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Farewell to a Good Dog

December 11th, 2009

We lost a friend yesterday.  A part of the family for many years.  Twelve to be exact.  He was born on December 10th, 1997.  And yesterday we sadly had to help him across that final threshold of life, on the very day of his birth.

His name was Justin, and he was a good dog.  A bit smelly and drooly, but a fine old friend.  He lived at Fox Haven for many of his twelve years, even while we were far overseas.  If ever a dog had a happy, carefree life, it was he.

For a Basset Hound, he was remarkably healthy and strong.  He would roam the property and follow us just about everywhere.   He loved to be close, and would settle down wherever I was working and fall asleep.  This year he slept a lot more.  I would tiptoe around the outside of the house so I didn’t wake him, but as soon as I got started working somewhere I would hear “Oowwoo…arf! arf! Oowoooo!” as he came looking for me.   I would see him with his magical nose, sniffing the ground and tracing my steps until he saw me.  He would trot up wagging his tail and settle down somewhere nearby to sleep. Often he would wake up an hour or two later wondering where everybody went.

Last weekend when we cut the cedar tree down for Grandma, the basset hound wanted to come along as usual.  Wandering around with us was about his favorite thing to do, and especially riding in the little golf cart.  That night I was putting the cart in the barn, and as I sat down Justin came running up to jump inside for his ride…  this year he  couldn’t jump in as well and would put his head and front paws up and I would help him in.  We rode for about twenty feet and parked… it didn’t matter how far, he was just happy to have the ride.

basset-behind-the-stove

A few days ago the boy and I were in the barn with the woodstove going, and a couple dogs and a cat to keep us company.  Justin settled down behind the warm stove and took a nap for a few hours.

His fur was very warm, almost too hot to the touch.  He enjoyed that very much. I didn’t have my camera, but took this picture with my cell phone for some reason.

When it was time to go I nudged him until he looked up and I coaxed him outside again.  He was getting a little more confused this year…  In a way, he was such good company that I didn’t even notice him most of the time. But I usually always waited for him, and let him in and out of the barn, up in the golf cart, or wherever else he followed.

While building the shed these past couple of months he was always there. The past couple of weeks he would climb up in the shed and lay down to sleep. Then when I was back outside he would bark and whine to be helped down because he couldn’t figure out how to get down.

He still liked to play though, and he loved Kuma the Shiba Inu.  They slept in the kennel together and Justin followed Kuma everywhere.   If we put Justin in the kennel for the night and Kuma wasn’t there, he would yowl and cry until he came too.   Kuma was a little grouchy at times as the alpha dog, sometimes nipping Justin’s ears.  He didn’t care, he still wanted to be with him.   They kept watch together, welcomed us home together and wandered the fields together.   In the mornings they would even play together in the driveway.

 basset-and-shiba

Of course anywhere the boy and I went, or the other animals, Justin had to follow. We often gave him apple cores and he loved them. When the boy ate an apple, Justin would follow him around and the boy would yell, “Apple dog! Apple dog!” and run away. Justin would go “Woof!” and chase him.

following-the-boy

Especially if it was around the pond.

boy-and-dogs-2

On school days I would bring the yellow lab and Justin with me to meet the boy at the bus.  He loved that and would wag his tail when the boy came running off the bus. We would explore the pond or check out the fruit trees along the way.  Sometimes I would try to sneak off without him and let him sleep.  And I was worried he might wander off somewhere and get lost.  I found him about a half mile away last year, at the bottom of a valley.   No matter how I tried to sneak away though- he would still wake up and somehow know where I was.   Five minutes later here came the basset hound trotting up the driveway or through the fields.   His nose led the way…

basset-and-yellow-lab

Often we would see him exploring with Princess the cat.  He was so gentle that the cats seemed to accept him.  Princess liked to come by and rub his muzzle as if to say hello.

basset-and-cat

If any of the dogs got in the pickup truck, Justin yowled to go too.  He just loved car rides.  Yesterday, while he was sick and I was getting the car ready, he even tried to jump up on the bumper, ready to go as always.

boy-and-dogs

He loved to roam the garden, but we tried to keep him out so he didn’t stomp all over everything.  In September I even watched him walk up and pull a big juicy tomato off the plant for a snack!

boy-and-dog-in-garden

When he did have something of his own or a favorite spot to lie down, he would go “Woo! Woooo!” to the yellow lab.  The labrador is a master of sneaking food from the other dogs, and Justin would bark and chase him away.

woowoo-basset

If you sat down on the ground or anywhere else he could reach you, he might give you a big slobbery kiss when you least expected it!

basset-kiss

 

But mostly he would find a comfy place in the sun and just snuggle up for a nap.

basset-hound-napping

He was just friendly and lovable, and wanted to be part of everything.  Especially if you had food to share.  And he was part of the family.

hungry-basset-hound

Farewell ‘ole friend.  We’ll miss you, and we are better for having shared our life with you.  You were a good dog.
Say hi to Sparky…

justin-the-basset-hound

 

Yellow Labs and Brown-Headed Cowbirds

March 18th, 2009

The young pup is almost two and half years old now- a big, strong yellow labrador with a heart of gold.  I know everyone thinks their dogs and pets are pretty special, but I swear this furry guy is unlike any animal I’ve ever known.  I’m thinking about having a round of tests performed on him to consider breeding.  He’s not a show dog or champion field trialer, but he has good lineage and beautiful form.  His personality is amazing in so many ways, and if he could contribute to the breed I think that would be a good thing.   Have you hugged your dog today?  More importantly, how about your kids?!  For some folks they’re the same…

Yellow Labrador Retriever in a field of Bluestem

Interesting that you can actually clone your dog these days for the princely sum of $150,000 dollars.  Can you imagine?   Perhaps if money was no object someone could consider that, but it seems, well… ethically selfish to me I guess, among other things.  It’s a free country, but you can help an awful lot of people with that kind of money.  I do understand loving an animal that much, but it’s hard to rationalize spending so much money for that purpose.  Of course I  say that, but based on how I feel about my own lab-  if it didn’t cost very much I might consider getting another pup just like him too.  Heck, twenty or thirty years from now who knows what we’ll be able to do.   For now I just appreciate that he gets to be part of our family. 

Don’t you just want to give him a big hug?!

yellow-labrador-retriever

 

Maybe I should’ve titled this ‘The Dogs We Love and the Birds We Don’t” or “Cute Dogs and Ugly Birds.”  On a different note it’s about time to take the bird feeders down, and as if on cue the Brown-headed Cowbirds showed up for a party to pick through what was left.  Okay, maybe they’re not ugly, but they sure act that way.  Research has shown that they can impact songbird populations negatively through brood parasitism.  They’re the only species in our region that sneaks into other birds’ nests and lays their own eggs.  So a hapless goldfinch or flycatcher ends up feeding and raising a cowbird usually instead of their own young since the cowbird is bigger and has a voracious appetite.  

Well over a hundred species of birds end up raising cowbirds in this manner and there’s quite a debate regarding how destructive or natural this is.    We typically see them grouped up in spring while they migrate through in flocks.  Soon they disperse to look for a host nest, and we only see or hear them as solitary birds.  What a strange critter and survival mechanism- kind of looks like an unruly mob!

cowbird-party

A New Day, and a Tiger On His Tail

October 8th, 2008

Sometimes the world seems so small, especially when fog blankets the landscape.  At dawn we see the glow of light, and the sun rises, becoming brighter through the gray curtain of cloud.   On days like this the world awakens more slowly, or at least we may feel a closer, measured pace to the presence of life around us.   What does the sunrise represent?  Hope?  A new day, or a new future?

Sunrise through the fog in Missouri

Does it hold meaning for you?  I once read a story that framed the context of challenge by saying,  “In America we get up in the morning, we go to work and we solve our problems.”   And that’s pretty much a testament to action.  So often it’s that first step that is the most difficult.  But as we begin, as we move and as we take steps towards our goals, we are moving every aspect of our lives toward that new day.  With our action, opportunities will come, doors will open and circumstances will gradually shift toward our goals.  We don’t have to solve everything at once, but as we begin everything changes.   And we’ll get there.

Speaking of action, it seems the kitten and the yellow lab have become playmates.  The lab doesn’t quite know what to make of this little ball of energy.  The kitten romps and pounces, darts in and out and generally uses the retriever’s tail as a chew toy.  Instead of a “tiger by the tail,” this dog has a tiger on his tail.

 Kitten playing with Yellow Labrador Retriever

The kitten chomps and wrestles until the lab puts a big ‘ole paw on top of him.  Then a little  “reeoow!” screech and the cat darts away again.  We watch them closely, but he is amazingly restrained to the needle sharp teeth and claws of the kitten.  It will be interesting to see their relationship as they grow older.   When I imagine friendship between dogs and cats, I think of Sparky, no longer with us, as he walked with Justin.

Every Dog Has His Day

October 3rd, 2008

The other day my dog had his day, his birthday in fact.  And I’ll remember it for a long, long time.  It’s hard to believe the big ‘ole yellow lab puppy is 2 years old.  Okay, he’s not a puppy anymore, but he sure acts like one.  Of course he’s my first Labrador, so maybe they act this way all the time.  We pal around everywhere together, especially while I do chores, or while waiting to pick up the boy at the bus stop.   His energy and good nature are unstoppable.  Nearly.  So guess what I did for his birthday?  I ran him over with a golf cart.  “What?!” I hear you thinking.  But it’s true.    

So there I go racing down the gravel drive at full golf cart speed, with the 90 pound labrador running along side as usual.  We’re going to do some retrieving in the field. Except this time he’s out slightly ahead of me, and cuts right in front and stops!  I yell at him and instead of jumping out of the way, he crouches down!  I was going downhill too fast to turn or do anything, and if you’ve driven on gravel you know that stopping quickly just doesn’t work.  So I cringe as the front tire goes “Whump! Bump!’ right over my lovable dog, and he squirts out the side.  I’m on the brakes sliding to a rocky stop in a cloud of dust, horror stricken that I’ve killed my dog.

I jump out and he’s sitting over on the grass looking at me like “What’d I do?!”   I’m more stunned than he is, and I check him over carefully and pet him and… he looks okay.  He really does.  He has a little cut on top of his head, but nothing more.  He starts nosing around and waiting for us to do something.   I’m not sure, so I slowly walk back to the house observing him, deciding whether to call the vet. The lab is sniffing and running around, and wants to play.  Heck, he just escaped death right?  Who wouldn’t be happy?  It’s time for his supper and he runs to the garage waiting.  If you have dogs, you also know they have this amazing, innate sense of time.  But I fix a smaller than usual bowl of food with extra vitamins and all kinds of other healthy stuff thrown in to help in case he’s bruised.  After he finishes I let him rest in the kennel for a few hours. 

 Yellow Labrador Retriever - 2 years old

Later we go out for a walk and he takes off running down the hill to find his usual smelly spots.  The boy and I hike over to the pond with the lab out in front as usual.  I’m thinking about the day’s events. Thankfully the tires on the golf cart are big and soft, relatively speaking.  And they’ve been low on air and I just haven’t got around to filling them up.  And then I wonder, “Maybe I didn’t really run him over… maybe he just got nudged by the side or something?”  He’s no worse for wear and I’m thankful.  

But my thoughts are quickly answered as I catch up to him, and for the first time I see this faint image of a wide, black tire tread going right across his middle.  Damn. I did run over my dog.  On his birthday.

If that’s not enough to make you feel bad I don’t know what is.  But he’s okay, no bruising or any sign of stiffness.  And of course the Lab doesn’t hold it against me.  Which doesn’t make me feel any better. But that’s the thing about dogs, and Labs especially-they always want to please.  Now I have to add another goal to my list:  Don’t run over the dog.

In thinking about the last two years, I couldn’t ask for anything more in a family dog or a friend that what he has become.   And to see the smile on the boy’s face as he plays and wrestles with the dog is another joy I didn’t expect.  If I’ve had any misgivings about him, they revolve more around my knowledge and ability as his owner, much like reflecting on one’s ability as a parent.  At many levels perhaps that’s the greatest testament to the dog he is, and the human I’m still trying to become. 

I was looking for a better way to describe how I feel about this dog, but noted Field & Stream columnist and author Gene Hill describes it perfectly:

“He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. He has told me a thousand times over that I am his reason for being; by the way he rests against my leg; by the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile; by the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him. (I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me.)”

“When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags. Without him, I am only another man.  With him, I am all-powerful.  He is loyalty itself.  He has taught me the meaning of devotion. With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant. His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. He has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever – in case I need him. And I expect I will – as I always have. He is just my dog.”

Kuma the Shiba Inu

March 10th, 2008

Kuma the Shiba Inu is our mascot here at the Fox Haven Journal. He kind of looks like a fox, so he get’s to be the face of the blog. Of course he loves sleeping in the warm sun, even in the below picture that shows him in a less-than-dignified position! He’s had a very thick coat of fur this winter and is thinner than he looks. The large black “thing” on his collar is part of the “pet fence” to keep him from roaming too far. But he has the run of about 3 acres around the outside of the house, so he’s a happy little guy. If he gets too close to the boundary, it beeps at him. If he tries to go across (which he doesn’t anymore), it gives him a little “zap!” like static electricity. It works very well once it’s put in. We spent a week with a shovel, digging a 3 inch slot, and then a paint stick, burying about 300+ feet of pet fence wire inch-by-inch.

He tried to run across a few times though when we first put it up. And he succeeded… proudly wandering the fields and forests in the area until I caught up with him. But one time he got out, and then wanted to come back towards the house, but it wouldn’t let him because it kept beeping- so I found him sitting down by the pond. He wouldn’t come back even with a leash and his collar off!  I had to pick him up, and carry him all the way to the house up the hill. He seemed to like that very much…

If you want to read more about our little Shiba, last year I shared the story of how we found Kuma in Japan.

Shiba Inu sleeping in the sun

The Shiba’s Leaf Pile

March 3rd, 2008

Yesterday was amazing!  It was so warm I think we got more accomplished in one day than the whole month before.  And it was windy too, but just perfect for opening the windows and getting some fresh air.  One of the chores was sweeping/blowing the leaves out of the garage and driveway area. The way the house faces makes a perfect “wind eddy” for leaves to accumulate.  But trying to clean them up was more like other things you should not do in the wind (!) and they kept blowing back to where I started.  I finally satisfied myself with a measure of cleanliness.  For about 10 minutes.  After working on something else I came back to find that Kuma appreciates the leaves just fine, thank you very much.   He snuggled down to relax for a while.  It was funny- a great whirlwind began blowing leaves in circles all around his head.  He just stoically squinted his eyes and enjoyed the breeze.

Shiba Inu in a pile of leaves

Another notable event yesterday- the Spring Peepers emerged from hibernation and began calling.  I’ve been listening for them the past few weeks, but with the warmth of the weekend after rain, they came out early for spring.  It was nice listening to their calls- I may try to record them and put that here.  The critters are going to have to hunker down for another week or two because it turns cold again tomorrow with a snowstorm in the forecast!

Snowy Fun in Winter

February 1st, 2008

     We awoke to a snowy landscape, and one of those quiet days when it’s nice to enjoy being at home.  After a big breakfast, I spent a couple hours outside clearing the driveway with the tractor.   With enough wind, we have drifts at various places in the driveway, and I’m thankful the tractor really clears the snow.  Mom and the boy stayed inside baking fresh bread- yum!  But then it was time to play…  So as the sun came out we bundled up again to enjoy some fun in the snow. 

The Yellow Lab had some fun of his own… he loves the snow and ran around in circles as fast as he could, and then ran again for hundreds of yards kicking up the snow.  He was smiling the whole time!

Yellow lab running in the snow

“Look at me!” the boy says, enjoying the powdery snow. We pulled a sled around the property trying out the hills. 

Fun in the snow for a young boy

But fresh snow is always good for a snow angel!

Snow Angel

Our Labrador Retriever “pup” is so goofy… and look at him jump!  He leaps into the air and goes crazy chasing snowballs.  Now when you throw a snowball and it lands, well… in the snow, it’s kind of hard to find!  But the dog doesn’t know that- he tries to catch it, then runs in circles looking for it after it squishes into powder!  It’s so funny…

Yellow Lab jumps after snowball in winter

The Basset Hound and Shiba Inu watched the Labrador jumping after snowballs, wondering “What is he doing?!  Do they really taste that good?!”

Basset Hound and Shiba Inu watch the crazy Labrador

There’s something about sunlight and shadows on the snow.  It was a fun day and the landscape was beautiful.  

Winter afternoon

Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

September 12th, 2007

    The young pup is a rambunctious fool!  Well, sometimes so am I… but we won’t go there right now :)   The Yellow Labrador Retriever is growing up so fast, and he’s just bursting with unbridled energy and enthusiasm.  Admittedly, he’s getting a little harder to control, but we work on obedience training regularly.  He listens very well, but tests the limits at every turn… I hold him accountable every time and he seems to respond very well.  We are still struggling with “heel” however.  He does heel, but gets ahead and becomes distracted at times.  I probably don’t work on that skill enough, so we’ll have to fix that, and any tips or insight would be appreciated.  He seems to like pictures though!

Picture 1 - Yellow Labrador at 11 Months

   His retrieving work is coming along very well.  He’s a total nut some times… The other day I had him sit/stay while I walked closer to the pond, then called “come” and he came running like a bulldozer, leaped off a small stump and went sailing about ten feet through the air like SuperDog!  “Whump!” as he landed and crumpled to the ground… I was concerned that he would hurt himself, but he jumped up ready for more as I shook my head.  And this dog loves water like there’s no tomorrow. Here he shows off his style running up the hill from the pond.

 The unstoppable Labrador Retriever!

    We have also been working on hand signals for marked and unmarked retrieves.  Put him sitting half way between a pile of bumpers, and give the “back” or “over” signal to the pile.  Off he runs and brings it back… not too bad, but he doesn’t like giving up the bumper.  We’re working on that aspect too…  But I placed one about 75-100 yards out, then gave him the “back” to retrieve… he started searching, nose-to-the-ground, about half way there, and ran the wrong direction left.  I whistled and gave him an “over” and he took off the other way… as he got close to the line of the mark/bumper, I gave him a “back” and he turned and went out like a pro!  He found it and brought it back, and I was amazed… sheer luck at this point, but he is a really smart dog.  As usual, he simply lacks a good trainer!  But we’re both learning as that goes, and it’s pretty neat.   

Picture 2-Yellow Labrador Retriever at 11 months

 

    The other morning we were surprised by a large flock of Canada Geese passing through.  They honked and honked while landing, and as I walked towards them to get a picture they flew off, scolding me for interrupting their choice parking spot!  They’ll be moving around a lot more in the months ahead.

Canada Gees flock after landing on the pond one morning.

Yellow Labrador at 9 Months

July 3rd, 2007

Well the “pup” is growing bigger everyday… where’s the little puppy I brought home?!  He’s about 71 pounds now… amazing.  Last time I weighed him he was only 57 pounds- I think at 7 months.  He’s not going to get a lot bigger- his sire was about 85 pounds.  The “English” style Labrador Retrievers tend to be smaller than the “American” type of labs, but also a little more blocky and full-bodied.  He’s a charmer… and so full of energy now it’s incredible.  I took a week off from training retrieves in the pond.  Yesterday we started again when I launched a decoy across the pond. I didn’t intend for it to go that far- probably close to 100 yards.  He charged right in and swam almost to the other side, picked it up, and swam all the way back.  First time to swim that far!  I wondered if he would see the shoreline a few yards away on the other side, and get out of the water- maybe even run back on land. But he didn’t even think about it… at least not yet!   It’s not all cake and roses however… he’s getting more rambunctious, and testing me at every step.  He listens and does pretty well overall, but I need to be more consistent with his obedience training.  We have two other dogs, and when I let him run around he just goes nuts playing with them.  It’s important for him to run and get the exercise though.  My goals for the rest of the summer include dedicated training sessions with introducing decoys and multiple retrieves.  If all goes well, I should be able to take him on his first duck hunt in late fall.  He’s such a loving dog though, and very smart.  He’s got me pretty well figured out!

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 9 months

Sunday Fun

March 12th, 2007

What a day…  so much to do, so little time.  But the warm weather… it makes the soul rejoice!  The young one wanted to do some “log walking” again, so this time it was on with the shorts and tennis shoes in case he did fall in the water.  He walked across the log two or three times and never came close to falling.  He was so excited each time he did it.  It may not look like much- but it’s about 3 feet deep on one side (up to his chest), and very cold water!  The log is old and rotted… it came from the other end of the pond about 3 years ago.  He would call it “the monster tree” because it was a dead snag standing up in the corner.  Then it fell into the pond one day and floated here to the other side.  And yes- he’s wearing his favorite Cardinal t-shirt… #5 Albert Pujols!  

Balancing act across the log

I kept busy planting and cutting… and when I needed a break I came to the house to lie on the warm grass in the sun.  I wasn’t there five minutes when everyone saw me… they decided to have a dog-pile party on top of Dad… literally.  Young one’s mother took the picture as he piled on too… I finally had to get back to work to get some rest!  Soon after, Mom went to help out with the local sausage supper at the church;  we joined her later in the day to have a good supper of hearty sausage and all the fixin’s. 

Everyone jumps on Dad