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Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Decade With My Dog

It's hard to believe, but October 12th marked the 10th anniversary of Abbey's adoption, making this her 10th & a Half Adopt-a-versary.* That's right, my sweet mutt has been my boon companion for more than a decade now! Ten years. TEN YEARS! I can't even begin to express how important her support has been for me during the early years of depression and anxiety, the middle years of excruciating medication withdrawal, that one really great year when we went on lots of walks and hikes, and five years of migraines. I hit the canine jackpot when my family decided that Keta, the "brown" dog sitting so patiently in her kennel at Seattle Animal Shelter, should be our new family pet. And while she loves and is much loved by the rest of my family, for ten years it's really always been about the two of us, Dog & Girl, two lost souls in need of something to love.

* I started this blogpost back in October in hopes of posting it on her adopt-a-versary, but then life happened. Better late than never, right?

From Abbey's perspective, the highlight of 2014 was the Disintegrating Christmas Reindeer. Of course, it wasn't disintegrating yet when it showed up in her Christmas stocking as her annual soft toy gift. What usually happens is that the soft toy is vigorously played with, gets a bunch of holes, and after a month or two, when it can no longer hold together, we give Abbey permission to pin and rip it to her heart's content, and the soft toy fun is over until next Christmas. Right from the start, though, it was clear that this year's reindeer was something special. My mom even went to Petco to get a backup within a week, but by then, all of the Christmas toys were gone. Fortunately, Abbey was determined to make this toy last as long as possible, the Disintegrating Christmas Reindeer is still with us! This is especially impressive because 99% of all games played in 2014 centered around catching and shaking and fetching her reindeer. Abbey makes playtime look so FUN and we all get such a kick out of watching her build extra bounces and zigzags and twirls into her reindeer antics. The reindeer loses another piece of stuffing during every game, the squeaker fell out long ago, and the body is limp and full of holes, but it has demonstrated an impressive tenacity. It made it all the way until Christmas, when it was finally retired in favor of the Christmoose, which was this season's variation on the same toy.

Chewing on my reindeer!

Reindeer game, anyone?

C'mon, chase me!

This is the best toy ever!

Proudly posing with her favorite friend.

Abbey and the Christmoose, the reindeer's successor.

"Whee! You're home!"
Of course, it isn't just when she's playing with her reindeer that Abbey is acts like a Big Silly. While most of the time Abbey is as mellow as they come, she does have that little bit of a twinkle about her, and nothing unleashes her goofiness like me coming home from dog-sitting. I didn't used to think of Abbey as much of a smiler, but taking photos to post daily on Pack (more on Pack later) has made me realize that she does have a little smile and it is perfectly ridiculous! She's not above acting undignified and I definitely like that in a dog.

This is Abbey's goofy grin. I can't help but crack up whenever I look at this picture!

Another very silly smile.

Rolling around hoping for belly rubs.

Making some joyful noise.

"Yay! Pet me!"

Of course, from Abbey's perspective, there is so much about life to enjoy. Things to celebrate are not limited to her reindeer stuffy or my comings and goings; other fun things include dinnertime, car rides, petting, squirrels, and snow. (There are, of course, great many quiet pleasures to be enjoyed, too, but these are the kinds of things that can make a girl romp and bounce and spin for joy!)

We seldom get much, but you can see how happy playing in the snow makes Abbey feel!

Also fun is getting a chance to chase her blue squeaky ball in a big field.

Better yet is going swimming with your squeaky ball!

Abbey greatly enjoys chasing squirrels, though once the rascally rodent has scrambled up a tree, Abbey will sit nicely in hopes of being rewarded for being a good girl. It appears we trained her well! Pity the squirrels don't understand that good dogs get treats for sitting...

While Abbey may be an old dog, she definitely disproves the old adage that you can't teach an old dog a new trick. This year she has learned "spin," "tip it," and "find it." With Rice Chex as a reward, Abbey has shown us that two training sessions are sufficient to master a new command. I usually associate intelligence in dogs with a propensity to get into trouble (ya gotta keep those active minds busy!), but mellow Miss Abbey has quite a few more smarts than I give her credit for. It's just that usually she's busy applying them to looking after me!

Abbey demonstrates her mastery of the command "spin"!

Besides new commands, there were other things for Abbey to discover this year...

"By Jove! I do believe there's a dog on the other side of this fence!" Abbey's known about Licorice, the Dog Next Door, for years, but there are, in fact, TWO other Dogs Next Door that she's never really noticed. This summer, she and Georgie chased the same squirrel on opposite sides of the fence and now she's always hoping for a repeat. Don't tell her about Leo, okay?

"What IS this thing?" Abbey carefully investigates a caterpillar crossing the deck.

"And what's this?" I spent the early days of summer making sure Abbey didn't chase baby birds, especially the baby juncos before they fledged, but it was some other force that felled a little kinglet that she found dead in the yard. She sniffed it very carefully, but made no effort disturb the tiny body.

Abbey now has two food puzzles: a Wobbler and this delightful Tornado! She loves the challenge of tipping the Wobbler just so and twirling the towers of the Tornado to get at the concealed treats. More than just fun, food puzzles are a great way to engage a dog's brain.

One of the most surprising things that happened  in the past year is that Abbey reversed her policy on guests, WANTING to meet them instead of warily viewing them as intruders and possible threats. It has been our position for years that Abbey doesn't spend much time with company when we have people over because she can be doing okay and then something a male guest does--gesturing, blocking an exit route, reaching down--will spook her and if you spook Abbey...well, there's a risk of getting bitten. We don't like guests to get bitten, so we limit the circumstances when she can circulate with company and she always wears a muzzle. While she still is wearing the muzzle (much to her disgust), Abbey has decided in the past year to become social. She now is eager to come down when guests arrive and is, in fact, quite put out about being shut in my study with me. (The thing is, I'm not usually up for spending a full evening with company, so I typically don't come down until the meal is served and Abbey waits with me.) Nowadays, instead of surreptitiously sniffing guests around the perimeter of the table, Abbey is sticking her head in laps and nudging hands to request petting! Her biggest test was when my aunt and uncle came to visit. In the past, big gestures and excitability during conversation were triggers for her, and my uncle is a tall, wonderful, enthusiastic man much given to big gestures, big laughs, and excitable story-telling. When Abbey first encountered him, she lay some distance away with her back turned for half an hour. Then, she made an excuse to sniff under his chair. Soon he was petting her. I knew that all was going to be well when my uncle was petting her with one hand and gesticulating widely with the other while telling me a story and she cared not a whit. Abbey remained rather fascinated by my uncle for the whole visit (she immediately included my aunt as part of the family and in fact interacted with her very little, aside from the occasional nose-bump acknowledgement) and often sought him out. There was only one time when I called her away from him: my parents, my aunt, and I were having an animated conversation involving much laughter in the kitchen while my uncle dozed in a chair in the adjacent family room. I looked over and saw that Abbey was going over to wake him up so he could join us. Since he is not in the habit of being woken from a nap by a wet nose, I thought it was possible he might act startled or jump, which would scare Abbey, and all the great work of the visit would be undone. That possible crisis was avoided and by the time my aunt and uncle departed, my uncle could stand in Abbey's path and reach down directly toward her to fondle her ears and she was loving it. I was so proud of my girl for taking the risk of being social and learning that the reward was lots of extra affection.

Abbey puts her head in my uncle's lap to ask for petting and is well rewarded.

While she's much more amenable now to new people than she's ever been before in her life, because I don't socialize much, Abbey doesn't socialize much, either. What she doesn't realize is that she has an online following! Abbey is a bit of a rock star on Pack, the dog photo social media site. I post photos of Abbey there almost every day; I don't want to test the patience of my Facebook friends by posting endless Abbey images, but I am taking pictures of her all the time, so having a site just for dog photos is a great outlet. She has some great fans (one made Abbey her very own doggy quilt!) who always comment on her photos and I've enjoyed getting to know their dogs in return. Abbey is also trying hard to make #doghaiku a thing--a recent health issue was documented almost entirely in daily haikus. I was extremely flattered to be asked to do the inaugural "Meet My Mutt" interview for the Marvelous Mystery Mutt Pack and I highly encourage you to check it out, as I put a lot of thought into my response. Abbey also shows up a couple of times on Pack's "Best Dog Photos of 2014" honor roll. Outside of Pack, Abbey has also made an appearance as one of BADRAP's "Game Changer Dogs" where I share how Abbey changed my life for the better, and in a book (made by a dog I follow on the internet) called "Paw Wisdom" about lessons that old dogs have taught us. Her lesson for me? That the greatest joy can be found in the simplest things.

Abbey has a new guilty pleasure: snatching mouthfuls of ornamental grass.

Abbey loves marshmallows!

Noms aloft! Abbey enjoys catching airborne morsels.

And don't forget about peanut butter!

Basking in the sun has long been one of Abbey's favorite pursuits.

And of course you must stretch after a nap in a sunbeam!

There's nothing better than sleeping away the day on my bed.

Abbey is at least twelve by now. That's old for a dog. I was mighty pleased when she had her yearly checkup this past summer and the vet said that if he hadn't known how old she was, he never would have guessed. She's got her "old dog warts" and her dozen lipomas, white on her muzzle and a blue haze in her pupils, but she is otherwise in good health. The most significant sign of her age that has manifested in the past year is that she is getting somewhat hard of hearing. If she's asleep, she'll no longer hear her name being called from another part of the house. It has progressed to the point where she will not always hear me enter a room she's in and during a recent thunderstorm, she didn't hear most of the thunder. She battled a paw fungus in February (prednisone turned her into a hot, panting, restless, hungry, thirsty little stinker!), but otherwise her health has been very good and the vet thinks there are likely many years left in her yet. I sure hope so.

My dear old mutt.

Dog kisses are slimy and tickle!
Ten and a half years... They've flown by so quickly. I know I'm unlikely to get another ten and a half with my precious pup. Even if I do, that still won't be enough time. But I've been so lucky to have known her love. The two of us: it's likely one of the greatest bonds I'll ever know. It's going to be heartbreaking to lose her. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now she's lined up beside me, asking "Where to next, my friend?" with her ears and her eyes and wagging tail, ready to go where I go, do what I do, for as long as she can follow.

To see my photographs of things other than dogs, check out my photography Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December Edition: Addendum to 33 Birds

An immature bald eagle (top, left of center, difficult to see against the trees unless you click on this photo to enlarge it) harasses a flock of coots, dive-bombing them seemingly for fun. 

Last month I wrote a blogpost called "33 Birds: November Edition" that listed, with photographs, all the different bird species I saw while taking care of Goldie during two weeks in November. Well, I went back to Goldie's house for ten days in December and saw nine more bird species! I thought it appropriate to create this addendum with photos of the additional birds, creating an even more comprehensive picture of the birdlife that can be found on the shores of a lake in the wilder suburbs of the Pacific Northwest in early winter. Remember, you can click on photos to enlarge them!

One of my canine ornithological assistants.
Sable shares my interest in waterfowl, but for rather different reasons.

Western Grebe

Just like the last post, since I am listing the birds in the order they appear in Golden's "Birds of North America," I have to start off with the worst photos of the bunch. I was standing on the dock one day when I saw a pair of birds with long white necks swimming at least halfway across the lake. I immediately suspected they were Western grebes because of their size and those necks and so I waited and waited and waited in hopes that they would swim my way, but they were apparently content to mosey around mid-lake, occasionally diving. These photos were therefore taken for identification purposes, for which they suffice. They certainly aren't going to win any prizes, though! I saw the grebes on one other occasion. They were on my side of the lake, but only just. They clearly like to do their fishing in far deeper water than the pied-billed grebes and others that I've seen closer to shore.

This is what they looked like through my 200 mm telephoto lens without any cropping.  That I noticed them and suspected they were grebes at that distance should give you an idea of how acute my vision is, which is a major reason why I see so many birds!

This is a cropped version of one of the telephoto images. Doesn't look like much, but you can see the long neck has a pure, white throat, the beak is slender and yellow, the top of the head and back of the neck are black, and the body is a grayish color. That's enough to call it a Western grebe!

This grebe was a little bit closer, but not much. You can see the redness of its eye, though!

It took a pause from fishing in the deep water near the center of the lake to preen.

Ring-Necked Duck

Some days there are just oodles of birds around and the 22nd of December was one of them. I saw coots, gadwalls, buffleheads, mallards, cormorants, a male common merganser (I see females far oftener than I see males), and mixed in with all of those, a couple of unfamiliar ducks. The weather was overcast with a lot of glare and the birds were gathered to the south of my dock, so they were backlit and especially hard to see. It was not until I got the images on my computer and removed the shadows that I was able to see the details necessary to identify this particular bird as a male ring-necked duck.

A male ring-necked duck (center, top) has white stripes on its bill.

It floats here among coots, gadwalls, and buffleheads.

A few days later, I captured male and female ring-necked ducks in flight. On the wing, they look very similar to scaups, but the male's bill stripes and the bill's large, black tip are helpful for differentiating it.

Lesser Scaup

The other new-to-me duck first seen on the day when so many waterfowl were out and about by the dock is the lesser scaup. Like the ring-necked duck, it belongs to a category of ducks called "bay ducks." These ducks are capable of diving and swimming underwater and eat both plant and animal life. There is also a greater scaup, which is larger, has a greenish vs. purplish head, and is more often seen on salt water.

A male lesser scaup has a golden eye, a dark head and chest with purplish iridescence, white sides and back with fine black mottling, and a black rump.

A male lesser scaup swimming with coots.

A female lesser scaup, with a dark brown head, back and tail, brown breast, brown sides with white mottling, and a white facial patch by the bill (not visible in this photograph).

A pair of male lesser scaups.

Bald Eagle

I had been very surprised during my stay in November not to see any bald eagles, since there have been bald eagles living on the northern end of the lake for as long as I can remember. It seemed like Goldie's house would be prime bald eagle territory. It turns out that I was right. I believe that the reason I didn't see eagles during November was because they were congregating around salmon-spawning streams. Regardless of whether or not my theory is correct, I started seeing bald eagles on a daily basis! I mainly saw an immature bald eagles and another that is just getting its adult plumage. The only downside of seeing the eagles is that the waterfowl make themselves scarce when these giant raptors are around, and for good reason: Goldie found the remains of a wing that probably belonged to a coot or bufflehead at one point beneath the eagles' favorite tree. It's funny: when one of the bald eagles gives me a once-over from the treetops or as it flies overhead, I find myself feeling honored to have caught the notice of such a predator!

An immature bald eagle. They have dark brown plumage mottled with white.

I felt so lucky to have this immature bald eagle fly almost directly toward me as I stood on the dock before it swooped up to land in a tree on the shore. The feet and beak are strikingly yellow!

A different juvenile, with much more white mottling, cruises overhead at sunset.

This bald eagle is finally getting its adult plumage: the head and tail are almost completely white and the body completely brown. Bald eagles don't get their adult plumage until they are about five years old.

American Coot

During the winter, coots can be seen congregating on the water in dense flocks. I think of them as "rafts." During December, rafts of coots regularly make their way past the house, sometimes lingering in favored spots just to the north and south of the dock. When not on the move--and sometimes even then--the coots dive below the surface to bring up strands of aquatic vegetation. Since there is no point in making the effort to dive for your own piece of vegetation if you can have part of your neighbor's, scuffles break out as all the surrounding coots try to snag a mouthful. I found that the coots were surprisingly difficult to photograph, a result of their dark plumage, the low winter light, and constant movement. In an effort to get decent shots, I now have way more coot photos than any sane person would wish to look through!

A wintertime congregation of coots.

Everyone wants a piece of your aquatic vegetation!

American coots.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee

I expressed surprise in my previous post that I hadn't seen any chestnut-backed chickadees because Goldie's property seemed like prime chestnut-backed chickadee habitat. I was pleased, therefore, to spot a flock of them in the trees one day. As I waited for one of the chickadees to land on a branch unobscured by other vegetation with the chestnut back visible, it started to hail. I'm not going to stand around in the hail just to prove to blog readers that I saw a chestnut-backed chickadee, so you'll have to take my word for it. I saw them again on other occasions, but they move very quickly through the trees and I never had a good chance to take a decent photo.

This was the best shot I got before the weather turned uncooperative. You can see the brownish sides, if not the back.

Hermit Thrush

Several times during my stay I saw a noticeably nondescript (that sounds funny, but a plain bird is an unusual one!) bird flitting away in the brambles, but it wasn't until my second-to-last day that this light brown bird was kind enough to sit for a while on a branch that was visible through the tangle of vines and twigs, allowing me to photograph it and confirm my suspicions that it was a hermit thrush.

Hermit thrushes are one of a group of several similar North American thrushes with spotted breasts.
Trust me, you want to click on this photo: it's one of the best of the bunch!

This hermit thrush looks like it's singing, but it was, in fact, doing what I can only describe as "gargling berries."

Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Audubon's Race)

Yellow-rumped warblers were one of the thirty-four species of birds that I saw at Mr. Gorgeous' place in the spring, but it turns out that those bold colors are a thing for spring--the only feature I recognized was the shape of the tail! Google helped me figure out that I was indeed looking at the same species, just in a different season's plumage. The photos are poor, as a small group of them settled only briefly high in a birch tree before flying off.

It wasn't much, but the yellow throat, deeply lobed tail...

...and yellow sides were sufficient information for an ID.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow

I was looking out the dining room window into the thicket favored by the finches, juncos, and song sparrows when I saw a bird rather larger than the usual suspects perched on a branch on the far side of the bank of vegetation. It wasn't until I was looking through my camera's viewfinder that I realized I was photographing a golden-crowned sparrow. I only saw it that once, so I was glad to get a decent shot of it.

The bright yellow crown bordered by bold, black stripes give this sparrow its name.

These nine species seen during late December, added to the thirty-three I saw in mid-November, bring my total count of birds seen and/or photographed at Goldie's new place on the lake to forty-two. It has been exciting to see the variety of birdlife this piece of property has to offer. I look forward to getting to know its birds of spring and summer in 2015!

You can see the blogpost detailing the thirty-three birds of November here.
You may also enjoy my overview of thirty-four bird species in seen in April.
And don't forget to stop by my Facebook page to see the photos I post daily!

All photographs © 2014 c.creativity