Update on yesterday's stray, the Mansfield traffic puppy

  First, the sneaky puppy manages to get his head on Roo's paw.

First, the sneaky puppy manages to get his head on Roo's paw.

  Roo puts up with him for a while.

Roo puts up with him for a while.

Well, the little puppy had a pretty good night. Roo tolerated him, the way one tolerates a fallen tree or a meteor that crashes through the roof of your car. She is not a sentimentalist in the matter of puppies — especially a male puppy. They like food, after all, and that is a crime that Roo finds unpardonably threatening. Her rule is simple when it comes to food: no other dog is allowed to eat anything, ever. Also, when Roo was confined as a puppy, she picked up the habit of solitude. That she doesn't have a place to go off by herself is what she dislikes the most about living in a camper (especially when the mandolin comes out at night).

So, she put up with the puppy, though she wasn't sure why she should have to.

The puppy went wild a few times. He was no more obtrusive than a dust bunny when he was asleep, but every time he woke up he started looking for things to do. He's not very good at walking, so he kept bumping into things. He tried chewing the walls, the carpets, Roo's collar, wires, whatever he could find. He kept wanting to drink water, but thats when his luck ran out, because after drinking enough to float him away had it been poured into a puddle, I cut him off in the hope of his making it through the night. He had his last trip outside around 1 AM, but by then he was too tired to do anything but keep trying to sleep on my foot.

He was so exhausted that he couldn't walk more than a step or two without slumping into a sitting position. He tried to stay awake, but his head wouldn't cooperate and the rest of his body followed it to the floor.

All he wanted to do was curl up next to Roo. Roo is the wrong dog for that. He understood this from his previous interactions with her and realized that a diplomatic approach was his only hope. He wriggled closer and closer to her until he was in a position to rest his head on her paw.

"Grr," Roo told him.

"Chigi, be nice to that little dog. Look how small he is. He's just lonely," I said.

She let him keep his head there, but she kept looking in the direction she planned to escape. Finally she put her head down. When the puppy was fast asleep Roo slipped her paw out from under his head and moved away.

Because puppyproofing the camper would have meant hours of work, I instead blocked him into the floorspace on the other side of the bed with an old bicycle wheel. Being jailed only outraged him and he dismantled the impromptu cage in moments. He won. I let him pick his own spot.

In the morning I took him over to the campground office, which is filled with animal lovers. The previously found cat lives there permanently now and wouldn't think of leaving. I was hoping to get them to help with caring for the puppy, and of course they all fell in love with him and took him in. Roo and I got a couple of hours of sleep.

Don't let the pictures fool you. The puppy looks big, but that's only because he's closer to the wide-angle lens of the cell phone camera in these shots. His actual size is half the length of a sock, without the tail, or nearly a full sock with his tail stretched out. The best way to gauge his size is by Roo's paw.

A few people have expressed interest in the puppy. I think his future will be secured by tomorrow.


Today's Stray: Mansfield traffic puppy


A couple of thunderstorms rolled in this hot, humid afternoon just as Roo and I were getting back from her walk. This, of course, sent Roo into a panic and she ran off to hide under a bulldozer. There's nowhere for her to get hurt here, so I just kept an eye on her and waited her out. Luckily, it wasn't much of a storm, and she agreed to get in the car. She prefers the car to the camper in storms.

Whenever there are storms, I watch the radar on the phone, and as there were a few more on the way, I took her for drive. We crossed the border into Arkansas and at a busy intersection in the town of Mansfield I saw a pickup truck swerve to avoid a small animal. It was so small, and was balled up on the street from having been frightened by the truck and the other traffic passing it that it took a moment to realize this was a tiny puppy. The tip off was how clumsily the puppy stumbled when it got up just as another pickup nearly squashed it.

Roo and I happened to be right at the turnoff into a supermarket parking lot and I stopped the car close to the puppy and started running into the street to get all the bastards who were more interested in beating a red light than not running over a puppy and got out and called in a voice as high as I could make it.

The wake coming off another passing pickup seemed to blow the puppy towards the verge, and when he heard my voice over the diesel exhaust, he made a beeline for me. I scooped him up and walked around the area to see if anyone was looking for him, but no one was. 

At first I assumed the puppy had been dumped there, and maybe he was, but maybe not, because he's in pretty good shape. On the other hand, he's so young that it was probably his mother keeping him so well-kempt. I brought him in the car. When Roo saw that this was just a dog of some sort, she was on the displeased side of uninterested. To be fair, she had recently been running around in humid heat, then scared by a thunderstorm, and now the disappointment of my bringing into the car what might have looked tantalizingly like a squirrel from a distance but turned out to be nothing but a puppy.

It was well past 7 PM, and so there was nothing to do but take the puppy back to the campground with us. I wasn't going to pack him off to jail too fast, anyway. He wanted to crawl up next to Roo, but she wouldn't permit it. Those of you who read my recent story of the dog in the clouds might remember the way Orville, when I picked him up to bring him home when he was seven weeks old, cried most of the way in my lap until I balled him up and stuck in in my fleece jacket. This little guy cried and cried. Eventually he slept, but he was as upset as you'd expect a puppy to be.

When we got back to the campground, Roo was friendly to him. She's not exactly in love — she's of the puppies-should-be-seen-and-not-heard-and-not-seen-unless-you're-specifically looking-for-a-puppy school. But she thought he was mildly amusing.


By the time he came inside, he was exhausted. He had probably gone much longer than a guy that age can make it without sleep, and then all sorts of strange things started to happen to him. Lost, alone in a big world he didn't even know existed, playing in traffic, being blown around by trucks, scooped up by a gorilla, enclosed in a capsule and driven to another planet. He took a look around, started chewing on a whisk broom, which I took away from him, then he tried to nestle up to Roo, but she gave him a look, and I imagine, a little growl that I couldn't hear over the air conditioner. 

I had just taken my hiking boots and socks off and he started chewing on one of those. Before three seconds were out, he bunched the sock up and went to sleep on it. I posted his picture online and wrote this. Some of you helpfully answered my question about what to feed him. He just slurped up a couple of tablespoons of softened kibble, which put him in a terrific mood. He began to think of the night as young. In gratitude, he took his first indoor pee where it was easy to clean — up on the vinyl dinette seat — a full and satisfying pee that livened him up some more. He decided it was time to try chewing on Roo a little. She didn't mind until he grabbed a mouthful of her flank in his needle teeth and hauled back on her as hard as he could. She gave him a good growl that was completely appropriate. After that he walked over to the water bowl and forgot himself and sat down in it and then wondered how his tail got wet. I put him back up on the dinette seat and played with him. He's got a set of those little paws with the unused black leather shoeleather on them. Naturally he gave me a couple of bites. I had to tell him that would be a worse habit for him to pick up than chewing tobacco, but guys that age don't believe anything if it's just some old fart telling them.

So, here he is. In the camper. I've posted him to the Arkansas Lost and Found Pets Facebook page, and maybe that'll get him home, if he has one. If not, I'll figure something out. In the meantime, he's teething and desperate to chew on something and I have nothing to give him. I have to figure out a way to pen him overnight so he doesn't finish the job of destroying this camper that the Amish con artists who built it began the minute they stapled it together.

He sure is cute. He's just a little baby and acting like one. Dinner revved him up, but fortunately he's back to sleep. What I wouldn't do to have a crate on hand for the night, though. 

Please don't start with all the advice about how I should keep him. Roo and I live in a minuscule camper. There is no room for another dog. I can't raise a puppy. He's not staying with us. Even if I'm more tolerant of puppies than Roo is.

I'll try to post some video of him, but the cell connection here isn't up to it now.

This is your Roo on drugs

A few weeks ago, Roo was moving at a crawl. One of her forelegs was always bothering her. By the time she started getting hot spots and infections, I was starting to worry that there was more wrong with her than just being six-and-a-half years old.

Now, being dosed with her daily cocktail of Rimadyl and Apoquel, she looks like this. 

Seven of the last ten days have been over 100 degrees. The water in the little lakes here is probably 80 degrees. And still, this is what Roo has been looking like. Now, I can't say I enjoy the heat, but no matter how hot it gets, you can't ever get enough of seeing a good dog feeling good.

Roo's journey from Hell


Roo's hometown, Los Angeles, is hell on dogs. For one thing, it's a traffic-jammed 120-mile-wide sprawl that spans the Pacific coast from Malibu to San Diego and spreads east like a chemical spill all the way to Palm Springs without interruption. There are countless towns and cities incorporated into it, but for 120 miles, it’s nothing but stoplights and strip malls.

Other than a few chain-link parks, there's nowhere for a dog to run free. On the north side of that 120-miles are some low mountains, and if you drive a couple of hours from downtown LA, where Roo was first captured and jailed as an undocumented dog, you can make your way to some trails where you might be able to get away with walking them off-lead, though it is illegal. If you try it on any of the trails nearby, you'll get yelled at by dozens of people — especially those whose frustrated dogs are a snarling bundle of pent-up energy straining at the ends of their leashes — and handed a $300 ticket by the paramilitary-style officers summoned to the scene of the crime by emergency cellphone calls.

Naturally, this has resulted in an underground trade among the more shifty-eyed breed of dog people in Los Angeles in which information about places where you might get away with letting a dog off the leash is trafficked. Information like that is harder to come by than a box of grenades. People don’t part with it easily because the minute too many dogs show up, the place gets shut down. One such place was a short, weedy trail near LAX. Originally built to service oil wells, and when those dried up to provide a convenient place to dump garbage, most of its half-mile is a crumbled, old road.

It’s a godawful place. The weeds there could only have been grown to become as tangled and pernicious as they have as a result of a major radioactive breech in the past. As soon as a dog gets off the path the gruesome vegetation closes in on them the way a Venus Fly Trap does on a fly. But, as my problem has always been not being able to stand to see a dog live their life at the end of a leash, this was the first place, other than a dog park, where Roo ran free. As a recently tortured inmate, it was the best place Roo had ever been. She loved it. She is a predator, and even though she had never been able to hunt, it was in this corner of Hell that she discovered her true identity. She never caught any mouses there, but I’m pretty sure it’s where she got the idea that such a thing was even possible, outside of the dreams she dreamed when she hid, terrified, behind a toilet.

Since the first descriptions of it in The Inferno, the chief symbol of hell, the characteristic that hung over all the circles of it, has been the stench of sulphur that attends the sneering Devil. It’s the perfect stuff for the Devil. It tortures people, but is as perfume to him. Which brings us to the above photograph of Puppy Roo.

I was warned that there might have been a sulphur pit somewhere near that trail, but I had never seen it and I forgot about it by the time Roo and I returned to LA for a short visit a few months after we left. There were few inches of muck, hardly a stream, just backwash of some kind in a few places in the rut beside the trail. But then, originating from someplace I couldn’t see deep in the tangles, I heard a splash. It didn’t sound like water and it didn’t sound like mud. More like paint. I could tell it was bad.

Everything they say about the stench of a sulphur pit is true. In fact, I’m not sure I believe this was a sulphur pit. More likely it was septic runoff channeled there by one of the new subdivisions springing up to house the crush of people forming in the area like fungus left to itself in a petrie dish in a lab where the experimenters have all been poisoned. But maybe it was just sulphur.

Roo stank more when she emerged from that pit than she had before or ever would again. If she had spent the day rolling in a field of newly-rotted skunks (an ambition of hers), you wouldn’t have been able to smell her over the stench of this dog. 

The worst thing was that there was no place to hose her off. Water is guarded too jealously in Los Angeles. There’s no such thing as a hose bib outside that anyone might let a random person with a filthy dog use. I got her back to the car and emptied out the back to confine her there so that the car, which had cloth upholstery, wouldn’t have to be sent to the crusher. After some frantic calls, I got her to a friend’s yard and a hose, where this stuff proved too tenacious to wash out. It clung to her for half an hour of bathing. Even then, the smell persisted, and later, I had to take her in the motel shower and endure so much shampooing that the hot water gave out.

That was it. No more Hell for the Kahoo. Roo’s journey from Hell was complete. After the sulphur bath, or whatever it was I was determined that from then on she would swim, swim often, but only the way a dog was meant to swim — in wild water, in streams and ponds and lakes and oceans.

She never looked back.

Roo's early days as a pin-up girl


Before I adopted her, while she was still a foster, a growth about the size of a quarter appeared on Roo's shoulder. Even though I was pretty sure by then that I’d be keeping her, that growth influenced my decision, because she’d already had more than her share of bad luck, and before the growth was removed there was no telling if it was something serious. I wasn't going to hand her off to someone else to deal with whatever might have been coming next. I had already been thinking of Roo as mine, anyway. Who was I kidding.

Roo went in the hospital in the morning, had the offending growth sliced off and sent to the lab, and was ready to be picked up in the afternoon. It was the first time in the six weeks we weren't together, and man-oh-man, was she glad to see me. The only serious thing about the growth was the vet bill for the surgery, which, if a quick mental calculation is correct, would have covered about three years of jerky (and we are talking about a dog who loves her some jerky). She was loopy from the anesthesia, which made her look all the cuter in the blue tank top she had to wear to protect the wound. The wound is that dark spot under the mesh, right under the ribbon.

Since then, Roo has become something more of an habituée of the veterinary world than one might hope.

Speaking of which, the Apoquel for her allergies is life-changing. She feels great. While I've been dying from a run of 100-degree-plus days, she's been running around like the mad dog she is.


Teaching Orville to fly

  Orville near the end of his flying career.

Orville near the end of his flying career.

When I taught my dog Orville to fly, there were people who said I was taking too cautious an instructional approach. What did they expect? Of course I was cautious. He was only three months old. Normally you don’t put a dog at the controls of an airplane until they’re at least six months old. So, yes, sue me, I was cautious.

The main problem was that the Cessna aircraft company didn’t expect dogs to pilot their airplanes, and this 185 didn’t have the proper ergonomics for a dog. It’s too long a stretch for them to get their back paws on the rudder pedals. There also wasn’t a good way for him to operate the yoke, or what is sometimes called the stick. Had it been a stick, it would have been worse than a yoke, because to bank the airplane he would have had to lower his gaze from the horizon to move the stick from side to side with his snout. With a handlebar-shaped yoke, he could put his pudgy little Labrador puppy paws on them, one on each side. Of course, with him being as small and floppy as he was, I had to hold him in my lap and steady him by wrapping my hands around that pink pot belly puppies have at that age. 

Orville had a real talent for aviation. I had a terrific student pilot on my hands. It took him no more than a couple of lessons to realize that turning the yoke banked the airplane. He was a little sloppy, but that’s normal when anyone learns to fly. Getting distracted was a bigger problem. You know how puppies are. They get it into their heads to start wiggling and you might as well be holding a salmon. But I was considerate of his age and knew that I was going to have to let him learn at his own pace. 

After a few lessons, a breakthrough came when he wiggled one time to turn around to lick my nose. The sharp movement made one of his paws press down too hard on one side of the yoke, making the plane fall off to one side and the nose drop.

“Look what you've done now, Orv!” I said.

He looked up and noticed that the horizon was rotating quickly. He pulled his tongue in and put his ears up. Looking down on the back of his head, I could see the top of it wrinkle like a walnut while the gears inside turned.

“It's getting away from you, Orv!” I said while the sound of the rushing wind from the increasing airspeed got louder. While I repositioned his paws on the yoke for him I snuck a hand under it (you never want a dog to see that you’re on the controls at all; they instantly cede all responsibility) so I could pull up before the descending plane picked up too much speed. This induced a small G-load, which pressed us down into the seat. Orville’s weight increased from the 12 pounds he weighed to 18 at a G-and-a-half and then 24 at two Gs. His supple puppyskin ears, still at the stage where they were too big for his head, flattened out on his cheeks.

He seemed to think the whole thing was funny and he tried to wiggle around again, but I maintained my grip on him.

“This is no time to start screwing around, little bear!” I said. “Get on the stick!” You call it a stick even if it’s a yoke sometimes. I helped him press his arm down on the other side of the yoke. Oh, he was proud of himself when the plane leveled out. He believed it was a heroic recovery, and I congratulated him as if it was.

“Good boy, Orv! Good job! That's what I call flying!” I told him, and let him curl up to go to sleep in my lap while we flew back to the airport. It’s always better to end a flying lesson on a high note.

After that, he had no trouble keeping the wings level. He was still prone to wiggling too much, but that’s what puppies do, and as I look back on it, I can’t think of any other flaw in his technique.

Within a couple of months, Orville got too big to fly sitting in my lap. He had to be transitioned to the co-pilot seat. This created a new problem because the seat didn’t go far forward enough for him to lean back and he would have to put too much weight on the yoke when he stood on it. The key to smooth flying is a light touch. But, by then he was good at keeping the wings level and on his own he tried different things. First he hopped his weight off the yoke, but found that when he landed, one of his paws tended to hit first, and the wing on that side would drop.

The solution was to get him off the controls completely. A well-trimmed plane, in stable air, will fly hands-off with the wings more or less level, and all you have to do is add a slight pressure to correct it when a wing starts to dip.

“Whoops — there it goes, Orv,” I only had to admonish him once or twice, and he’d dab a paw at the yoke and bring the wings back to level and, once he had it straightened out, he’d look at me with a big smile and get ready to start wiggling again.

The airplane had an autopilot, so I didn’t really need Orville to take the controls when I needed to do something. But now that he was getting so proficient, I preferred letting him fly. He needed the practice and I, like everyone who teaches dogs to fly, was enjoying observing the improvement in his skills. And, at this rate, he would be a contender in one of the big flying dog contests.

Once we got up to altitude, I’d say, “Okay, Orv. Get ready,” and he would sit up at attention, ready to take the controls.

“Ready?” I’d say. Usually he liked to give me a lick on the nose to say yes to anything, but he was too disciplined a pilot by now and controlled himself.

Okay… you’ve got the airplane,” I’d say, making a show of taking my hands off the yoke, and he'd begin appraising the horizon and keeping the wings level. He got to where he could do it for ten minutes at a stretch.

We flew along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, and because of the high winds there, Orville had to have his lessons early in the morning when the winds were calm enough not to knock the airplane off balance and make a wing drop. As his skills improved, though, he could manage more turbulent air. When the plane bounced around, Orville had his hands full, but he quickly realized that all he had to do was make more frequent, and more precise, corrections. Soon, he became a top-flight pilot. Without using the rudder or throttle, he couldn’t take off or land, but in flight, he was unparalleled at keeping the wings level. Had we been able to continue, I’m confident that he would have learned to make turns.

Unfortunately, though, he was growing too fast, and within a few months he was too big for the narrow co-pilot seat. He could sit in it, but he couldn’t lie down, and in flight there was no way for him to move to the back seat. So, just when he was getting good at it, he had to give it up. He kept flying with me, but all from the back seat. Often, he would look wistfully at the front seat. I could tell he wanted to get back on the controls, but he never piloted an aircraft again.

You know those bumper stickers that say "Dog is my co-pilot?" Next time you see one of those, don’t be too sure it’s just a pun.

There's nothing a good dog can't do.

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All the animals are all right


The kitten disappeared. for a couple of days. She was probably trying her luck out on the wild some more and just getting skinnier. Finally she showed back up at the neighbor's camper, and the plan for her future was set in motion. One of the ladies from the office came down and scooped her up.

I went over to visit her. The kitten had the full attention of five women. That kitten must be a new breed of cat. She loves everyone. As soon as she saw me, she took a break from some Arby's leftovers she was eating from a foil wrapper and hopped up on the counter to say hello.

"That's a special cat," one of the women said.

Someone else said, "She is a special cat."

I felt the kitten press against my hand, moving like a weasel. She remembered the Arby's on the floor and hopped back down and tucked back into it. The she went over to Mary, who was sitting in a chair, and hopped up on her lap for a nap.

John, the Oklahoma cowboy who owns the ranch, okayed the adoption of the kitten and the associated expenses, but he drew the line at letting her stay in the office at night. He was opposed to keeping a litter box in the office. She would have to stay outside. The risk with that is the highway right there.

The kitten was agreeable, though, and she didn't wander at all. She seemed relieved to put her wandering days behind her. She stayed close to the bed and box that had been set up for her on the back porch. It's a nice place, overlooking a lake. A fine territory.

Sometimes, though, people change, and the hard line on the kitten's overnighting in the office softened. By the second night, it was clear that you don't risk letting a cat like that get into the traffic.

She's already fattening up. There's never any telling what the future brings for a cat. She might get it into her head to wander off again. Cats do, and though I know a lot of people don't like hearing it, it's better for a cat to have their freedom. Hopefully her luck will hold. That she has a good home, and will get to keep it, is assured.

And Roo is feeling so much better, too. Today she ran around like such a maniac that later she stiffened up and walked the way I usually do. Before that, she kept playing with me when I washed her and brushed her, cracking the jokes she likes to — pretending not to hear me when I ask her to take one step closer to where I'm trying to sit in a chair to brush her and then pouncing on me and giving me a touch of a tooth with a big wag.

"You old bear," I told her. "Best bear in the world." She always likes hearing that.

After that she was done. She ate her dinner and conked out. Outside, a mockingbird was pecking at a five-foot-long rat snake who was intent on climbing into her tree. THe bird pecked at it ferociously on the ground, but the snake kept going and went up. I suppose there was a nest up there. I don't know for sure, but I don't think the snake got the eggs.