Saturday, December 4, 2021

The struggle is real

This week’s topic falls into the category of Things Normal People Do Not Spend Stupid Amounts of Time Obsessing About. (Which honestly could apply to a lot of things in my life.)

 Dog ears.


When I got my first sheltie, I had no idea the lengths breeders went to in pursuit of the perfect ear set. I joined the local sheltie club and watched with fascination as members used elaborate constructions of moleskin, duct tape, twine and/or fabric glue to ensure beautiful ear set and tip on their puppies. 


When they did it, it looked high and tight. When I did it, it looked like a third-grade science fair project gone bad. Jesse’s ears never stood a chance.


By Sheltie #2, I’d learned a few things. Thanks to my amateur efforts, Connor’s ears might not have been breed-ring quality but at least they tipped.


During the Belgian years, I shoved the duct tape and scissors in a drawer and breathed a sigh of relief. You don’t do anything with Belgian ears except wait for them to defy gravity, which they do on their own.

Phoenix, I miss you and your wonderful satellite dish ears.

When Banner came on the scene, ignorance was bliss. I had NO IDEA you had to mess with Aussie ears. I mean, they hang down so gravity just takes care of things, right?


His breeder gently disabused me of that notion. Aussie ears are not subject to Earth’s gravity. They will fly up, back and sideways like chickens escaping a coop unless you wrangle them into compliance.


For the exactly three non-dog people reading this, ear set in Aussies is a cosmetic concern. Having perfect ears does not ensure good health or increase their intelligence. If you do performance sports, no one cares whether your dog’s ears are set high, low or backwards. Performance trainers spend more time wondering if there’s actually anything between our dogs’ ears than how said ears are attached to their head.

Raider, 8 weeks, with perfectly perfect ears

But as a friend of mine is fond of saying, it costs just as much to feed a pretty dog as it does an ugly one and the classic “button ear” is desirable in Aussies. Some lines do this naturally while others need a little encouragement. It’s not a dramatic procedure. It’s not painful. It mostly requires long-term commitment and an unnatural dexterity with duct tape. Don’t worry. If you commit to the former, you’ll get plenty of practice with the latter.


Puppies have adorably ideal ear sets until teething starts and then their ears begin bouncing all over the place like demented squirrels. The rule of thumb is “Tape early, tape often” and like everything else when it comes to dogs, there are at least a half dozen ways to do it.

Raid, 3 months, ears still au naturale.

One breeder swears by duct tape, another uses only glue. The universal goal, no matter the method, is to pull the ear leather down and slightly forward and hold it in place in the months during and after teething while the cartilage hardens.

Simple concept, right? Sure. You just keep telling yourself that.

Ear brace? I don't need no stinkin' ear brace.

I did much better with Banner’s ears than I did with either of my Shelties. Sheltie ear contraptions are perverse things designed to make the ear leather both stand up AND tip over at the same time. The single-minded goal with Aussie ears is just to keep them down, not winging off into a twisty side-ways presentation called a “rose ear.”


This is achieved by attaching a duct tape chin strap to the inside of both ears. Simple in theory, slightly more complex in execution. While Banner was going through his ear-taping stage, my Malinois Phoenix thought this strap made a great handle to grab him with and drag him around the yard. The result was a lot of ripped out ear tapes.

Banner, too sexy for his ears since 2014.


Banner shows no interest in removing Raider’s ear tape. If asked, he would probably like to remove Raider entirely. Raid is 8 months old now, has gained a slight edge on Bann in both terms of height and weight and, not to put too fine a point on it, can be a bit of a dickhead in that charming way of adolescent males who think it’s all about them. 

Raid, 4 months, when things were starting to go awry in the ear department.
Banner is mortified.
"Put your ear down, kid. Don't you know that's not proper?"

 In spite of Raider’s damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead approach to life, he is an absolute darling about having his ears taped. This is a good thing because the process is somewhat akin to putting sandals on an octopus in the dark. We do it about once a week, when the oil in his skin loosens the moleskin and one side or another pulls out. This is heralded by him racing around the house, chomping merrily on the flapping strap.


Raider thinks ear taping falls into the same category as having his nails clipped. It’s a quick procedure, mildly annoying but painless and involves cookies. To produce lasting results, his ears need to be taped constantly until they can hang correctly on their own, and that means NOT taking a hit and miss approach when it comes to keeping his little chin strap attached. Regarding ears that go wonky after a few days of freedom, his breeder warned, “Don’t let them practice bad behavior.” 

Raid, 4-5 months.
His ears proved they COULD behave untapped, if only for brief periods of time.

I miss seeing his ears in their natural state but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, Raid has worn his ear braces with such consistency, I’m starting to think he looks funny when his ears AREN’T taped.


Like so many things with dogs, timing is everything. When it’s time to re-tape, I wait until after he’s had a good long training session, a good long hike in the timber and a good long four quarters of helping the Farmer watch a college basketball game. When I say, “Let’s fix your ears!” he leaps onto the grooming table and collapses in a happy, tired pile of red fur. 


With the moleskin ear pieces and duct tape chin strap cut ahead of time, I can have his ears taped in less than two minutes.


It’s is another of those life skills you can’t expect just anyone to appreciate. 

Sometimes I wonder if I should sleep with one eye open.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Social creatures

 A recent odd experience (because I don’t seem to have any other kind) made me think about how the idea of socializing our dogs has changed over the years.

 Over the weekend, I took baby Raider to one of those big sporting goods stores that lets folks bring their dogs with them while they shop for Ranger bass boats and absurdly overpriced women’s sportswear. Raid thought this was super cool (in light of full disclosure, he thinks cat butts and dirty socks are also super cool). We had a grand old time. We worked through the women’s wear, the cabin-kitsch home d├ęcor and looked at the great big fish swimming in the floor to ceiling aquarium. 


All the while, there was a lot of cheese involved and random sits and downs and hand touches and get-ins. I was proud of my baby dog. He’d never experienced retail therapy before and wasn't at all intimidated by the bustling, six-weeks-until-Christmas shopping environment.


His biggest challenge was wanting to greet every person he saw like he was a politician hot on the campaign trail. Left to his own devices, he’d have been kissing babies (and everyone else) whether they wanted to be kissed or not.


I kept him on a short leash. The general shopping public is unprepared for the reality that is Raider and we were not there so he could maul every person who cooed, “Oh what a darling puppy!” or some such nonsense. Darling puppy, my sweet aunt. I could list the offenses he has committed that do not fall under the “Darling” category but none of us have that much time.


And then we met The Most Annoying Man in the World sauntering through the store with his older German Shepherd Dog plodding sedately along at his side. He spied Raid and called, “Would your puppy like to make a new friend?”

Um. No. I declined politely, stupidly expecting him to get a clue like the two dozen people we’d already met who smiled and commented and sensibly moved on when it became clear Raid and I had our own agenda.


But it was not to be. Annoying Man launched into a long-winded assurance about how my puppy didn’t need to be afraid because the GDS wouldn’t hurt him.


Guess he missed the absolute joie de vivre radiating off my absurdly fearless puppy, who had figured out this gig somewhere between the racks of pre-Black Friday sales flannel shirts and the discounted fishing tackle boxes and was happily butt-wiggling and giving me incredible eye contact in return for cheese.


He also missed the reality that Raid is a 7-month-old, 40-pound, spring-loaded projectile without a great deal of good sense. Aside from the fact we were there to specifically practice NOT interacting with everyone he saw, I was afraid he would do something reckless and break the Annoying Man’s placid, geriatric dog. Who by the way, showed zero desire to meet Raider. I didn’t blame him. It was clear who had the brains in that outfit.


Annoying Man then proceeded to mansplain (which is totally a word now, my spell check didn’t even red flag it) about how puppies need to meet other dogs so they don’t grow up to be afraid.





Someone should have given me a cookie for keeping my mouth shut.

 When I got my first Tervuren (before the turn of the century. Literally.) I don’t remember taking any special steps to socialize her. I doubt I even knew what that was. She went to my 4-H club dog training classes and then to dog shows and she did fine. 


My first sheltie was another story. I tried to socialize him but he wasn’t having it. Jesse was scared of everything and everyone except me. Oddly, he totally loved the showring spotlight so except for the five seconds when the judge touched him for the stand exercises, he did fine.


Sheltie number two was subjected to more rigorous socialization protocol. Puppy class. Pass-the-puppy. Puppy play-time. Lots of time in parks, finding people to pet the puppy. Connor tolerated this with good grace and was happy to trade pets for cookies. He liked people well enough and he was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, so he did fine.


By the time my next Tervuren arrived, I was a pro at puppy socializing. Inflict as many people as possible on the puppy in the shortest amount of time possible because everyone knew if your puppy wasn’t totally fine with every sight, sound, smell, surface, light, flavor and hot air balloons launching unexpectedly while you are training (don’t laugh, it happened) by the time he was six months old, he would never amount to anything. 


Well. The Tervuren standard mentions the word “aloof” something like 437 times and Jamie took it seriously. He was a firm believer in stranger danger and nothing was going to change that. He had a small circle of human friends who he adored and the rest of the world could go take a hike. He tolerated strangers petting him and viewed judges as odd but harmless. In reality, he had lovely, wonderful, perfect Tervuren temperament in spite of my attempts to turn him into a golden retriever.


When Malinois Phoenix and I made one another’s acquaintance, I’ll never forget him marching into the Portland International Airport, head up, ears up, tail up, the poster child for canine confidence, thanks to his breeder’s puppy program that prepared him to meet the Big Wide World. And his own badass attitude. Although we took the requisite puppy kindergarten class, complete with puppy passing and puppy playtime, I can’t say it was money well spent. 


By now, I was starting to question why I would encourage my dog—whose job was to play games with ME, where I needed to be center of his attention in order to succeed—to have such an external focus that I was reduced to only being the chauffeur who held the leash and picked up poop.


My first Aussie, Banner, came with a dance card he couldn’t wait to fill. A party-boy at heart, he shared none of the Belgians’ reluctance to mingle with the unwashed masses. While I took him to a puppy class, I found myself on the sidelines more often than not, working attention and interaction games while the rest of the class enjoyed free-for-alls with puppies who didn’t know their names, let alone how to come when they were called. In the instructor’s defense, it was a home obedience type of class, not one geared toward competitive dog sports. I'd enrolled Bann because it was the only class available at the time and some part of me clung to the old adage that he “needed to be socialized.”


The years passed and when Raider arrived this spring, my definition of socializing had changed dramatically. We did not go to puppy class. We did not find dogs he “needed” to play with. I did not go in search of men, women and children to pet my dog. While I wanted him to experience new places, weird flooring, odd smells, loud noises, chaotic environments and random hot air balloons, I wanted him to experience them with ME as his wingman and on his own terms—explore it or observe it, not be forced into it. There was no need to pass the puppy or collect at list of “100 People in 100 Days” who had met my dog.


The dog sport community as a whole has made the sensible shift toward socializing becoming less about puppies being forced to interact with every aspect of their world on their own to experiencing that world at their own pace with their human partner.


Flash back to the weekend’s adventure at the sporting goods store. Most Annoying Man informed me he was a dog trainer and would be glad to help me if I was having any problems. By then I was rolling my eyes so loud they probably heard me in the parking lot. I refrained from asking his thoughts on fixing a recurring drop signal problem on a burned out UDX dog or whether he thought I should be insisting on heads up heeling or let it go if the dog was clearly working with focus. But I kept my mouth shut. Seriously. Santa had better be paying attention. 


Walking away, I was feeling really good about Raider’s behavior that afternoon until he nearly yanked the leash out of my hand in a rush to greet . . . a mannequin.


Baby steps . . .

Blessed be.




Saturday, November 6, 2021

You can't get there from here



I’m back.

Apparently if left unattended, I keep wandering away, finding things to do that are not blogging, until friends get on my case about it. 


This time, I’ve been gone long enough for this:


Raider, 8 weeks, June 2021


 To grow into this:


Raider, 7 months, October 2021

 With that in mind, I should be writing about puppies (especially the crazy red ones) but today’s topic is the I-80/380 interchange project near Iowa City. It's been under construction since forever and shows no sign of being completed any time soon.


To give you an idea of the scope of the project and its impact on the surrounding communities, the dang thing has its own Facebook page. Go to I-80/380 Systems Interchange and you, too, can play the never-ending game of “Where will this lane of traffic take me today?”


Here’s an overview, copied directly from the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) website (motto: Iowa, come for the corndogs, stay because you can’t figure out the detours to get home):


“The reconstruction project will replace all four loops of the interchange with directional ramps. Interstate 380 will be widened to six lanes with 12-foot shoulders from I-80, to approximately one mile north of the Forevergreen Road interchange. U.S. 218/IA 27 will be widened to six lanes from I-80 to approximately 1.5 miles south of I-80. Interstate 80 will be widened to six lanes with 12-foot shoulders between Ireland Avenue and I-380. Interstate 80 will be widened to eight lanes from near I-380, east to near Coral Ridge Avenue. Additionally, auxiliary lanes will be included in some areas between interchange ramps to provide drivers more time to merge in or out of interstate traffic.”


Got that? There will be a test.


Essentially, it means when all the new roads and ramps are built, there will be 49 lanes of traffic going 16 different directions at 70 mph (pending weather and Hawkeye home games). That isn’t a whole lot different than what’s there now, except the element of yee-haw merging should be eliminated.


If you’re not familiar with yee-haw merging, it’s what you get when you’ve got traffic entering and exiting at speeds anywhere from 40 to 80 mph over about a 200-yard stretch of roadway, often in a manner that defies numerous rules of physics, namely the one about two objects not being able to occupy the same space at the same time. Motorists range in skill from your 90 year old grandma to people who are graduates of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. school of driving.


Yee-haw will not be the only words you use.


Remember the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope (the original blockbuster that knocked everyone on their collective butts in 1978, sorry my geek is showing and I don’t care) where Han Solo is yelling to his co-pilot to make the leap to hyperspace and yells, “Punch it, Chewie!”


Well, merging from I-80 onto I-380 or vice versa is something like that. No matter which direction you go, or what time of day it is, there will be another vehicle performing the opposite function, which means you are going to end up in one another’s lanes. 

This is because the geniuses at the DOT made the exit lane and the entrance lane the same lane, providing an approximate 20 foot allowance for vehicles to pass while drivers grit their teeth and their passengers quietly have heart attacks. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.


The original cloverleaf was designed decades before the Iowa City/Coralville/Tiffin/North Liberty communities began growing at about 300% a year and everyone started driving two cars at a time.


Which is not possible, but neither is sharing the same entrance/exit lane with an 18-wheeler with the pedal to the metal and let me tell you, sister, I’ve done it.

And if anyone can explain what auxiliary lanes are, I’ll be glad to listen.

One should always drive with cake, no matter the conditions.

 The project began in July 2017 and is projected to wrap in mid-2024. Maybe. I think. Don’t quote me on that.


In the meantime, it’s a new adventure every day. At one point, I counted 17 construction cranes in a two-mile stretch of I-80. SEVENTEEN! Amazing. What’s even more amazing is that I didn’t crash into anyone while I was counting.


This eternal construction zone is about 20 miles from where I live, so I get routed through it on a regular basis to get to important places, like dog shows. I can deal with the fact there are now only two lanes where there used to be three and one lane and a nasty-ass looking cement barrier where there used to be two and what used to be the safe center lane is now an exit that will send you winging off to Cedar Rapids when you least expect it. Not that Cedar Rapids isn’t a nice place this time of year. It’s not under water anymore and they’re mostly done picking up wrecked trees and houses after that pesky derecho.


But then the DOT starts pulling this business:


“Beginning this morning, the westbound I-80 exit ramp to northbound I-380 will shift to the west. Drivers can now expect to access the exit ramp ½ mile west of the previous exit location. This change is anticipated to be in place until Summer 2022.”


Stop it.


Just stop it.


Stop moving exits around like they’re staircases at Hogwarts. I just figure out where they’re hiding amidst the cement barriers and orange barrels and barricades warning “EXIT CLOSED” and trucks with signs on the back telling me not to follow them into a construction zone—while the entire western half of Johnson County is a construction zone—and a dozen more signs telling me to yield, merge, shift lanes, reduce speed and prepare for the Second Coming and then you go and move the bloody exits! You’re messing with my mind and it’s enough of a mess already. I don’t handle change well. I’m Lutheran. We had the Reformation in 1517. That was enough.


And stop capitalizing Summer, damn it. That’s inappropriate.


The degree of consternation this has caused local drivers is surpassed only by folks who are passing through our fair state and are totally unprepared for the havoc being wrought. Not to worry, Iowa drivers keep an eye on those out-of-state license plates

and since we’re “Iowa nice,” we’ll let ya’ll folks from California and Maine and Florida cut right in because honestly, we just got our cars back from the body shop after a run-in with Bambi and we don’t want to do it all over again.


Only three more years until it’s finished.


Until then, punch it, Chewie.



Friday, June 18, 2021

Blood-sucking spiders

There is a local highway construction zone where a stretch of cement barriers provides the charming experience of driving with about six inches of clearance on either side of your car. It reminds me of the ventilation shaft Luke Skywalker flew through to blow up the Death Star, only it’s twisty, not straight. 

There are all kinds of signs warning “Caution!” “Reduced Speed Ahead” and “Speed Limit 35.” They’re the kind of signs that make construction-weary drivers say, “Here, hold my beer,” because it looks like you could fly through it at 55, until you realize you can’t unless you want to give your local body shop some business.


If you’re asking someone to hold your beer while you’re driving, you’re probably going to give your local body shop some business anyway. I'm talking about the funeral home.


So there I am, driving through it last week, thinking about bulls-eying womp rats in my T-16 (okay, seriously, I’m done with the Star Wars references) when something crawls across the lens of my sunglasses. I take them off while commencing through the ventilation shaft and discover . . . a TICK!


I generally don’t get excited about bugs unless they’re spiders in places they shouldn’t be (anywhere within a five mile radius of my person) but we’ve been so programmed to worry about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, just seeing one launches an automatic GETITTHEHELLOFFMENOW reaction.

Without thinking, my left hand reflexively slammed down the driver’s side window button since my brain’s immediate solution was to chuck the sunglasses out of the car. This would have handily resolved the problem but since they are Ray Ban frames with prescription lenses, that seemed a little hasty.


My second reaction was to slam on the brakes and leap out of the car to dispose of the interloper. Since I was in a line of traffic, this was not a wise choice, either. Besides, those lanes are so narrow I'm not sure I could have even gotten the door open, and at my age, crawling out of the window Dukes of Hazard style is out of the question unless the vehicle is actively on fire. (Okay, NOW I’m done with 1970s movie and TV references. Promise.)


So I continued flying through the cement maze, trying not to go faster than the car ahead of me, which would have created a whole new set of problems. I had one hand on the wheel, one hand holding my glasses, one eye on the road and one eye on Mr. Tick, who was crawling merrily along as I plotted his demise.


No! Wait! Damn it! He'd disappeared. Where the hell did he go? Auuuuugh! Now he was on my hand! Those little suckers are like puppies and toddlers - they can move at the speed of light when they're going somewhere they shouldn’t. And they know you want to kill them so they’re not going to sit still and wait for it to happen.


I grabbed the offending arachnid (yep, arachnid‚—spider family, eight legs, count em, and I've mentioned how I feel about spiders) between thumb and forefinger, gritted my teeth and tried not to let the heebie-jeebies get the better of me. The only thing worse than a spider is a blood-sucking spider.


Now I’m driving with a potentially disease-carrying vampire bug clenched in my right hand. I’m sure that sentence alone would absolve me of any responsibility in case of a wreck but I’m not sure my insurance guy has forgiven me for the “A raccoon fell out of the rafters and knocked the outside mirror off my van” phone call from a few years back.


What happened next involved complicated hand-waving as if invoking an ancient spell, combined with prayer and some very bad language. I’m not a fan of multi-tasking but when push comes to tick, I have skills I wasn’t aware of. 


I got the window down, kept the car cruising through the ventilation shaft without ricocheting off anything and forcibly ejected Mr. Tick out the window without sending my sunglasses with him. My biggest fear was the wind would blow him right back in, only this time he'd land in my hair.

I can only imagine what the construction workers thought when they saw a woman flinging her hand out the window while yelling, "Aaaaiiiieeeeee, be gone!"


Next week: back to our regularly scheduled puppy updates. Also known as the Red Demon Chronicles. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The arrival of Macallan Red

 I always forget how small puppies are. And how much they know and how little they know at the same time. And how the presence of one in your house suddenly elevates any existing dog to absolute Ph.D. status because they understand tricky concepts like how doors work and how not make matters worse with the perpetually annoyed barn cat. 

Introducing CedarWoods Macallan Red Label. His registered name is a departure from my previous literary-themed dogs and while I’m not a whisky drinker, it’s becoming a distinct possibility.

Raider, 9 weeks, with pet rock.

 His call name is Raider. Not the Williamsburg Raiders (the hometown high school mascot). Not the NFL Raiders football team. More like Viking raiders, right down to the red hair and fierce attitude. The dictionary defines “raider” as a fast-acting military strike force or one who enters a property with the intention of stealing things. Check and check.


Lately, I’ve started to associate his name with old war movies where someone shouts “Air raid!” then all hell breaks loose. Cuz bringing home a puppy is kind of like that.

Abandon all hope, ye gardener of green floppy things.

Raider came home to Iowa on Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer. Summer puppies are great, right? It’s warm when you take them outside at 2 a.m., right? The night breezes are so soft and mild and it’s almost pleasant, right?

Not so much.


This year, we had a freak cold snap that saw frost and freeze warnings going out for our area the night Raid arrived. When he began rattling around in his bedside crate at 3 a.m., I shoved my feet into shearling-lined slippers, pulled on my flannel housecoat and out we went to answer the call of the wild. 


I stood there shivering as 30-degree breezes swirled under my housecoat in a most unpleasant fashion. Taking time to pull on sweats before our sojourn had been out of the question. Puppy bladders come with a two-minute warning and a minute and a half of that is gone when they decide to let you know a flood is imminent. 

On cat patrol. No indication the cats approve of being patrolled.

 The last few weeks have been a blur. The first thing competitive trainers want to do is start laying the foundation for that next showring superstar. While the delight of working with a breeder you trust to pick the right puppy for your goals ensures you’re ready to hit the ground running, the reality is that are about a hundred things the puppy has to learn about living with you, your spouse, your existing dogs, the barn cats and the ghost who lives in the attic. (I think the ghost left after getting bit on the ankle one too many times. Banner is ready to go with him and The Farmer is spending even more time outdoors than usual.)


I call this process “Learning How To Live In This House Without Killing Yourself or Causing Anyone To Kill You and Make It Look Like An Accident.” These lessons began the first night and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Important things, in no particular order, are: how to go in a crate and not scream bloody murder when you discover you can’t get out. How to navigate doors, which trust me, will always open from the same side each time unless the house gets hit by a tornado and then all bets are off. How to eat properly out of a bowl without swatting it with a paw, sending tiny kibbles flying around the kitchen and finally endearing yourself to your canine big brother who, until this point, thought you were a waste of fur.


How to refrain from playing with things that are not toys, including but not limited to the tablecloth, the water bowl, the carpet, the rug in the bathroom, the tablecloth, my shoelaces, my pants while I am wearing them, the water bucket and oh hell, I needed a new tablecloth anyway.

We're keeping it? Seriously? It bites. I hope you kept the receipt.


Banner finds him intriguing but mildly annoying since Raid can’t keep his teeth to himself. And Banner is too much of a gentle soul to put the smackdown on him. I limit their play time and referee as needed.

Raider at 7 weeks. (Photo by Jamie Heberlein)

 It has also come to my attention I am seven years older than the last time I got a puppy. This has given me more patience and clearer vision as the little red demon spawn and I set off on this journey. It has also reminded me that I am seven years older. I can still get down on the ground to play with a puppy, it just takes a little longer to get back up. And some things are non-negotiable this time—like my morning coffee. And possibly a wee nip of the banshee’s namesake. But not at the same time. Probably.






Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Things dog people obsess about

 At the risk of sounding like a minister standing in front of a couple at the altar, the act of naming a dog is not a commitment to be entered into lightly. 

 It has to be original. Clever. Creative. Something that speaks to your heart, reflects the imagine you want your dog to project and captures the vision of the future you plan to share with them.




Drama much?


But seriously, naming a dog is like that! You can’t just grab any old name out of the ether and call it good. You’re going to spend the next 15 years yelling it in the back yard, calling it out in the show ring and typing it on hundreds of entry forms. If you reach the top of your chosen sport, it may be announced over a loudspeaker at a national venue. At the very least, you’re going to say it about a million times over your dog's lifespan. The pressure is on.


Ideas are endless. Colors. Literary icons. Sports teams. Movies. Wine, beer and spirits. Mythological creatures. Pop culture. TV characters. Music. Motor vehicles. Trees. States. Natural phenomena. 


If you have kids, you get a free pass. You can name your dog any damn thing you—or they—want (which is your absolute right to do anyway) because when your adult friends raise their eyebrows at your black and white border collie named Oreo, you can shrug and say, “The kids named him.” And that’s absolutely fine and we’ll all go on with our lives because kids can get away with stuff that would just be dumb if adults did it.


Ditto for chocolate Labs named Hershey and Samoyeds named Snowflake but if you’re a grown-ass woman and can’t aspire to a higher aesthetic—well, whatever. It’s your dog. Name it what you want. Honestly, I don’t judge (well, maybe just a little) but naming each dog that has come into my life as an adult has meant obsessing to a degree of fanaticism that borders on lunacy.

It's not that dog people don't have anything better to do with our spare time - it's that THIS is what we do with our spare time. Normal people don't get it. When The Farmer and I got married, our elderly neighbors had two mixed breed farm dogs. One was black, one was white. They were named . . . wait for it . . . Blackie and Whitey. Oh, if only it was that simple.

But wait. Maybe it is. A college friend's grandparents had a succession of American Eskimos, each named Fluffy, followed by the appropriate number. Fluffy 4, Fluffy 5 and so on. 

No. Just no.


My dog friends keep a running list of names that appeal to them. Some of them are so good at it, they could open a consulting business. In 1995, they were naming dogs they wouldn’t get until the new millennium. 


This name game comes with unwritten rules. Let’s review a few of them.


Can you use the name of a friend’s dog? If the dog A) lives nearby and B) is still alive and being actively shown, no. There’s an unwritten rule there can only be one Cider or Rhett per 100 square miles. Occasionally, you run with your chosen name, only to find out later someone else in your showing circle just named their puppy the same thing. Then you grit your teeth and laugh and hope you don’t spend the next 10 years messing with stewards who perpetually confuse Phoenix the duck tolling retriever with Phoenix the Belgian Malinois.


Can you use the name if the dog passed? Maybe. Diplomacy is needed. How long has the dog been gone? Less than five years—no. 


More than five years—maybe. If it's a close friend in your training circle, ask how she feels about it. 


Does the name rhyme with another word? Proceed with caution. As God is my witness, I am not responsible enough to name a dog Tucker.


Is it the name of a family member, either living or dead? Um . . . I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say no . . . but that’s your call. Depends on your family’s sense of humor. Or lack thereof.


How about famous fictional dogs? Lassie? Snoopy? Buck? Again, if you have kids or grandkids, there’s something charming about it. Kids have absolute license to do transfer the mystique or grandeur of a fictional canine to the clumsy little puppy falling over its feet. More power to them. 


Most adults would hesitate to borrow the mojo that accompanies the exploits of established canine personas. Plus, there’s that whole “I want my dog’s name to be sparklingly original but at the same time evoke both an element of whimsy, unlimited potential, mystery and untouchable power” vibe. Slapping an already established persona on them from the start seems to restrict them to a box of pre-determined expectations.


Okay, what about famous real dogs? For me, this is a big fat no. Dogs whose names are etched in the archives of a sport enjoy a degree of untouchable-ness for generations to come. You don’t see any other Man O’ War or Secretariats out there, do you? Same for the canine scene.


Use caution when using a high-energy descriptor as a name because the dog may A) live up to it or B) not live up to it. It’s not pretty to watch Racer doing a death march in on a recall and naming a dog Crash is just tempting fate.


Crafting the registered name is another quest guaranteed to bring sleepless nights and a great deal of soul searching which may or may not involve alcohol. You’re tasked with incorporating the breeder’s kennel name with your own need to express your dog’s incredible individuality as well as possibly honoring the sire and dam’s names and reflecting a litter theme on top of it all. No wonder so many of us are scribbling a list of names for puppies that haven’t even been conceived yet.


The final rule in call names, however, is this: can you stand on the back step and bellow it at the top of your lungs without sounding like a complete idiot? Partial idiocy is acceptable because without it, none of us would be dog owners anyway.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The careful curation of a professional wardrobe. Or not.

Back to what I started last week before the dead mice took over. (Which is one of the weirdest openings I’ve ever written but welcome to my life.)

 Closet cleaning is a seasonal ritual involving the single closet on the first floor of our old farmhouse. I move the summer clothes to the back and the winter clothes to the front in the fall, then move the winter clothes to the back and the summer clothes to the front in the spring.


During these migrations, I thin the herd. I’ve never been much of a fashionista, probably because I don’t have the closet space to encourage that kind of behavior. If you constantly bring in new clothes without downsizing old clothes, your house will eventually explode. Or so I'm told.

Plus, I don’t need power suits for my job. I started work-from-home in 2018 so when the pandemic hit, I was already in tune with an uber casual dress code (i.e., pajamas) and was a pro at keeping the camera off for Zoom staff meetings. But the world was still spinning normally in 2018 and 2019, which meant I routinely had to put on real clothes and venture out among the public to do newspaper stuff. 




Overnight, not only did I not have an office to go to, I didn’t have anywhere else to go, either. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve downsized at least 50 percent of my wardrobe in the last 14 months. I went Marie Kondo on my clothes. Did it spark joy? If not, off to Goodwill it went. Even as we approach a return to normal, life’s too short to wear clothes that are uncomfortable, no matter how good they look.

 When I think of the things that spark joy in my life, clothes aren’t at the top of the list but hey – I can’t run around nakey. I live in Iowa so it would be more than naked and afraid. More like naked and frostbit.


When culling clothing, I have simple standards. Can I wear the garment in question in the obedience ring? Does the color complement my dog? Does the fabric and cut allow for comfortable range of movement during heeling, signals and throwing of dumbbells? Do dog hair, mud, paw prints, spilled soda and fast-foot stains easily launder out? Yes? It’s a keeper! 


Beyond that, hoodies, jeans, cargo pants, flannels and fleece rule the closet. If a garment doesn’t show dog hair, that’s a bonus but I have a lint roller drawer in the kitchen so that's not a deal breaker. Some people have junk drawers. I have a lint roller drawer. Don't judge.

Fortunately, I can add a few strategic accessories to my show ring outfits, grab the lint roller and I’m good to go for church, holiday gatherings or the random funeral. My black show ring pants are my black funeral pants. My dog showing friends are laughing now. I can hear you. You know this is true.

 If the occasion ever arises that I would need a dress, I am screwed. I don’t own a dress. I do own several skirts. I like the idea of long, swishy skirts that can be paired with boots but actually wearing them remains a fantasy. Every six months I take them out of the closet, admire them, sigh and put them back in. 


During the spring of 2020 and fall of 2020 closet cleanings, I used the technique of turning all the hangers backwards. When it was time to switch out for the next season’s clothes, I could tell what had hung there for six months without being worn and knew it was time for that piece to move along to a new home. This might have been more effective if I’d found a way to employ it to the folded garments on shelves as well (my vast collection of hoodies and fleece) but it did allow me to eliminate some things without feeling guilty.


I like to think my Harry Potter closet under the stairs reflects a deliberately curated professional wardrobe—it’s just that my profession is a stay-at-home dog mom/farm wife who juggles four community newspapers and writes fiction in her spare time. Not a lot of call for high heels and coordinated separates when you're running out to watch gates or ferry pickups from Farm A to Farm B.


A good closet purge is a refreshing feeling and in the process of, I’ve learned some things.

Number one: anything worth having one of, is worth having three of. In my case, it was four zip-front fleece jackets, all in minisculely (MS Word says this is not a word. I say it is.) different shades of teal.


Number two: no one really needs four pair of Taos, Bjorn and Ariat boots but—oh screw that, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Keep the boots. (I’m justifying this by getting rid of three of the teal fleeces.)


Number three: cleaning out your closet will reveal your favorite colors. Mine are blue. Navy, royal, sky, periwinkle, slate, mallard and turquoise. Also teal, which is a subset of blue. And what a friend calls peach-y/coral-y/salmon.

I think it all comes down to what a former co-worker once said regarding work-from-home. 

"As long as you remember to put on pants before you leave the house, it's all good."