a team of accountants is still analyzing the data, but shareholders will be pleased to learn that projections are already approaching $4 per month) that we've run out of room in the Burt's Bees Lip Balm jar we use to store pennies, those videos were all posted to accompany Roo stories. So, let's have a look at some of the early Roo videos and reminisce about her journey so far, shall we? For those of you who haven't read the book about Roo and how our life together began when she was a terrified puppy, you can pick it up at Amazon here, in e-book or paperback.

Here's the second video of Roo ever posted to YouTube. She was starting to come out of her shell and I was teaching her to get in the car. This was the beginning of Roo's favorite practical joke, one she's played on me every day since then. Whenever it's time to get in the car, she pretends that she doesn't want to and tries to get me to yell at her. Why she finds this so funny, I have no idea. Maybe it's her way of saying, "Gee, Dad, remember when you were teaching me to get in the car? This is how I was."

Do NOT tell me this is a picture of an old dog

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I'd be surprised if in any of the least five years with Roo there were ten days when she didn't get her daily, full-blown exercise. The only things that have prevented it have been thunderstorms, and even then I check the weather radar to try to work her exercise in. Even the longest drives have always been stopped to find a trail for her.

When we lived in western North Carolina, there was no way to avoid walking her anywhere but in the steep hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we would climb and descend at least 1000 feet, per day, and 1500 about once a week. It kept Roo in shape, but it was a lot of wear and tear on her old man. I never let up for two reasons. The more important reason was because without exercise, Roo is much more fearful and stressed. I adopted a fearful dog. I signed up for doing whatever it took to help her with that throughout her life. And though she's indistinguishable from any dog when she's out running around, she is still easily frightened. She needs not just the exercise, but also to hunt, because that's who she is.

Maybe she’s more obsessed with it because of her tortured puppyhood. A prominent dog behaviorist theorized that the minds of neglected dogs regress to a wolf-like predatory state. If that’s true of any dog, it would be true for Roo, who appeared to have been confined to the point of isolation. She knew nothing about humans, other than that they were dangerous. Her need to hunt defines her. If she can’t root around the forest or mountains or desert, detect and pounce on prey, chase, dig holes, explore waterways, mud banks, fill her head and soul with the smells of every creature, where and how they live, the paths they run, how they hide, she seems to become lost. She doesn’t become pouty. She doesn’t complain. Clouds just seem to drift over her. She needs to hide more. She startles more easily and is more upset by random sounds. Every dog needs lots of exercise (and don’t get me started on people who get high-activity dogs like Labradors or Goldens or poodles or cattle dogs who get nothing but walks on leashes) but for Roo, there’s more to it. They seem to be the only thing that put some distance between her and what she came to expect from the world when she was a mistreated, frightened puppy. I know Roo. And though I spoil her in some ways, getting her her daily exercise isn’t part of it. It’s essential to the process, which gets better but will never let up altogether, of healing her wounded spirit.

Still, there used to be lots of times when I was so beat up by the walks that I wished she would slow down a little. One time, someone with another Golden who we ran into on a trail somewhere said that their dog didn't calm down until she was five, and I thought, well, that might be something to look forward to.

When Roo got sick in Oklahoma last winter, she started to slow down. The illness came on gradually enough to make me wonder if she was coming up against that five-year wall. And the second I wondered that, and remembered thinking how nice it would be if she needed just a little less hard exercise every day, I regretted it. I knew I wanted nothing less than for her to slow down. The worst curse of the dog is how short their lives are. The idea of Roo aging, slowing down, wasn’t pleasant.

Anyway, she didn’t slow down. Not at all. She is as much of a hellcat as she has always been. In fact, lately she has developed a new technique. There doesn’t seem to be much point to it. I think she does it for fun. She either spots a mouse somewhere or pretends to and makes a series of five or six high, running pounces though the bushes. She digs her holes. She dunks herself in every available stream or pond. If I clock a four-mile hike on the GPS, it can not possibly be less than four times as long for her.

At some point on her walk I tell her, “You’re finished now. We’re going home.” She argues. She stands there, trying to will me to continue. I tell her to forget it and once she is resigned to a return, she starts dragging herself, especially if it’s as hot as is has been lately.

On at least four or five occasions in the last month, during this phase of her walk, someone has said something about Roo being old. “Hello there, old buddy,” one guy said. 

“She’s not old,” I said, under my breath. 

Someone else said, “How old is your dog?” in a way that meant, “That sure is one hell of an old dog.”

“Not old,” I said. “She’s been running around like a maniac for two hours. She’s just exhausted.”

And someone else said something like, “Aw, it’s good to see your dog still getting her exercise.”

Hasn’t anyone ever seen a hot, tired dog? Man.

And, damn it, Roo is not old. Her life, like the lives of all dogs, is going by too fast, but she’s nowhere near old yet. Not if I have anything to do with it. I intend to keep this dog running free for as long as possible.

In the above picture of Roo, she looks a little grizzled at first glance. I was reluctant to publish it until I blew it up and saw what she really looks like in it. I think she looks great. Enlarge it on your screen. I’d be curious to know what you think.

Just don’t you dare tell me Roo’s starting to look old….

 

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The most ferocious tiger of all the jungles is one hell of a good girl

I’ll tell you what: Roo K. Beker is such a good girl.

Even before she got so sick over the winter with the gut ailment that was never diagnosed in spite of being scanned, prodded and tested up the wazoo and back, she’s always had a sensitive digestion. Over time I’ve tweaked her diet and her feeding times, and for the most part, she’s doing well now. Big changes include no more breakfast. She used to get something to eat in the morning, but once in a while the second she ate it she would want to throw it right up. Maybe there’s something about her somnolent gut that isn’t ready to handle food until she’s been up and about a little.

When her stomach bothers her, she makes things worse by wanting to eat entire pastures of grass, which she takes to an extreme. I could make a fortune by letting her mow large lawns or prepare housing developments or office parks for bulldozing. She tears it up fast enough to make the cows reconsider their technique. But going overboard on the grass sets up a cycle of irritation. Some of it comes up, but if she’s packed too much in and it works its way through, it irritates her for the next 24 hours, during which her answer is to try to eat more grass. Her bio-pharmacological instincts are lousy. I have to watch her like a prison guard on a suicide watch.

She might also ingest too much dirt sometimes when she digs too much. I’m not sure that’s it, but there seem to have been a few times when she’s been sick after marathon earth-moving sessions. But not reliably. Only once in a while. None of the 40 or 50 tons of dirt she’s move lately has done it, so I’m not sure. 

Once I heard the term pancreatitis used, when she was sick in Oklahoma, even though the vets didn’t think she had that, I cut out her fat intake. Not completely, but way back. I also switched her to a fish kibble ($100-a-bag Origen). 

For the most part, she’s fine now, but every once in a while she starts gulping and sticking her tongue out and looks like she’s trying to swallow — the signs of her indigestion.

Pepto-Bismal and an omeprazole capsule usually calm her down. My buddy Jim (Roo and I live in our refrigerator carton in his and Virginia’s driveway), is a physician, and the other day when I said, “Hm. Looks like Roo’s stomach might be bothering her a little,” he reminded me to hurry and get the meds in her right away and get ahead of it.

Roo and I went to the camper. Every time Roo re-enters the camper, she lies down in front of the kitchen counter. There are only a few feet of space there, but she has an exact spot she uses to let me know that she’s in the mood for piece of jerky or a cookie.

“Sorry, Bearface,” I said while I opened the drawer that has the pills in it. “You have to have a pill.”

She immediately looked concerned. Her ears went up and her expression became serious. Pills? First of all, that meant the possibility of a terrible switcheroo away from a treat.  And it meant that I would now either try to foist them on her by wrapping them in some of the stuff I keep on hand for her — a piece of turkey, usually — which she would then have to labor meticulously to isolate the pills and spit them out, and during the course of which mouthwork they would start to dissolve and ruin the turkey before she could get the rest of the pink mush settled into the fibers of the dollar-store carpet. Or, there was the possibility of suffering the indignity of having them jammed down her gullet. She is opposed to this method on principle. It’s no fun, but it’s not a torture. 

She took her chances for a minute until I asked her to come and sit for her pills. I could see that her indigestion was bothering her, but that never means she doesn’t want to eat something and she looked at me with disappointment. Some Daddy. What good are they. They let you down in your moment of need. Oh, it might not be a big let down, but the little inconsiderations add up. She got up and slinked like a coyote into the one space where she knew I wouldn’t have the room to operate and turned around so she could keep an eye on me.

“Rooki,” I said, “you know you have to take your pills.”

The front of that space is narrow, with just enough room for her paws, if she keeps her arms together, to extend outward, and she lay her head between her paws in the traditional manner of the dejected dog and looked up at me with her eyebrows up and a little of the whites of her eyes showing.

“Have it your way, Fatso,” I said. I started calling her Fatso when she was an emaciated puppy and showed the first signs of putting on some weight as a form of compliment, and it still comes up once in a while. “I’m not going to argue with you. But you know — “ as she very well does — “that these pills will help that stomach of yours.”

I sat down and let her sulk. For a couple of minutes she only raised her head to do a little more gulping and licking.

“Rooki Bear, you have a stomach. You should really take your pills,” I said. 

She looked at me and thought about it. She knew I was right. She was standing on a pointless principle. She stood up and walked the six feet to me and sat down, right in front of me, in pill administration position. This is how I know that she knows that the pills help her. She learned this in Oklahoma when she was deathly ill and the combination of anti-nausea and antacid pills were the only things that stopped her violent reflux and retching.

“Chig, you’re the best little bear in the world,” I said. I’ve pretty much wasted her brain’s capacity for vocabulary on the plethora of nicknames I use on her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She had decided to cooperate and other than some reflexive movement of her tongue as I worked all three pills at once as far back as I could, she had made her mind up not to resist at all. I held that beefy tongue down, stuck all three pills as far back as I could get them — they’re all high-friction pills, chalky Peptos and a sticky capsule — and clamped her beak shut to prevent the inevitable flapping to spit them out, and after a few seconds of rubbing her throat she swallowed, signaling a completed job when her tongue came out to lick her nose. I use to give her liquid Pepto, but she hates it and most of it flies out of her mouth.

I leaned down and put my face against the side of her fine, velvety snout, and patted her chest. “What a good girl you are, Laroopka. You’re the best bear in the world. This is why you are the greatest mouse catcher and hunter who ever lived. You are brave and strong and smart. You are my good little puppy. Of course, you’re not so little, but to me you’ll always be my little puppy, even if you’re the most ferocious lion who ever killed all the mouses in all the jungles. Even if a tiger is a cat. Better than a tiger. A big, ferocious murderer, feared even by the mouses who laugh at tigers.”

Roo, like lots of dogs who were deprived of contact and kindness in their puppyhood, has never been sure about how to show affection. She’s not a licky dog, for example. But what she likes to do is sniff my ear and give it a single lick. You can see it makes her happy to do it because she always smiles and wags her tail when she does. I think she got the idea from me when she came out of the pound five years ago, and her ears were seriously infected and stuffed with gooey brown and yellow wax, and she connected my sniffing them and cleaning them all the time — my God, it was a terrible mess she had in there, and imagine the relief it was for her to feel that gluey mess come out in wads — and commenting on them and how they smelled with making them better. And so when I gave her the pills and held her with my face against her snout, she gave me one of those licks on the ear.

Good old Roo. She’s one hell of dog. She lay down, knowing that she was going to start feeling better soon, and went to sleep. Later, she was fine. And when she finally got her cookies, her faith in humanity was restored. Maybe having a Daddy who jams those things down your throat isn't the worst thing in the world after all.

Roo, The Oldest Dog Who Ever Lived

Sometimes I take Roo for a walk in a town. Not often, but she likes it. This evening, she was exhausted, which is a great mark of a success for a dog, and so, one they like to show off. She was trudging along as if she was on her way to be photographed for the Guinness Book entry on the World’s Oldest Dog, her head hanging low as if she had a crick in her neck and dragging her old bones as if she was riddled with arthritis and I was taking the easy way out by keeping her doped up on morphine.

A woman stopped and said, “Oh, that poor dog. How old is he?” People tend to assume that a male owner has a male dog. Roo must think that one of her names is Buddy, because most of the time people say, “Hey, Buddy,” to her. This mystifies me, because Roo is extremely feminine.

“She’s ninety,” I said.

“Well, bless her. In human years, then, that would be — “

“No, that is in human years. She practically raised my great-grandfather from a baby. She was a flapper before the Great Depression hit. She had to save him from a pack of hungry tramps once when they were riding the rails and doing a little hoboing on the way out of the dust bowl. Of course, the country finally got rid got rid of that idiot Hoover and things quieted down, but next thing you know, World War Two came around. Grandma was forced by conscience to loan her to the War Department. Do you now that no other dog saw action in Europe and the Pacific? Google it. Especially as a paratroop. Hard going for a dog. She won't even consider jumping any more. Growls at you when you come at her with a parachute. After that, they offered her a show on TV, the same way they put Audie Murphy in the movies, but she felt sorry for some collie and let him have it. There would still be royalties coming in, but her heart wasn’t in show business. She enjoyed the Sixties, though. Never wore a leash once until Nixon got Hoover to clamp down on the long hairs. We just pass her down from generation to generation.”

“Very funny,” the woman said. She had started to back away. Excessive improvisation in small talk is usually taken as a sign of a dangerous mental imbalance. “How old is she really?”

Roo does this all the time. She enjoys being dramatic about being exhausted as a way of bragging to other dogs. There it is, seven in the evening, and every other dog is prancing around town, ready for the night to begin after a day’s forced rest. Roo likes letting them know that she lives the kind of privileged life that gets her so beat up during the day that by nightfall she’s half-dead.

She is getting older — she’ll be six in November — but in the accompanying video you see how she is during the day. Roo is in terrific shape. This is the last of the tadmouse movies. The tadmouses are gone and the footage isn’t from today. It’s an homage to the seasonal passing of the tadmouses, but I thought you might like to see the last of them, for the tadmouses have come and gone. Roo still looks for them every day, but for now she’s back to terrorizing terrestrial mouses.

How to lose a dog and make sure no one calls you when she's found

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I found this collar today. Clearly it belongs to someone who takes care of their dog, as evidenced by the fact that the collar came off in a good place to walk them off-leash and the couple of years worth of rabies tags as well as a numbered tag for a company called 24PetWatch.com.

Three tags, and yet, no simple ID tag. No name, no number. So, the idea is that if the dog is lost, instead of calling you, whoever finds the dog is supposed to call the toll-free number on the tag (who gives a damn about toll-free numbers any more, anyway?) and let a large company get on the case for you.

TERRIBLE IDEA. Terrible enough to merit all caps, bold and italics. It's absolutely idiotic. Here's why:

I figured I'd call the number I expected to find on one of those three tags and let someone know where to find their dog's lost collar, but, as there was no other number but the one for that company, I called that. In other words, I was doing exactly what I'd be doing if I'd found the whole dog.

The first thing I had to listen to was a recorded advertisement. How nice of them to make people trying to rescue a dog listen to that. Next came the menu options to select from. Another opportunity to work the phone while dealing with a tugging, nervous dog. The only menu option that applied was for lost animals, so the hold with blaring, staticky music that followed is what one can expect when phoning about that. Once in a while a recorded voice came on with the usual Your call is very important to us, all representatives are busy helping other customers line we all have memorized from calling the cable company. Except... the people calling to report the lost dogs on this company's damn tags are not their customers. I snapped the screenshot about a minute before the call dropped. Ten minutes of nothing, instead of what should have been a call to someone's home. Ridiculous.

Using this company for lost pet retrieval has got to be the worst idea in the history of dogs. Okay, maybe not the worst. Sending Laika up in the one-way Sputnik shot might have been worse. But for finding your lost dog you'd be better off chartering a skywriting team and posting your phone number overhead in smoke than using this scam. If your dog got lost, wouldn't you want someone to call you without relying on some corporation to middleman the operation? Concierge service to deal with your lost dog? Wouldn't you be gripping your phone like a maniac waiting for it to ring while calling the shelters and scanning the Craigslist postings? And wouldn't you want the amount of time that's lapsed — especially in the few minutes right after a dog is lost, when she might still be nearby — to be as short as possible? These seem like no-brainers, but evidently they're not. At least one person thinks this is the way to go.

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When a person finds a lost dog, they already have a lot on their hands. Lots of wandering dogs are hard to catch in the first place. I've picked up about a dozen in the last year or two, and almost all of them presented one kind of problem or another. Once snagged, the dog might be stressed or hurt or frightened or difficult to manage. The person might be handling their own dog or carrying things or dealing with toddlers. The last thing they need is to have to wrangle a strange dog and their phone while they try to wait out a hold for least ten minutes. When you find a dog you generally need your hands free. And, calls drop all the time. Mine did. So the rescuer is expected to just keep calling back?

If I had found the entire dog and not just the collar, sure, I would have called back and gone through their process again, but not for hours. There will always be some limit to time or patience. Once it becomes too difficult, chances are that lots of people will just call Animal Control or drop the dog off at the shelter themselves. If the dog hasn't gotten away during all screwing around with the phone, as lots of lost dogs will try to do.

This was something of an eye-opener. Why someone would not have a regular ID tag with their dog's name and number on it is mystifying. But what's not mystifying in the least is that this company does not provide the 24/7 service they tout. I wouldn't trust them to track a tree. Trusting them with the life of one's dog is a TERRIBLE IDEA.

The collar remains where it was found. It's a pity, because the owner will probably never get a chance to figure out how misplaced their trust in that company is.

Just get a tag. Chips are great, and every dog should have them (I hope the dog who lost his collar has one), but tags are still the first, and fastest, line of defense.

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