Saturday, July 6, 2013

News from the Zoo

My posts recently have been downers, I freely admit.  It's been a trying time.  We all go through them.  Most of us privately and with grace and endurance.  I throw my angst out there on a public canvas for all to see.   That's great if it helps someone - that's the point (along, admittedly, with allowing me to get it off my chest) - but even I can find my own distress hard to take in large doses.  It's time to lighten the mood a bit with some updates from the ladies and gentlemen who help keep me company every day:  my office mates, my helpmates, my burdens and my deliverers, my pets.

Ripley in a rare quiet moment
First of all, I should tell you a bit about Ripley, our tricolor rough collie because when I last left her she was still a cuddly pup full of energy and carefree abandon.  Well, she's still full of carefree abandon, just now it's packaged in 55 or pounds of adult-sized dog!  I took her to puppy classes trying for once to curb a young dog's enthusiasm in the correct way.  She did okay.  I've got a diploma in my office to prove that she learned enough to graduate.  And she'll still sit on command if she thinks there is a treat involved and she'll still give you her paw when you say "Let's Go Pens!" if she feels like it, but some of the other lessons - like not bounding up to greet new humans with a great bear hug - is completely lost at this point.  She has, however, learned that small children are off limits in terms of jumping.  They are not, however, immune from big sloppy collie kisses.  She's never met a small dog or child she just didn't immediately fall in love with.   The funny thing about Ripley is that, despite being my life long dream dog, she's been Greg's ticket away from long despair.  He loves her.  And it's mutual.  He takes her to the dog park multiple times a week and delights in her antics, recording her playing with other dogs on his phone to bring back to me.  He'll often say how anti-social he's become, yet I see him talk about her enthusiastically to total strangers, his eyes lit up like a proud pappa.  He carries photos of her in his phone to show her off.  She sleeps by his side as Cheyenne does mine.  Funny how things work sometimes.

Cheyenne meets Charlie Batch
Then there's Cheyenne.  Who is begrudgingly becoming used to her constant companion, but only because she has to.  When I take one of them someplace, I generally take them both.  At first, when I tried to keep Ripley up in my office with me during the day, blocked off by a dog gate, Cheyenne would crash the gate - no gate would hold her for a long period of time - just so she could get out of the same room.  If I tried to walk them together, Ripley zig-zagging rather than actually walking, Cheyenne would at some point just have had enough and take a snap or two at her larger sibling.  Gradually, however, she's realized that Ripley isn't going anywhere and there's a certain resignation that she has to learn to co-exist.  You can see it on her face:  it's tolerance, nothing more.  Ripley in turn no longer is trying to make Cheyenne her bosom buddy and playmate.  She watches what she does and often tries to emulate it, I've noticed, so there is recognition of Cheyenne's clear alpha status, but she seems to have accepted that she'll have to treat her like the cranky matriarch she is, with a lot of respect and a bit of fear.

Then there are the two boys:  Luke and Chappy.  Clearly beta males in a house full of divas.  Luke, at 15, is slowing down to the point where I literally have to bend down sometimes and hover over him to make sure he's still breathing.  His days are dwindling so the goal is to keep him happy and comfortable for as long as possible and let him have a peaceful end to a tumultuous life.  He can no longer get up the stairs, so he's denied being able to be in the sun room with me in the morning when I use the treadmill, which he loved, or sleep at my feet while I work.  So, he spends his days in the basement now, laying either right in front of the back door, so you have to literally slide him out of the way to go in or out, or in front of the washing machine, so you have to slide him to do laundry.  Maybe it's his way of making sure we don't forget about him.  Chappy on the other hand can still make it up stairs - he's laying on the dog blanket in my office now - but it's a laborious process.  He's slowing down rapidly as well.  This morning as we did our walk around the block he was going so slowly I was nearly at a shuffle to keep pace - I literally could not walk as slow as he was needing to.  I think he struggles with the Pittsburgh air in the summers like I do, hot, heavy and humid with traces of all the things the steel industry dumped out still floating around.  But his old bones and joints don't really care for the cold in the winter either.  He is a far cry from the athletic dog who loved to play in the pool with us.  Yet, as long as you give him treats occasionally he keeps the great good humor that has been his trademark since he came to live with us.  You know, really, all he ever asks for is our love and those treats - and for us not to use ear drops, but he's out of luck on that front.
Luke, Charlie and Ripley asleep in my office
Chappy in better health at a dog walk

And then there's the two felines in the family.  Charlie, himself no spring chicken, gave us a scare recently when he developed a urinary tract infection, which we realized to some surprise was the first time ever he's ever been ill at all.  It took a bit, even after a trip to the vet, to clear it up, but he's recovered well.  Well enough to stalk and slaughter a baby bunny the other day, dragging the poor creature into my storeroom where the dogs discovered it and him.  He's just a tad younger than Luke.  It never occurred to me that he still had that kind of hunt in him.  But it's clear he's still going strong.  I spied him out the front window the other day delighting a family walking their small children. He was putting on quite the show for them, rolling on his back, and extending his body to its fullest so the children would play with him.  He loves to cuddle.  He's an odd combination of steel-hearted killer  and warm-hearted fuzzball.

Tum-Tum believes she is a gift to us all
Finally, there is Tum-Tum, Kelsey's cat and great love.  Kelsey would be hard pressed to recognize her in many ways, but in some ways she remains the same.  Tum-Tum would, I have little doubt, take issue with my styling Cheyenne the alpha.  She believes that is her role.  Once too terrified of the dogs to come anywhere close to them, she now has no trouble being in the same room with them because they know who is in charge when she's there.  She is.  If they forget it, she reminds them.  With her claws if necessary.  But most often it's not.  That patented Tum-Tum look is quite enough most of the time.  Ripley has taken some intense training, but Tum-Tum has delighted in the lessons.  As a matter of fact, she'll follow Ripley around the house and bait her.  There is zero doubt about what she's doing.  Her favorite thing is to sit on the middle of the stairs when the dogs want to use them and cast that stare of hers with a deep throated growl and just dare them to try going past her.  They rarely do.  Yet, on the other hand, she is much more affectionate than I ever could have thought she could be.  Last night, as I recovered from a migraine, she crawled up on my chest and cuddled there for a long while.  She'll come into the office during the day sometimes and curl up in my lap, or when I'm reading sometimes.  Some days, like today, she is content to keep her own company.  She's lazing in my rocking chair in the sun room right now.  But other days she seeks us out and wants our companionship.  As long as it is on her terms.  It's hard to know if Tum-Tum remembers Kelsey, but I know she doesn't love us as passionately as she did Kelsey.  I've never had her cry out for me the way she used to for Kelsey when she would walk in the door.  But, I think she's content.  She likes her life.  She's eight now.  We realized that with a shock the other day.  Someday we'll have to face losing her.  That'll be a hard, hard day.  She's a living link to our daughter.  But that's a long time in the future and so we just keep her close for now.  

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