Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Love my Big Dogs

I have three English mastiffs. They are all girls. Miranda is the eldest, she’ll be 9 this May 24. She’s my first, and I acquired her as a puppy when she was a constipated 10 pounds.
She’s brindle, her dad was a big brindle boy, and her mom was an apricot mastiff named Red Girl. Cricket is the middle child. She was a rescue. She’s also brindle, and is a little on the small side at about 140 pounds. She’s 8 years old. She used to be skinny, but has chubbed out since her hysterectomy due to pyometra. Kylie is 4, and is the biggest of the three – she weighs about 185 pounds. She was Canadian Grand Champion, but is retired from showing – her breeders wanted a home for her where she would be well looked after and not bred since she may have a heart murmur.
They have their own roles here on the farm. First of all, they are all cops. They intervene whenever there is a problem among other animals, cat spats being the most frequent. But they’ve all interceded between me and the occasional angry or defensive cow when we’ve walked too close to a herd of cows with calves.

Miranda’s special role is den mother and personal bodyguard. She chose her name when we went to see The Tempest at an outdoor production that summer. I said "Miranda" and considered that name for her. Her head turned and she looked right at me. "Miranda" I said and she came over and gave me a lick. She watches out for everything. She’s a very philosophical, altruistic dog. She has alerted me to excessive smoke from the woodstove, to water overflowing the sink, to a fox in the barn, to escaped chickens and llamas. In the middle of the night she routinely wakes me up, escorting me to the door, to let in one of the five cats who have gone outside and want inside. She keeps track of everyone who belongs here. She’s not the “alpha” dog in the traditional sense. She’s more like the vice president. She raises the alarms first and makes the other dogs run out and check, while she stays back near the house guarding me. She gets dibs on the sleeping spots and as my mastiff manual says, “can be difficult to dislodge” .
Here’s a story about Miranda. One day I was feeling blue and sitting on the sofa, just a little sad. Miranda was sitting with me. She got up off the sofa and left the room. She came back a little later with my pair of slippers in her mouth, which she put down at my feet. I thanked her and put them on and we started to do chores or something. Now, I have never taught her anything about slippers. I’ve not taught her to fetch (she taught herself that when we used to go throw tennis balls into the lake), so what she did was not “fetching”, but “bringing”. She brought them to me out of her own volition (she has a lot of ideas). Anyway, about six months later I was telling this story to some girls at work, which brought it to mind. I went home that day, and I said, “Miranda, remember that day when I was feeling blue, and you went to get me my slippers? Well, that was really nice of you, and I just wanted to say thank you to you again” and I gave her a kiss. And guess what? About 10 minutes later, she appeared at my side with my slippers again! The hair went up on the back of my neck when it happened, as it’s doing now as I type this.
Cricket’s role is Driving Dog. She was a rescue and for whatever reason has not become as proficient with language as Miranda. Whereas Miranda loves words for the sake of knowing what they mean, and loves to acquire vocabulary, Cricket’s understanding of human language is purely pragmatic. With her, it’s more the canine language, a lot of meaningful glances and body language. She wears a harness and seat belt in the car since she broke the dashboard in my old Nissan by landing on it with her paw when I stopped suddenly. It only makes sense to belt up a dog that is riding in the car --- I’ve heard of little dogs being killed in rear-enders by being flung into the windshield. Cricket’s harness is known to her as her “bra” and when we’re going to go in the car I ask her to find her bra, and she always can – she walks up to wherever it’s hanging, making sure I’m following her, and then points to it. She loves to come with me wherever I go, and she rides “shotgun”, yes I love “packin’ heat” haha. I’ve been waved through a couple of check stops when she’s been with me. I’d like to get a bumper sticker for her that says DOG IS MY CO-PILOT. Cricket is the traditional “alpha” among the dogs, she gets first dibs on food anyway. She falls asleep sometimes with her tongue sticking out.
She loves cats and will often sleep with Teddy.

Kylie is the newbie. She’s been here a year. She does not like going in the car, mostly because she does not want to return to her previous lifestyle of travelling to shows and living in a kennel. Don’t get me wrong, she was raised very well, but now she has her own daybed and sofa and really does enjoy being in the house with her new pack. Her job is night patrol, and every night she asks to go out, and patrols the entire yard site, from the driveway and hedges back up to the corrals, chicken run and horse pastures. Kylie is big into lovin’, and at night her favourite thing is to curl up on the sofa with her head on my lap, where she grunts in pleasure until she falls asleep. The other night I was lying on the sofa watching the Colbert Report, and she furtively (as furtive as a 200 pound mastiff can) sneaked up and lay on top of me, all along my body, putting her head on my chest. Well I was cold, she was warm, you know how that goes. Sometimes it’s a three dog night. She loves all the animals, though at first was a little afraid of walking near the llamas.

The girls spend all their time with me. They are in the house if I’m the house, they stay in the house when I’m not home. They’re easy to live with, and if they’re well fed they’re happy to just curl up somewhere soft and snooze. But they wake up at the slightest hint of a walk or an intruder, keeping one eye and one ear open for fun or trouble.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Prairie Spring

Today I had to take a trip to a town east of here. I passed through Daysland, Strome, and Killam

where I saw this sign. Yes, Alberta, home of the ironic redneck.

From here, we proceeded to the next town, and then took a few detours to enjoy the sights of the prairie in the spring. Again an abandoned farmhouse, this time occupied by cattle.

For some reason it brought to mind the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his (and Poe's) penchant for the word "tarn". Many of the gothic buildings inhabited by his characters had "tarns" nearby. I've never heard a living person refer to a pond as a "tarn". It sounds a mite pretentious to me. Nevertheless here is a fine example of a gothic house with a tarn accompaniment.

You can imagine a jilted heroine living out her dry virgin days in this house until finally throwing herself into the pond after she's spent the family fortune buying all the melancholy sheet music she could order from Sears.

The willows are red in the spring and fall.