Saturday, May 26, 2012

Introducing Fergus B. Haynes


One year ago yesterday, Hubby and I brought the Beast home to live with us.

The road to bringing him home started about two months earlier, when I filled in an adoption application with the Eastern Ontario chapter of the Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline (ARPH). About a week after that, I was interviewed by the coordinator over the phone. I did everything I could to plug myself as the perfect dog owner.

"I grew up with dogs, you know. My whole life!"

"I am super active. Like super active. I run, I bike, I hike. I'm perfect for an Aussie!"

"My two references adopted Aussies from you. They'll tell you that I'm a really great person!"

"Oh, I have no kids. And no other pets. So you don't have to worry about giving me a dog with a strong herding drive!"

"Oh yeah, and did I mention that I run. A LOT. And that my two references are Aussie owners, who adopted dogs from you?"

After 40 minutes of gratuitous self-promotion, she said told me that I sounded like a good candidate for adoption, but that she had no dogs right now. "No problem!" I said. "My husband and I are on our way to Europe, and we wouldn't want to get a dog until after we get back at the end of May anyway. So let's talk when I get back!"

We left it at that. I expected that I wouldn't hear back from her until June at the earliest. But then, only a few days later, she sent me an email with this picture:

Before I even read the email, I thought to myself, "That is the goofiest looking dog I have ever seen in my life! And that camera angle is doing nothing for his ass!!!"

"This is Bob," the email said. "We found him in at the Humane Society in Kingston. I think he'd be perfect for you! He's got lots of energy for your runs, and he's fully house trained. And he's about 1 year old. Wanna meet him?"

I honestly didn't know what to say. I mean, I wasn't expecting to hear from them so soon. And, er, well, this dog was just so, well, goofy looking! And how could something with an ass that size be a good runner?

So I called her and reminded her that I was leaving for Europe, and that I didn't want to rush into meeting a dog, so she should feel free to show him to other prospective families. "Oh no, " she said. "You're too perfect for this dog. I just know it! Meet him now, and if you like him, you can take him when you get back!" (Those rescue organizers really do mean well, but they can be overly enthusiastic....) She wouldn't accept my hesitation - or a no - for an answer. "Call his foster Mom. She'll tell you all about him!"

A few days later, I found myself talking on the phone with Bob's foster mom.

She really talked him up. "I don't know much about his history. All I know is that he was dropped off at the Humane Society by a couple going through a divorce. So sad, because he's such a joy to have around the house! He's a velcro dog - follows me everywhere that I go! It's so cute. Anyway, he is perfectly healthy, and the Humane Society said that he showed a little bit of food aggression, but I have never seen it. I feed him with my two other dogs and there are no problems. He does eat fast though. And he has lots of energy. They told me that you like to run, so my daughter has taken him for a few runs to see how he does, and he is AMAZING. Walking, well, he pulls a little bit, but he just needs a little bit of training. And he and I are working on his manners, so that he stops counter-surfing and jumping up on people. But he is so wonderful. He can play for hours and hours and hours, and he loves other dogs. Not sure how he is around children. You don't have children, do you? And yes, he is crate trained, although we really don't leave him in a crate because I work from home. But I'm sure you'd have no trouble crating him! Oh, and he's super smart and very trainable. He already knows 'sit' and 'paw' and we're working on 'down' next! And did I mention that he loves to run? And I'm going send you pictures! You'll fall in love with him when you see his face! When do you want to come and meet him?"

So... very... overwhelming...

I told her that I didn't want to rush into adopting since I was going away to Europe in a couple of weeks and couldn't take him until I got back. "Don't worry about any of that," she said. "The ARPH rep told me that you are just perfect for him so I'm willing to keep him as long as I have to until you get back! In the meantime, I'll send you those pictures. And when did you say you were coming to meet him?"

Within 5 minutes, I got these:
My first look at this face - those devil eyes should have been my first clue...

Looking a little cuter - Bob and his foster brother

Bob like water - that could be fun!

Tuckered out after a long day of play
I admit it - these pictures started to change my mind about this dog a little. So I showed them to Hubby. "Well, whaddaya think?" I asked him. "He looks really peaceful when he's sleeping. And I think it's kind of cool that he likes the water. And he has really sweet ears. And from this angle, his ass doesn't look so big. And everyone thinks that I am perfect for him (even though they haven't met me...) Do you think we should meet him?"

"Sure," said Hubby, lifting his head up from the paper just long enough to acknowledge that I was talking. (At that time, he was not so enamored yet with the idea of getting a dog...)

And that is how we found ourselves driving down the highway to Kingston. To meet a fuzzy dog. Named Bob. With a big ass. (From certain angles, anyway...)

He had us before we even walked in the door. I was completely sucked in by his obvious enthusiasm for every single second of his life. And Hubby was drowning in his big, gorgeous brown eyes. We were in love. And after spending half an hour with him, we just knew that he was our dog.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, almost the rest. There is one more piece of the story to tell...

Bob is a great name for a human, but there is no way in hell that I am ever going to be caught dead in the middle of a crowded dog park calling out "B-O-B!!!! Here B-O-B!!!!" We hadn't even pulled out of his foster Mom's driveway when I turned to my husband and said, "That name has to go."

"I agree," he said.

"I know! Let's give him a Scottish name!" I said.

"Why Scottish?" said Hubby.

"Cause you're Scottish, dummy!"

"Um, but you're not, and isn't he your dog?"

"He's OUR dog," I reminded him. "And besides, he's a red head with freckles. Obviously Scottish!"

We (and by we, I mean I) spent the next few days trying to figure out the perfect name for this soon-to-be dog of ours. Then one day, I was out with a friend having an after-work drink, showing her the few pictures I had of Bob.  When it hit me.

"FERGUS!" I yelled out.

"Who's Fergus?" she asked.

"That's his name! Fergus!!!  Look at him. He is such a Fergus!!!!"

She studied the pictures a little more closely. "You know what? He is a Fergus! It's perfect!"

And with that, we re-christened Bob. And to seal the deal, while in the UK a few weeks later, we bought him this:

A Scottish name needs a Scottish flag as a dog tag

Personalized with his brand new name
Fergus B. Haynes. (Yes, we kept the B, as an homage to his original name.)

(A name like that needs a title, don't you think? Personally, I like the ring of The Honourable Fergus B. Haynes.)

Also affectionately know to readers of this blog as "The Beast".

And even more affectionately called a variety of other nicknames by friends and family who have met him over the past 367 days (it was a Leap year, so one year + 1 day = 367 this year, not 366. I am paying attention!). Here are just a few:
  • FBH (it's short and sweet and easy to type out on my blackberry);
  • Fer-gust of wind;
  • the F-Bomb (my personal favourite); and 
  • the Fuzzy Terrorist.
What can I say. Our boy leaves an impression, everywhere he goes.

And he has certainly left an impression on our hearts over the past year that he has been with us.

Happy anniversary, Fergus B. Haynes. We're so glad that someone thought that we were the perfect home for you.

Some of our fave pictures from the past year, coming up!

His first night in his new home.

Our first official outing together - this is the guy that didn't want a dog.

I can prick my ears forward....

Or I can make them stand STRAIGHT up!

A little less of a fuzzy-terrorist after my first haircut. This is also when my people discovered that I don't actually have a fat ass. I just had a really, really furry one!

Me and my pal Toby hanging on Uncle B.'s back deck

I have to lie on this bed like a good boy and not beg for food when my people are eating. They can't stop me from looking cute though! And maybe that will make them give me some food!

Chasing my tug rope up and down the stairs is hard work.

I don't know what this black thing is, but I love it!

Snow is the best!

Sitting nice for my people so they give me a cookie

Look how tired he looks. That's why we stopped at Starbucks for a coffee during our walk!

Her coffee kicked in already!

Sometimes I run around too much at the park, and my tongue hangs out of the side of my mouth, so I have to take a break!

Trying to convince Aunty K to play with me.

Waiting patiently for my Mom while she gets a coffee. She drinks a lot of that stuff!

Playing tug with my girlfriend, Bella. She's not that blurry in real life!


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The dog days of summer

Summer is here, ladies and gentlemen!  And it arrived with a BANG! Three straight days of sunshine and heat and beer!! (probably a little too much of the latter...)

Ahhh, May long weekend. Or May 2-4 as we call it back home. (I haven't figured out if that is in honour of Queen Vicki's actual birthday, or the fact that many a 2-4 of beer are consumed at many a campground on this hallowed weekend.) The official kick off to summer is always an exciting time. Gone is the long, dark Canadian winter, to be replaced by the all-too-short dog days of summer. It's the time of year where people get the gardens ready, take out their bikes, open up the cottage, and fire up the bbq, while silently praying to the summer gods that they will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy these activities long past the ushering in of the fall equinox. 

To be melodramatic about it, it is a weekend of hope and promise.

(Is that a little too much???)

At any rate, we have had a pretty lazy May long weekend. We're not gardeners (even though we say to each other - Every. Single. Year. - "Hey, let's get a landscaper in and figure out what to do with our front flower bed that we built a couple of years ago and that is still empty,") so we're not outside digging in dirt. Our bikes have been out for weeks now, so we didn't have to yank them up from the basement. We'd already fired up the bbq a few weeks ago, although we did give the rotisserie a try (with great success, thank you very much Moroccan chicken). And we don't have a cottage. So all we really had to do this weekend was set up our gazebo, where we have been firmly planted ever since usually with a beer in hand.

In fact, the only time we've left said gazebo is to go get some grub for the bbq. Or to go replenish our dwindling beer stocks. Or to go drink beer on the neighbour's back deck. Or to shower.

Or, of course, to take the Beast out for his morning and afternoon exercise.

And what a busy weekend of fun in the sun our little guy has had.

First there was a trip to a tract of NCC land - scrub brush, really - with his new friend Rufus, where the two explored together for a couple of hours. Rufus ran through muddy swamps while the Beast rolled around in rotting plant material. Both dogs came out of that brush stinky, exhausted, and happy.

Then there was the bike ride to the Farmer's market, which requires that we cut through his favourite place on earth - the Arboretum - where we even let him run off leash at top speed beside the bikes.

And of course, there were endless hours of fetch, with balls, sticks and squeak toys, wherever it is that we ended up.

It's no wonder he's at my feet right now, crashed out in the shade, dreaming of something, no doubt, because his hind leg is twitching.

But by far, the bestest, most fabulous, most wonderful part of this long weekend has been all of the swimming that the Beast has done.

And why not!!  With afternoon temperatures soaring up to 32C, a girl and her dog have to find something to do that won't induce heat stroke, right? What better way to beat the heat than to take a dip in the river!

Which is exactly why we found ourselves heading over to the Lemieux Island dog park on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Fetching first sticks, and then cheap tennis balls, from the Ottawa River, all while honing the Beast's swimming skills.

And for a land dog, I gotta say that his swimming has vastly improved. See for yourself:
 
Okay, so he didn't get the stick that time. But when I replaced the stick with a bright yellow tennis ball, he got much, much better at the retrieving part. He only let two balls get swept out of his reach by the current, one of which was ultimately tracked and retrieved by a water dog. So our net loss for the weekend was only 1 tennis ball. Not bad, when you consider that over five days, there were probably at least 60 fetch reps! Even less bad when you consider that last summer, there was no retrieving at all. Only goofy loping along through the water while the labs swam laps around him.

Oh, and he gets an honourable mention for saving John Ibbitson's dog's ball from floating off down the river. In fact, John (I call him that now, even though I didn't introduce myself) told me that the Beast was his hero for retrieving this rather expensive chuck it ball, which his own dog was lazily ignoring. Atta boy, Beastie!!! Coming to the rescue of your Mom's favourite political columnist!!

So we clocked a good many hours at the water dog park this May long weekend. Alternating between playing fetch on land or in the water, and between hanging out in the blazing sun or finding a cool spot on a blanket in the shade. We played with other dogs, we chatted with other humans. I even sipped on an ice cold Margarita cooler while I threw the ball back and forth to the Beast and one of his best dog pals, Willy. 

All the while, I kept thinking to myself, "Summer can't get much better than this..."

In fact, what the heck did I do before I had a dog!!!  

Here's to more hot days down by the water.

Bringing back a stick

He always heads for that bush when he comes out

I got it!

Now let's head back to shore!

What a beautiful summer day!

Here I come!

Throw it one more time, Mom!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Warning! - This post involves a soap box

I am interrupting work on my soon-to-be-published (I hope) post on this year's fabulous start to summer for this public service announcement - from atop my soap box.

Yesterday, the Beast, my husband, my sister-in-law and I took a short 1.5k bike ride out to a local dog park along the river so that the Beast could cool off with a few laps. (And if I ever finish the other post that I have been working on for a ridiculous amount of hours now, you will see that he spent a whole lot of time there this week).

This particular dog park is actually an island. A water processing plant occupies the north half of the island. The rest belongs to the dogs. And on this particularly hot, sunny and humid day, there were a tonne of dogs. Like, easily 30 of them. Which always makes me a little nervous because the Beast is easily over-stimulated and in such cases, entirely unpredictable when he is faced with soooooooo maaaaannnnnnnyyyyyyyy playmates. Indeed, there was more than one dog fight yesterday as unevenly-matched-energy-wise dogs got on each other's nerves. But miraculously, the Beast was very well behaved. All he wanted to do was jump in the river and retrieve his tennis ball.

And he had help in doing so from a good-natured American bull dog (ABD). Despite said dog's very stout and stocky appearance, he was a pretty good swimmer. Since his owners were sun-bathing on a blanket up above the shoreline, he wiggled his way into my little game of fetch with the Beast. Which was fine with both of us. The Beast certainly seemed to enjoy letting someone else retrieve his ball when he thought that the current had taken it just a little bit too far.

And so ABD, the Beast and I played fetch for about 10 minutes together. Eventually, ABD got tired and ran off to play with another dog on land, while the Beast and I resumed our twosome of fetch.

And then, about 20 minutes later, I heard a man walking up and down the shore calling out for ABD. But ABD wasn't coming. And although the guy looked pretty calm, his girlfriend was not as she frantically approached me to ask if I had seen the American bull dog that my dog had been playing with earlier.

I got a huge knot in the bottom of my stomach.

Because not even one day earlier, someone had said to me that every single year, a dog drowns in this dog park, swept away by the Ottawa River current because it just isn't strong enough to swim. Which is of course the very first thought that entered my head when ABD went missing.

"Honey," I said to my husband. "There's a dog missing. You stay here and watch the Beast. I am going to go and help them look for him."

There are only two ways off the island: you either walk across the bridge that joins it to the mainland, or you swim across. I agreed to walk up and down the shoreline, while the couple headed off toward the bridge.

And so off I went, yelling out "ABD!" up and down the shoreline, hoping that I would find him cooling off under the shade of a tree. But he was nowhere to be found. And the knot in my tummy just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

I walked back toward the main area to check up on the Beast and hubby. By now, people were starting to realize that there was a dog missing, and there was a lot of whispering going on.  Just as I was about to set out again, I saw ABD's owner walking toward me. Without ABD. I thought I was going to cry.

But when she got to me, she had good news. They had found him. He was wedged under the back tire of a car in the parking lot, spooked by something that drove him to hide. In fact, the car he was wedged under was about to leave, and could have run over the poor guy. But they found him before that happened, coaxed him out, and were bringing him home.

"Thank you so much for your help," she said, as she began walking away. Then she added, "My god! They're just like kids! You can't turn your back for one second!!!"

Well ain't that the truth....

Seriously though, it's entirely commendable to want to include your dog in your plans for enjoying a beautiful summer day by choosing to hang out at a dog park for an afternoon. I mean really, there are a million more enjoyable places for a human to be, I am sure. But to sit on a blanket and sun-bathe while your dog plays in a fast-flowing river, among 30 or so other dogs, and to not really pay attention to him? Well, that doesn't rank up there as the best life decision.

Which gets me to one of my fastest-developing pet peeves - dog owners who bring their dogs to a dog park and then decide to ignore them completely. Because it's enough just to bring them, isn't it? Surely they'll get all the exercise they need running around with other dogs? Why pay attention to them when there are other important things to do, like check Facebook, chat with other humans, or suck back a Starbucks latté? Besides, nothing bad could ever happen in a dog park. Especially not in a dog park with a fast flowing river and 30+ dogs running around....

Grrrrrrr....

To ABD, I'm glad that you did not drown, and I'm glad that you were found. To your owners, I'm so, so, so relieved that you found him, and I'm glad to have been able to help you look. But most of all, I really, really, really hope this teaches you to smarten the f&#k up the next time you bring him out to the island. Cause a really great tan is not going to replace Man's Best Friend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother Goose

If we all search back deep into our childhood psyche, I am quite certain that we will find this iconic image buried in there somewhere:

That's right. Mother Goose. Who can forget "Baa Baa Black Sheep", "Georgy Porgy", and "Hickory Dickory Dock", all told lovingly in that soft British accent by this famous narrator of nursery rhymes and lover of children everywhere.

Lover of children, maybe, but not of dogs. At least not of the Beast...

Let's rewind a little...

Until I moved to Ottawa, I had never seen a Canada Goose up close. I'd seen them flying overhead in a great big V, migrating south for the winter and returning in the spring.  And once, on a school field trip to the Fort Whyte Nature Centre in Winnipeg, I saw a gaggle of them hanging out in a big marshy field. But I'd never stood, you know, right close to one of them. And so, like many Canadians, I shared that romantic notion of this noble creature who is a symbol of our great nation.

And then I went for a bike ride down the Ottawa River pathway one day. And I saw one up close. As in inches away.

Let me tell you, they are nasty. N-A-S-T-Y. They take over the entire river pathway, walking back and forth in front of walkers, joggers and cyclists without fear. They stare you down as you pass by, almost daring you to try to get them to move. And they shit. Everywhere. I shudder to think of the layer of green goose shit that is on my bike tires and on the bottom of my running shoes. Green!!!! I mean, is there anything grosser than that?

They positively ruin the most peaceful run down the pathway. In fact, I am not ashamed to admit that I am more than a little scared of them.  (Pigeons too, but that's a whole other story for another time). I have actually found myself foregoing a run down the river just so that I can avoid those disgusting creatures. Which is sad, because the path is such a beautiful spot to run.

And then I got the Beast.

Shortly after I taught him to run nicely alongside of me, I took him and my brother's dog for a run along the river for the first time - one dog tethered to either side of me. The first kilometre was a bit of a gong show. My brother's dog channels all of his herding instinct into chasing squirrels, and there are an awful lot of them down by the river. Being tied to my waist does not stop him from trying to catch them either. It just puts me at severe risk of ending up with a displaced hip at the tender age of 35. And indeed, there was a lot of swearing as Toby kept trying to tear off after black and grey rodents. He was actually making the Beast look relatively well behaved, which, back in the early days of our time together, was no small feat.

Eventually, Toby got tired of being unable to catch squirrels, and he settled into a nice trot alongside me. Just in time for the Beast to spot his very first Canada goose.

Up until that point, I had been thanking the gods of dogs that, of all the behavioural issues the Beast was unveiling to me on a daily basis, herding small animals was not one of them. It made it infinitely easier to teach him how to run nicely alongside me or alongside my bike without fear for my joints. And so the thought never even occurred to me that the Beast might have an innate desire to herd geese... And had I even suspected that, I probably would have been deathly afraid for my very life, since those fearless, nasty birds would likely just turn around and attack us if the Beast dared to get too near. And then they would shit on us just for good measure.

And lo and behold, the Beast saw his first goose, and he bolted. Or tried to. Being tethered to my waist did prove to be somewhat of a hindrance. Frustrated that he couldn't get closer to the geese, he started to bark and flail like a rabid dog. Which set Toby off. Which led to me having two mad dogs tethered to my waist flailing about and barking like they were possessed, dragging me back and forth across the pathway like a freaking rag doll.

I was struggling so mightily to gain control of these two jackasses that I barely had time to be terrified that the we were about to be attacked by geese. And then, all of a sudden, I realized that we were NOT, in fact, being attacked. Quite the opposite, actually. The geese were running away, heading for the safety of the river, with the sentry loudly honking to alert the gaggle-members further down the path that two monsters were coming.

It was fantastic!!!

So fantastic that I forgot to be mad at the dogs for misbehaving!!!! Instead, I just firmly planted my legs on the path and let them bark and bark and bark and flail and flail and flail until the very last bird hopped into the river to get away.

And then I laughed. Maniacally. Cyclists and fellow joggers going by quite possibly thought I was insane.

When I got home, I ecstatically told Hubby that I never had to fear running down the river pathway again, because the Beast was going to keep me safe!!!  "You should have seen it, honey. He cleared the path. Like 20 birds - poof - GONE!!!!  If there wasn't so much goose shit along the path, I could have rolled around and done cartwheels without hitting one damn goose!  Woohooo!!!!"

(I'm quite certain that Hubby didn't share my enthusiasm. But then again, he does not have an irrational fear of birds....)

Well, he might not care, but this was a life-changing event for me and the Beast. Every single run, I found myself going down the path, enjoying morning sunrise after morning sunrise over the Ottawa River for the whole of summer. And I don' know much about the goose-to-goose communication chain, but I do know that word somehow got around that they should all be on watch for the red-and-white monster who appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Because whenever they caught his scent, the sentry would bellow and hurry the gaggle out of the way to safety, leaving the entire path to me. Fabulous!!!!

Now having a dog who likes to scare geese definitely has its benefits, but it also has its risks. He has, for instance, pulled me down off my bike in his enthusiasm to herd these nasty birds. But frankly, a little scrape here and there is worth it if it means I'm not going to get stared down by those cold, beady eyes....

Which brings us back to present-day...

No longer having to be afraid of geese means that I have boldly ventured out onto the path every single day that the Beast and I have gone out for our morning run or bike ride. No longer does my heart start to beat a little more quickly when I see them up ahead, because I am confident that as soon as they smell him coming, they will flee in fear.

What I did not count on was hatching season...

You see, by the time the Beast came to me last year, there were no goslings along the path - they were already teenage geese - big enough to defend themselves and no longer needing the fierce protection of Mother Goose...

But this year, last week in fact, the Beast and I biked smack into the middle of a goose family....

I saw the adults from far away. But did I worry? Of course not. As soon as they noticed the Beast, they would be gone... And sure enough, the familiar HHHHOOOONNNNKKKK of the sentry soon rang out, prompting the geese to head for the river.

All but one rather large goose, that is... The sentry was not moving toward the river, but it did appear to be directing others with its large wing, honking madly. And the others happened to be babies. Little fluffy, yellow, cute goslings, hurrying as fast as their little goose legs would take them.

And then it hit me... This was no sentry. This was a Mama Goose, desperately trying to get her babes to safety...

The babies made it across the path and into the water just before my bike glided past, with a very curious and interested Beast watching the goslings with perked up ears. "Phew," I thought to myself. "The babies are safe..."

And then I realized that Mama had not followed them into the river. Nope - she did this instead:



Except she was facing me, and was about 6 inches away from my rear bike tire, and she was violently hissing. So it was way, way scarier. Even the Beast got scared, and jumped up ahead of the bike. For one frightening moment, I thought he was going to pull me down on top of him, and the Mama goose would attack us. With my heart somewhere in my throat, I peddled as fast as I could, convinced that she was following us but too terrified to look back. "Hustle, Beastie! HUSTLE!!!!" I yelled at him, panicked, as he sped along beside me with his tongue hanging out. We must have been quite the sight to passers-by, but I didn't care. I wasn't stopping until we could get off that river path and away from psycho-Mama...

About a kilometre up, we turned off the path and into a residential neighbourhood. When I was satisfied that the coast was clear, I pulled over by the side of a baseball diamond. Both of us were panting from exertion, so I poured the Beast some water and let him have a drink while I willed my heart rate to slow down. "Whew.... That was a little too close, eh Beastie?" I said as I reached down and pet his head.

And then I started to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Which made me cough and gasp for air. Which prompted a couple out with their dog to stop and ask me if everything was okay. I could barely stop laughing and coughing and gasping long enough to tell them that the Beast and I had just been chased by a mama goose protecting her young. And by the look on their faces, I could tell  they thought that I was the most ridiculous woman they had ever stumbled upon. "Oh," said the nice-looking lady, "that sounds, er, well, um, terrifying. Will you look at the time? I've got to go. But it was really nice meeting you and your dog, and I hope that you don't meet any geese on the way home."

Which, of course, just made me laugh even more, as I sputtered out, "Yeah. Me too!!!!"

So, the moral of this story is that this whole notion of a loving, nurturing, not-at-all-scary Mother Goose is bullshit.

Or maybe that's gooseshit...

Either way, Mother Goose doesn't have glasses, or a book of nursery rhymes, or a nice looking bonnet. And she doesn't gather children around her to tell them little rhymes. No - she's got a six-foot wingspan, big sharp teeth, and a rattle-snake-like hiss. And she's effin' mean. So look out. Because even with the Beast, you're not safe from that crazy bitch!

Which leaves me back to being scared of geese. At least for the month of May, during hatching season...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My bodyguard

There's a freak running around the city right now, sexually assaulting women.

The attacks started in my neighbourhood, early in the morning. But they have since moved out along the Transitway: Alta Vista, Lincoln Fields, Hurdman. The jerk must have a bus pass.

His M.O. is to sneak up behind a woman and try to pull her pants down or grope her. Then he walks away.

Since April, the police have been trying to find this guy. Every local radio station talks about it every morning, reminding women to be vigilant. The police have released his description: white, five foot six, short dark hair, and wearing a grey hoodie (which is so normal as to be nondescript). So they've also released a sketch to local newspapers, urging citizens to keep an eye out for him and to call in any tips. They've received 100 tips so far, but still haven't caught him.

You'd have to live under a rock not to know that this guy is on the loose and that you have to be careful out there.

And yet... I still find myself slipping into complacency about it - into that "it won't happen to me so I don't need to worry about it" attitude. And every morning, despite listening the radio and reading the newspapers, I leave the house without really thinking twice about it.

And then this morning, the Beast and I went for a run. He was full of energy, uncharacteristically pulling like a sled dog most of the way, so we headed for downtown where he can use the Spark Street pedestrian mall as a mini-obstacle course. Weaving through posts and jumping over benches and onto tree planters always tires him out more than a regular run. But he was still super pumped up, so we ran down by the locks and behind Parliament Hill, where I let him run off leash so that he could sprint ahead of me and explore the riverbed. By the time I leashed him back up, I thought he'd be tuckered out, but nope, not even a little bit. So I brought him to the park just a couple of blocks from the house, hoping that his girlfriend Ruby would be there. She wasn't. So instead, I found a big 'ole stick and threw it back and forth to him while I did my post-run stretches by the park bench.

After tossing the stick 3 or 4 times, the Beast caught the scent of something far more exciting and lost interest in me. As he was off exploring, I spotted a man walking into the park from the northeast corner. All of a sudden, I stiffened. He had his hands in his pockets and his head down. He was about 5'6". He had short dark hair. And we was moving closer and closer to me.

I tried so hard to be nonchalant. At the same time that I held a quad stretch, I yelled out to the Beast. I wanted to make sure that this guy would see that I had a big dog with me. "Find your stick. Bring me your stick." The Beast looked up at me, then went back to sniffing around. "Beastie," I said again, my voice a little higher this time. "Find your stick! Where's your stick?" He still didn't seem interested in me. "BEASTIE, HUSTLE!" I said, yelling out the one command that I know he will always respond to. He looked up, looked straight at me, and then looked at the guy walking toward me...

I don't know if he sensed something in my voice that sounded a little more desperate than usual, but he came bolting down the hill and placed himself between me and the man. Then he let out a low growl, followed by a bark that sounded kind of like he was clearing his throat. A warning. "Back off, Mister. That's my mom, and she's not feeling all that great about the situation right now," is what I am sure he was saying.

The guy jumped back a little, looked up at me, and said, "Nice dog. Protective, huh?" By then, he was close enough that I could see that he was wearing glasses, was actually closer to 5'8" or 5'9", and that I had seen him walk through the park many times before. (I'm going for laser eye surgery on Friday so I can't wear my contact lenses right now, and wasn't wearing my glasses either. My vision from a distance is not to be relied on.) I brushed off the comment and said, "No, that's just his way of saying that he wants to play with you. Sorry if he scared you." Then I called him over, leashed him up, and left the park. With my heart beating somewhere around my throat, I ran home as fast as I could.

This morning's episode left me with a few emotions. The first is anger. I'm not very good at being a victim, and I don't like that, even in a completely innocent situation, I feel like I am in some kind of danger because of another jackass running around the city assaulting women. This is my city, dammit, and he has no right to make me feel scared of every man I see walking in my general direction.

The second is sympathy for all the normal men of Ottawa who are going to be mistaken as would-be assailants by women like me.

But the strongest emotion that I'm left with this morning is gratefulness. I am thankful for the Beast, and for him reminding me that even though I may be angry, and even though I feel bad about mistaking an innocent guy for a nut-job, I can't continue to be so complacent. I'm even more thankful for the fact that the Beast is keeping me safe. Maybe he really was just trying to play with the guy when he came running down the hill toward them. Or maybe he did sense that I was scared and wanted the guy to back the 'eff off. But it doesn't really matter. Because when I needed him to be beside me to make me feel safer, he was there. And I'm so grateful for that.

So is hubby. Because when I told him this story over breakfast, with a little tear in my eye, he reached down, rubbed the Beast's head, and said, "You're a good boy, Beastie. Thank you."

Be safe out there.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dog Toy Heaven

This is Rochester Q. Squirrel.

I wish you could have known him in happier times. You know, when he had both arms, his tennis-ball-entrails were in tact, and his squeaky heart still beat strong. He was so handsome without that big gaping hole along his right side...

According to the tag on his ass, Rochester Q.'s life began in 2004, when he came off the assembly line and swung his way onto the shelf of a local pet store. There he was, surrounded by tug ropes and plushies and squeakies and balls... He had to have known how special he was, carrying a little bit of all the best toys in his little body. His tug rope tail, his tennis ball belly, his squeakie torso, and his plushy epidermis... How could any dog resist that wild and wonderful combination!

And then, one day, in walked Auntie K. She took one look at Rochester Q., and knew that her gentle, loving Cal-monster just had to have him. She purchased him on the spot, and brought him home to be a life long companion to Mr. Cal. For years, the two were inseparable. Cal-monster would drag Rochester Q. around the house by his extra long tail, and Rochester Q. would express his love for his devoted companion with a gentle "squeak, squeak".

But Auntie K. worried that Rochester Q. needed friends his own size. And so, with the best of intentions, she went back to the store, and brought home some new characters. Like the adorable Mr. Frog with his big googly eyes. And sweet Ms. Hedgehog, who, despite her spiny quills, is a big ball of love. How could Auntie K. possibly have known that these new creatures would capture Cal-Monster's imagination in new and delightful ways!

And ever so slowly, Rochester Q. fell from his esteemed place in Cal-Monster's world. No longer a cherished companion, he languished at the bottom of a doggie toy chest, holding his breath each and every day in the hopes that Cal would remember how very special their bond was. But alas, Cal-monster continued to ignore poor Rochester Q. in favour of his new plushie, squeaky friends. The honeymoon was over.

Just when poor Rochester Q. didn't think he could stand another day of being ignored...

...the Beast came over for a visit.

Beastie took one look at Rochester Q. and fell in love. Maybe it was the tug rope tail. Maybe it was the soft "squeak squeak" that promised so much love. Maybe it was the feel of that plushy fur between his teeth. Whatever it was, Rochester Q. and the Beast became inseparable. Auntie K. was so happy to know that Rochester Q. had found love again, that she sent him home with the Beast, secure in the knowledge that the two would begin a happy new chapter.

And oh, how the Beast loved Rochester Q. Squirrel. Every single day, he sat and stared at his toy box, waiting for Hubby or I to open it up so he could dig through the balls, the food puzzles, the tug ropes, and the plushy bones until he found that long curly tail. And then he would pant, break into a big goofy grin, pull the tail until Rochester Q. came flying out of the toy chest, and do this:


Followed by a rousing game of tug, like this:




And then he would let go, and patiently wait until Hubby or I would toss Rochester Q. high up into the air for him to catch. And once he rescued Rochester Q. from certain gravity-induced peril, he would do this:



That blur of action is the Beast whipping Rochester Q. back and forth, around and around like a top. Oh, Rochester Q would squeak with delight, and the Beast would answer with a soft growl or a harmless little snarl. Around and around and around and around the Beast and Rochester Q. would go, until the Beast collapsed in a giant heap on the living room floor, like this:



Look at how gently and lovingly the Beast would hold Rochester Q. between his front paws, laying sweet kiss after sweet kiss on the crown of his head, or gently tugging and chewing on his tail to undo the pesky knot at its end. How could I have ever thought that in this sweet pose would be the demise of Rochester Q?

Sigh.  I did not see it coming. One moment, the Beast was licking his best friend. The next I heard "rrr-iiii-pppp." I looked down, but it was too late. There, firmly lodged in the Beast's jaw, was Rochester Q.'s right arm.

"Beastie! What have you done?" I cried. But he was oblivious to his crime. And before I had time to rescue poor Rochester Q., I heard a louder, longer "rrrrrrrrr-iiiiiiiiii-ppppppppp".  When I looked down, a great slash appeared along poor Rochester Q.'s side, and his tennis ball entrails and squeaky heart were spilling out of him.

"Beastie!" I implored. "Please stop this! He's your best friend!" But the Beast's appetite could not be satiated, and he pulled and tugged and tore at Rochester Q's torso until that tennis ball and that heart were free, and Rochester Q. was but a shell of the toy he had once been. Armless and empty, silenced by the cruel removal of his squeak, and covered in a thick layer of dog slobber...

But I have to think that he left us happier than he has been in a long time. In the last three weeks, he must have rediscovered what it meant to be the centre of a dog's universe. Sure, the play was rough and tumble at times, as he was pulled between me and the Beast, thrown high into the air, and dragged up and down the staircase. But I do believe that Rochester Q. knew how happy he was making Beastie. And that this, in turn, made his short time with us worthwhile.

So now, Rochester Q. Squirrel joins the ranks of those who went before him. Like the green Kong Wubba, torn to shreds within a week so that the Beast could get to the ball inside.

Or the pink, plushie Kong Wubba, torn apart tentacle by tentacle so that the Beast could taste that sweet plush coat in his mouth:


And who could forget dear, sweet Mr. Fish, who never once complained when I hid him under the bed so that Beastie could practice his search and rescue skills, and who didn't make one sound while the Beast slowly and methodically de-stuffed him. It still pains me to think about having to put him in the garbage bin so that the Beast wouldn't choke on his insides:


You're in good company, dear Rochester Q. Squirrel. Just do me one favour. Save some room in dog-toy-heaven for Senor Quackers. Because judging from his once-proud tug rope tail, it's only a matter of time for him too...