Monday, June 24, 2019

Thoughts of a Figure 8 post

Lawn not mowed.

No food in the fridge.

Dirty laundry expanding like a huge, fabric glacier.

House looks like an active crime scene.

Yep. It’s the Monday after a dog show weekend.

(And when I catch the little bastard who keeps sneaking into our basement and dumping off his dirty laundry, it’s not going to be pretty. Seriously – two people can NOT generate this many dirty clothes.)

But it was a grand weekend and worth the chaos awaiting me on the domestic front when it was over. 

I spent part of both days stewarding for the Novice and Beginner Novice classes at my club's summer trial. This is something I think everyone should do, especially us often-jaded old-timers who have been in the ring since before God made dirt and dogs jumped one and a half their height at the withers. (Damn, that was a long time ago. How am I possibly that old?)

It can be breathtaking to watch the choreographed performances of teams in the upper levels as they literally never put a paw wrong. But these polished exhibitions of uber training often lack the raw emotion you find in the novice rings.

Novice exhibitors are a delight. Their enthusiasm is infectious. They are excited to be at the show, excited to be going into the ring with their canine partner, excited to face the challenge of the great unknown. They exude nervous energy and hopeful anticipation.

This is all blended with honest confessions of “I hope I remember the heeling pattern” and “God, I hope I don’t throw up.” They don’t care about scores (other than being on the right side of 170). They don’t care about qualifying for the NOC or breed rankings or how many points are available for a class win. They are there for the simple joy of being in the moment with their dog.

Granted, some of them could have been a little more prepared but experiences were had and lessons were learned. One thing I noticed WITHOUT FAIL was the Novice and Beginner Novice exhibitors left the ring with huge smiles. They weren’t obsessed with perfect sits or precision heeling. They were ecstatic over the achievement of surviving their ring time, as if they and their dog had undertaken a monumental task and emerged victorious.

I spend too much time immersed in the B-level classes where a half point means the difference between placing and being an also-ran. I enjoyed experiencing obedience at ground zero – at the absolute starting point where every single one of us began our careers. For a couple of hours of stewarding each day, I got to be part of a sub-culture of a sub-culture, where scores are the last thing on anyone’s mind and there are smiles on everyone’s faces. It was refreshing.

For my dear readers who are not part of the dog training scene – all three of you – one of the exercises teams perform in the ring is a series of heeling figure 8’s around two human “posts” who stand still, arms crossed and do not look at or talk to the dogs. “Posting” is a relatively simple skill, performed by ring stewards, but it is not without peril.


Oooh! That is a nose in a place there should not be a nose.

Happy dog! I’m getting lashed by a tail! Thump! Thump! Thump!

Um – wait – you are on one side of me and your dog is on the other side of me and the two of you are connected by a leash – please remedy this situation before one of us gets hurt. Like me.

My nose itches. Can. Not. Scratch.

That is some serious cobwebage on that ceiling fan.

And now there’s a leash wrapped around my knees. This has another dog show-induced ER trip written all over it.

Um, that's a lot of leg sniffing going on - how fast can I get out of the way if it proves to be more than just casual interest?

Can't make eye contact with my fellow post or I know I'll dissolve in giggles over what we were just talking about.

I wonder if there's a spider in all those cobwebs?

Hey, I can watch the food stand from this vantage point. Great. Now I’m hungry.

I am so not standing under that ceiling fan. Heaven knows what might drop out of it.

Oooh! Nose! Another dog with no concept of personal space. We’re much better friends than we were 30 seconds ago.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Is this heaven? (You know the rest)


No brilliantly witty post this week.

My creative muse got whacked over the head by a wind turbine last week. (Figuratively, people!)

Seriously, my muse got run roughshod over by serious news crap (entirely different muse and she does not find wind turbines amusing.). Then my dog trainer's muse marched in and said, "Enough of this madness, we're going to the dog show." And we did because you do NOT argue with her.

So this week, I'm just going to post some of the landscape photos I've taken. They make me happy.

Autumn thunderstorm, Iowa Township, Iowa County, Iowa

Lookin' out my door (with apologies to CCR)

Lily Lake, Amana, Iowa

August morning, Iowa Township, Iowa County, Iowa

Lookin' out my front door, October 2018

More Iowa Township. Seriously. Just cuz I can.

Amana Society Farms near West Amana, Iowa, autumn 2018

Winter 2019. Guess where?

I think Grant Wood was here.

Early snow, autumn 2018, southern Iowa County

Monday, June 10, 2019

Soft kitty, warm kitty

Here at Wichmann’s Home for Wayward Felines, we offer regular meals, snug shelter from the elements, an inclusive medical plan and all the vermin you can catch. Or not. You can lay around on tractor hoods all day and be a furry freeloader. It’s up to you.

Either way, there’s one rule: ya gotta go to the vet for a little personal improvement.

This is a dicey proposition. Anyone who has barn cats is familiar with the “I paid $$$ to get that cat fixed, brought him home and never saw him again” scenario. I will admit to having encountered a few cats where that was money well spent.

Over the last few years, the critters that have wandered onto our farm and decided to call it home were Bonus Cat (miss you, you freaking weird, dog-chasing little buddy), Wild Cat (get the hell off my car!) and (No Such Thing As A) Free Cat. The latest transient beast is Drifter Cat. 

Drifter is a cement block of a tomcat, gray tiger striped with white paws and the bravado of Robert Conrad in the 1970s Eveready battery commercial. Come on. I dare ya.

It was a dare I was hesitant to take, which was probably why I put off scheduling that particular appointment. 

Drifter’s favorite thing in the world was to strut around the farm, yowling the song of his people to any available girl cats on the place. He never really figured out there weren’t any available girl cats here but that didn’t stop him.

His second favorite thing in the world was peeing on things. Tires. Buildings. Flowerbeds. Patio furniture. He peed on our gas grill. He even peed on a tractor seat once. I don’t think he ever knew how close he came to getting a permanent eviction notice for that one.

The Summer 2019 To Do list was looming large and dealing with Drifter was top of the list. I called the vet and scheduled the appointment. Then I decided it would be in everyone’s best interests if Drifter saw the inside of a crate before I had to stuff him into one on the morning of his big adventure.

Drift and I had progressed to the level of friendship that included head scratches, back rubs and being picked up and cuddled for about three seconds. I use that word loosely. Like you would cuddle any muscular animal with razor blades hidden in its toes and the ability to turn from a liquid to a solid with no prior notice.

I was pretty sure trying to stick him into a carrier was going to stretch the limits of our friendship. I made sure there was food in the crate. Scoop the cat up. Pop the cat in. Leap back six feet. Wish my junior high gym teacher could have seen me. I was damned athletic.

Scoop and pop. Scoop and pop. This went surprisingly well, once I figured out the correct placement of hands to ensure all of Drifter’s appendages (four legs, one head, one tail) were streamlined to ensure everything went in the crate with nothing left outside.

Then I set up a big wire crate in the garage and the night before the appointment, I put Drifter inside it with his supper, a water dish, a litter box and a nice comfy towel. Did I mention it was a big crate? A big, big crate. A bigly big crate.

“Eat your supper,” I said. “I’ll be back to get the bowl at 8 o’clock. No food for you after 8 o’clock.” 

He looked at me rather balefully but stuck his head in his supper dish. All was well. 

At some point between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., which I suspect was probably at 7:01 p.m., Drifter realized A) the crate door was shut and B) HE WAS GOING TO DIE!

When I returned at 8 p.m., he was sitting in the far back corner of the crate. The food bowl had been flipped. The water bowl had been flipped and kitty crunchies were floating about in the resultant pool. The towel had been flipped into the litter pan. Drifter was wet and covered with litter.

Well. Damn it. He’d taken so well to being stuck in the little carrying crate, I hadn’t anticipated cat-mageddon happening when I put him in roomier digs over night.

I removed the pans, sopped up the water and pulled the towel out of the litter box, all while keeping an eye on 10 pounds of farm-raised Iowa tomcat who was giving me the stink eye.

I straightened the litter box, gave Drifter a fresh towel and another bucket of water, the time carefully clipped to the side of the crate, wished him sweet dreams and went to bed. He’d chill by morning, right?

Wrong. Wrongly wrong. Bigly wrongly wrong.

In spite of my care, the next morning the water bucket had been flipped. The towel was back in the litter box. And the litter box had been flipped. Drifter was curled in the back of the crate, not moving.

For one horrible minute, I thought he’d succumbed to some feline heart condition brought on by the stress of being incarcerated. Then he turned his head and opened one eye just a slit.

Every cat owner on the planet knows that look.

I went back in the house and put on combat armor. Jeans. Long sleeved shirt. Hooded sweatshirt. My toughest gardening gloves. And a hat because even if you’re going to die a bloody death being mauled by a cat, there’s no need to do it with your hair looking an obvious mess.

Back in the garage, I found myself wishing for a pair of falconer’s gauntlets. I also thought a full-face welding helmet might be useful. Having neither at my disposal, I reassured myself I had excellent medical coverage and opened the crate door.

I expected an attempted jail break, during which I would grab the fleeing inmate and pop him into the travel crate before he knew what was happening.

Yeah. Like that.

 What I got was a cat sitting in the back corner of a crate in sullen, brooding silence. Thanks to the initial and subsequent water and litter box spills and a masterful attempt to claw his way through the crate wire, Drifter now looked something like the cat from Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, the main difference being he was actually alive. The matter of demon possession was still up in the air.

I called Drifter, using my best “Come on little buddy, let's go for a ride” voice.

Drifter did not want to go for a ride. I was a little afraid to think about what he did want.

I tried again, using my authoritarian “Get your butt up and moving, mister” voice.

The only thing that moved was that one eye, which opened and closed again, a harbinger of unknown intent.

Crap weasel.

I got down on my knees in front of the open door. I wondered if I should stop and just go back in the house and write the news story so some other poor schmuck didn’t have to figure it out after the fact.

“A Homestead woman was seriously injured Thursday morning while trying to remove a cat from a crate . . .”

I crawled into the crate. Did I mention it was a big crate? And this stinking pain in the ass cat was waaay at the back of it?

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur . . .

 Poor Drifter. The fight had gone out of him. At some point in the last 24 hours, he’d become resigned to his fate. I pulled him to me, slithered backward, stood up without banging my head and popped Drifter into the travel crate. It was rather anti-climactic but I was happy not to be the lead story on the 6 p.m. news.

He was delivered to the vet, neutered, vaccinated, treated for fleas and ticks, and was back home inside of six hours. I let him chill in the smaller crate while he finished coming around, then opened the door. 

As predicted, he bolted. Thankfully, he went in the opposite direction, not straight up my leg. 

It took about two days before I saw him again and another day or so before he wanted anything to do with me but I think we’re all good now.

And I haven’t seen him pee on anything. Yet.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Turtles: A Clear and Present Danger

 (Subtitle: Or how I almost ended up in Kent Park Lake)

Just when I thought I’d seen every weird canine behavior possible, I hadn’t.

Banner encountered his first turtle on Saturday. It might as well have been one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Remember Yertle The Turtle?
Not Bann's idea of a bedtime story.

 It was a simple little painted turtle about the size of a medium-sized dinner plate. In the manner of turtles, it was minding its own business on the side of a trail Banner and I have walked a hundred times. A stretch of this trail borders a lake and we frequently encounter muskrats and all manner of waterfowl. These are never up close and personal encounters, since the creatures in question take one look at us and wisely head the other direction.

Bann has seen virtually every type of Midwestern wildlife available (with the exception of the cougar that’s been bopping through backyards in Des Moines. Yes, I’m serious. No, I can’t make this stuff up) but he had never seen a turtle. Anywhere. And especially on this particular stretch of this particular trail.

One of Banner’s super powers is the ability to go someplace he’s been a hundred times and immediately spot things that have never been there before. If he was a human, he’d be the kid who could do those “Find 12 differences between these pictures” puzzles in a snap. 

Banner's world view is if something was never there before, it doesn’t have any business being there now. He’s a status quo kind of guy. He’s been that way since he was a puppy. He’s the dog who walked into our brand new farm shop and had a screaming melt-down the first time he saw a tractor parked in it. He’d seen tractors. He’d seen the inside of the shop. He’d never seen a tractor INSIDE the shop and thought it needed to not be there. (Okay, I felt the same way. Tractors occupy a lot of space that could be used for training.)

So he trotted past this turtle, screeched to a stop, jumped about two feet straight up and reversed thrusters when he was in mid-air. It would have been funny if it hadn’t scared me half to death. When shit like this happens, I always wonder, does the dog know something I don’t? Do I need to be worried about this turtle? Is it a harbinger of cougars? (Seriously, no one in Iowa opens their back door and expects to find a cougar in the yard. But it happened. I don't even live in Des Moines and I have a problem with that.)

All forward progress on the walk screeched to a halt for turtle inspection. Banner was enchanted by this life form that came with its own body armor and was impervious to his initial polite enquiries and subsequent complete lack of manners.

He got as close to it as he could without actually touching it. Did you know Aussie necks are made of a bungee-cord-like material that can stretch up to 36”? Truth.

He circled it. He crouched down in front of it. He smacked it with his paw a couple of times. He got brave enough to poke it with his nose. I’m sure the poor turtle was laying there, all retracted into its portable bunker, thinking “What fresh hell is this?”

Nothing happened. Banner found this annoying. (No word on what the turtle thought but I can only imagine.) Bann is usually very good at making something happen. He takes being ignored personally. I think it comes from being raised by a Malinois.

So he barked at it. My apologies to everyone on the west side of the village of Amana who had to endure my dog screaming at a turtle in a fit of temper. It was after 9 a.m. It was time to get up anyway.

Kinda like this. Not quite as cute and a whole lot louder.

 The turtle continued to play possum. I eventually decided enough was enough. We set off down the trail, Bann making frequent glances over his shoulder, clearly concerned the thing might decide to chase us.

Flash to the next day. Banner and I set off on another walk, this one on a trail we hadn’t walked in years. It circles a recently renovated lake, which at the moment, has the loveliest, cleanest, clearest water you’ve ever seen in this state. Iowa is known for Cyclone basketball, Hawekeye football and food on a stick at the state fair. It is not known for clean lake water.

With that in mind, I didn’t hesitate when Banner trotted down the boat ramp and went in up to his belly. He hasn’t been swimming since he was a baby but he enjoys wading pools. He clearly viewed the F. W. Kent Park lake as a very large wading pool and was splashing about happily in the shallows.

Then he saw it.

The lurking turtle.

It wasn’t a turtle at all but there wasn’t any telling Banner that. It was a flat piece of stone, the same kind of chunky limestone that had been used to stabilize the shore around the ramp, lying a couple of inches under the surface of the water. I knew it was a rock because unless things have gone seriously awry with Mother Nature, turtles do not come in squares.

Banner was sure no good would come of it. He flew out of the water, performed an airborne 180 and landed in a rigid pose that indicated turtle combat was imminent. He crept back into the water.

Seriously, I’ve never seen a dog so determined to go after something he’s scared of. It’s a behavior I see in him often. He has a melt-down freak-out, then refuses to leave until he musters the courage to go poke it with his nose. (For all the time we spend in Des Moines, God help us if we ever encounter the cougar.)

He worked himself up to sticking his muzzle in the water and blowing bubbles at the turtle/rock in apparent hopes this would cause it to run out of the lake where he could kill it once and for all. In the process, he started making wider and wider forays around the turtle/rock, all the while putting his nose in the water and snorting at it.

Did I mention we were standing on the edge of a boat ramp?

Boat ramps, due to their very nature, tend to drop off rather suddenly.

Banner, not being a student of engineering, did not know this until the ground under his hind legs suddenly disappeared. In the ensuing panicked scramble to get out of the water, he stepped on the fake turtle.

Since it was little more than a rock balanced on another rock, it moved.

This confirmed every suspicion Banner had that turtles were out to get him. It would have been funny if he hadn’t almost drug me into the lake with him. He was on a six-foot leash and hit the end of it with enough force to yank me forward. I could see him winding up to give that turtle/rock a piece of his mind.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and there were lots of people around. I reeled him in and we left the boat ramp before the barking started.

May your week be blessed and turtle-free.