Someday my pit will come

The heart wants what the heart wants.

My heart has decided it wants a blue pit bull.

When I searched Google images for a picture of a blue pit, I found one named Isis!

Isis

Courtesy of smphotographyca‘s tumblr

Pretty sure she belongs to someone.

In 2009, when our Isis was still alive, before I had any plans to write a memoir, let alone a dog memoir, I started a novel called Fight Like a Lady, intending it to be entirely unautobiographical. Therefore, the dog in the story was not a female German shepherd named Isis, it was a male pit bull named Apollo.

As I turn my attention back to this novel, which has evolved to feature several pit bull characters in addition to Apollo, my heart seems to think I cannot write another fictional scene until I get my hands on an actual pit bull.

Excepting Apollo, the pits in my novel are rescued fighting dogs. Don’t think I don’t know that I can’t very well go to a shelter and say, “Excuse me, I’d like to adopt a pit bull because I’m writing a book about dog fighting.”

Last week I saw a blue pit on Petfinder and got it into my head that she belonged with us. Perfect timing to bring home a new dog, I thought, since I plan to work from home until the Skagit River bridge is fixed.

Possibly, this was a diversion from actually writing anything… but I told myself it was just the boost I needed to get me back at the keyboard.

This pretty pitty turned out not to be the one for us, but I was torn at first. Neither Rob nor I fell in love with her right away, but I didn’t know for sure about Mia, after all, and what a mistake that would have been if we hadn’t brought her home with us.

There was less risk with this dog, though, because the rescue organization has a trial period, and she’s living in a loving foster home that already turned down some potential adopters. Not the same situation that Mia was in.

Fortunately, the decision wasn’t up to us, it was up to Leo and Mia. We let our dogs, one at a time, into the pit bull’s backyard and after a cursory sniff, they paid very little attention to each other. A few days earlier, Leo romped with a larger, darker male pit bull at the dog park. That’s really what we’re looking for: another playmate for our doggies.

We left, somewhat relieved that we hadn’t brought the wrong dog home.

Later that evening, I got a call that Bark and Lunge is a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest. Maybe that’s the boost I needed to get back behind the keyboard!

Companion piece to Bark and Lunge

Leo reads Mia a story

Leo reads Mia a story about a brave German shepherd named Maggie.

Just finished Suspect, Robert Crais’ best work!

Obviously, I’m biased, because it’s about a German shepherd.

My mom introduced me to Crais’ Elvis Cole detective novels many moons ago. I’ve read them all and the standalones as well. They’re terrific.

This one really spoke to me. Not just because it’s about a dog. I’ve read a loooot of books about dogs the past several years. I have extremely high standards for dog books.

Suspect is the yin to the yang of my memoir about Isis.

bedtime story2

Remember the other day when I said I should be reading stuff that contributes to my growth as a writer? I was all set to read Dora: A Headcase when I got a box of books from my mom in the mail.

Both my mom and my stepmom told me I’d love Suspect, because it’s about a dog, so I thought I’d just whip through it before I got back to my “serious” reading.

Remember the other day when I said that whatever I’m reading is what I’m meant to be reading?

Suspect is about a cop who lost his partner in a shootout, and a military dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan.

Some of the chapters are written from the dog’s point of view, but not in a cutesy way. Crais nails the way German shepherds feel about their people. (I know, because Isis told me.) He also depicts so accurately what it is like to live with a German shepherd, what it’s like to drive with one sitting astride the console between the seats, scanning the view out the front windshield.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are an extremely entertaining and compelling pair of detectives, but I can’t say that I relate to either of them. Cole is the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Detective,” after all.  He’s a trifle cocky. And as much as I love Pike, he’s kind of a sociopath. So it was refreshing to read about inexperienced K9 Officer Scott James.

I didn’t think this book would have anything to do with my work revising Bark and Lunge, but oh, how it does!

Do you ever read a book and think, “That character is so totally me, if I had superpowers”? Or “if I were a princess” … or “if I were a spy”?

Maggie, the German shepherd in Suspect, is so totally Isis if Isis had gone into the service. All of the things that Isis did that were scary, we see Maggie do as part of her job. I loved reading another author – a  suspense author – describe a German shepherd barking and lunging at a suspicious person, and how it feels to be on the human end of a German shepherd’s leash.

Crais also does a masterful job conveying Maggie’s body language and how she alerts to smells. Early on, I wished there were pictures. I wanted to see Maggie beyond the silhouette on the cover. Turned out, I didn’t need photos, because she is written so well. (Also, I just imagined her looking like a cross between Isis and Mia).

bedtime story3

What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.

My very own Rez Dog

Do you ever wonder if domestic dogs would be happier if they weren’t confined by our homes? I keep my dogs inside when we’re not home because I’m afraid of them escaping or getting kidnapped or digging under the fence or annoying the neighbors by barking. They’re safer inside. When we’re home, we let them play outside as long as they want, which winds up being only as long as we’re outside playing with them.

Leo’s never known a life other than this, but Mia was “cage free” for at least part of her life before she came to us. She shows no sign of missing her freedom.

I almost retweeted an article I read the other day about stray/feral dogs on Indian reservations. I almost wrote, “If it weren’t for us, Mia would have ended up like these poor reservation dogs with a life expectancy of only two years.”

But that didn’t quite ring true. Mia had a home before she found us. Two, actually. So we’ve been told. For some reason I cannot begin to understand, her most recent owners reportedly left her behind when they moved away. Mia was being informally fostered at a home on an Indian reservation. Not the same as running in a pack, biting people, and having to fend for her own food and shelter. The family brought her inside at night, where she slept under a little girl’s bed. Terrible life we rescued her from, right?

Mia on the day we got her.

Mia on the day we got her.

I remember wondering why Mia’s foster family even bothered to find another home for her. Don’t dogs just roam freely on the rez?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks rez dogs are leading the life. This article in Indian Country Today declares that rez dogs will rule the world one day.

I always like seeing off-leash dogs on the reservations I frequent, but then, they never strike me as stray, homeless or feral. Surely these aren’t the dogs with a lifespan of two years. None has threatened to bite me. For the most part, they seem less reactive than the dogs I raised from puppies. Mia is less reactive than the dogs I raised from puppies.

So there’s something to be said for letting dogs roam free: no barrier frustration. And two excellent reasons to keep them confined: their safety and the safety of people. Roaming dogs can get hit by cars or abused, and people could get bitten.

Whether there is a rez dog “problem” or not, I can’t say. At least one reservation around here requires dogs to be fenced or tied up, and according to part two of the above article, a rescue group is finding homes for strays on the Crow reservation.

Appropriate dog park behavior or party foul?

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo's counsel at the dog park.

A miniature German shepherd (that could be a breed) seeks Leo’s counsel at the dog park.

We haven’t been to the off-leash park in a while, so we thought we’d go Sunday during the Super Bowl, when we’d have it mostly to ourselves.

Our favorite park isn’t fully fenced, but the play area is between a really steep hill and a waste treatment facility. One trail leads down the steep hill, and another leads in from the parking area. None of my dogs have ever tried to escape, although a smitten Leo did try to go home with a couple of pugs once.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought we’d have the place to ourselves. We saw a middle-aged gent walking with a border collie and Australian shepherd. Mia already was off leash, but we usually keep Leo harnessed up until we’re in full view of the play area. I consider it bad dog park manners to let a dog haul ass into the fray before the other people and dogs can see its human companion.

The man and dogs were on their way out the other end of the park, and Rob said, “Should we wait until they’re gone before we unleash Leo?” And I don’t know why, but I said, “Nah, just let him go.”

Possibly, I wanted Leo to have a chance to greet a couple of other dogs, since he hasn’t gotten to hang with any but Mia since last summer. Possibly, I didn’t want to give him the chance to start barking, like he does when he’s on leash and sees another dog. Maybe I thought that guy would be happy to see a couple of German shepherds on this bleak and rainy Super Bowl Sunday at the park.

Whatever, we were in an off-leash dog park, so we let our perfectly friendly 95-pound German shepherd off leash. He loped over to the other dogs to say, “What’s up?”

The border collie tucked her tail between her legs and hid behind a park bench for a second, before bolting away from her owner and toward us on the path, Leo in hot pursuit.

She zipped past us like a bullet and zoomed up the trail back toward the parking area.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before,” I said, as I weighed the odds of Leo following the dog all the way out of the park, into the street to who knows where. “Leo!” He, of course, ignored me and kept running after the border collie

The man called his dog’s name, but that critter was gone. We could see Leo through the trees on the path. I looked at Rob, “You better go. Run.”

Rob trotted off in Leo’s direction, but perfect angel that he is, our boy realized the error of his ways (or else the border collie was so far gone he forgot what he was chasing), and he came back. The man passed us, looking, I would say, annoyed. Not terrified that his dog had just run away and might get hit by a car, and not overtly hostile toward us for chasing his dog away.

He said, “She’s just a little puppy.” Hmm. Puppy maybe, but not that little. I’ve seen full-grown border collies that size. He said the same thing to Rob, then trudged up the path after his dog. Was that his excuse for lack of voice control over her, or was it his explanation for why she ran screaming from Leo? Perhaps both.

In hindsight, yes, it would have been better to keep Leo leashed until the man and his dogs were out of sight, since they were leaving anyway. But we were at an off-leash dog park. Dogs are supposed to chase each other. How were we supposed to know the border collie would actually leave the park? Even if I had better voice control of Leo and he came right back to me instead of following the border collie up the path, that wouldn’t have kept the border collie from running off. But… she wouldn’t have run off if Leo hadn’t been chasing her.

As usual, my concern is that another dog owner will blame the German shepherd (and me as the negligent owner) for instigating a problem. I worry that this man thinks Leo chased his dog out of the park. In my mind, that’s not what happened, but I’m biased.

So I put it to you, readers, and not just because I want assurance that Leo and I aren’t responsible for this dog running away. Did Leo display normal, appropriate dog park manners? Are we to blame? I mean, even if the guy hoped to be the only one there, it’s reasonable to expect that a dog might come running up to you at the dog park, right?

I really hope that guy caught up to his dog.

The Accidental Teacher Dog

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia is perfectly happy entertaining herself, thank you very much.

Mia and I helped socialize an 11-month-old Great Dane today.

Back when Leo was a puppy and needed lots of stimulation, I sometimes took him to a large ball field at lunchtime hoping to find like-minded dog parents with suitable playmates for him. We also took him to doggie socials on weekends, but since he couldn’t play with Isis at home, and there were no dog parks near my work, this was my best weekday option.

A handful of times we found dogs to play with. The rest of the time, I threw tennis balls to him with a Chuck-It.

Now that Leo is a big boy, and NSFW, I take Mia to that ball field when the weather’s mild. We don’t care if there are dogs to play with or not, and she doesn’t even let me throw her the ball much. I chuck it once, then she runs around with it in her mouth while I eat my lunch. Maybe she’ll drop it while she poops and I can get another throw or two in there, but the point is, she likes the fresh air and chomping on the rubber ball. (We stopped using tennis balls since they became single-use items – she’d destroy them with one chomp).

Sometimes we see another dog way on the other side of the field, but Mia doesn’t run away from me to greet them, not the way Leo would. I’m aware in a shift in my attitude. I would rather not have strange dogs or their people approach me to play. I don’t know their dogs, Mia doesn’t need the socialization, and I have far too much experience with volatile dog interactions.

Today, I saw a man walking a large black dog in my direction. Mia was off doing what she does and wouldn’t even have noticed if the dog hadn’t come within 15 feet of her. As they got close, Mia trotted up to the dog, which I could tell was a Great Dane and not very old.

I delivered my expected, cliched, yet meaningless line of dialogue, “Is your dog friendly?”

The man said, “Yes. I just wanted to come up to talk to you first in case she runs up to your dog, which she probably will.”

And I’m thinking, please just unhook your dog’s leash from her awful prong collar, because the dogs are sniffing each other, and Mia’s starting to dance around and bark. I recognize this as play behavior, but I don’t know his dog, and really, I haven’t seen Mia play with very many other dogs besides Leo, and certainly none restricted by a leash. Who knows what could happen?

I call Mia to me, and she complies, having dropped her orange ball right next to where the man and dog are standing, so I can’t even throw it to her.

After he unleashes his dog, the pair go off and running. Mia’s barking, and her hackles rise a little. I’m not sure how much fun she’s having.

“She doesn’t really know her boundaries,” the man says of his dog.

And I think, well, Mia will certainly let her know if she oversteps them.

I retrieve the ball and throw it and both dogs run after it. Mia wins. Then she drops it and the Great Dane grabs it and runs circles around the ball field, reminding me quite a bit of Leo, gleefully frolicking after winning the toy.

The man and his lady friend say, Wow, that’s the first time she’s ever shown interest in a ball. And I worry that Mia won’t find the Great Dane’s victory lap as adorable as I do, so I get a blue ball from the car.

Now each dog has a ball, and the Great Dane is really gnawing at hers. Granted, Mia’s jaw power probably exceeds the Dane puppy’s by about a million, and she hasn’t caused any damage to the orange one after multiple uses, but I start to worry that this strange dog will destroy the blue ball I very kindly lent her.

A few times, the Dane gets too close to Mia, and Mia lets her know with the snarl/bark (snark) that I recognize from hearing it directed at Leo on a regular basis. It means, “Back off, buddy. This is my ball.”

The Dane snarks back once, but then does then back off, respecting Mia’s boundaries. The couple seems troubled. “Oh, that’s not good.”

I’m not sure if they were concerned about their own dog’s behavior, or if they were worried by Mia’s possessiveness over the ball, or if they were just ready to go, but they moved on a few minutes later.

All in all, I thought the experience was completely positive and educational for the other dog. For a puppy who “doesn’t really know her boundaries,” she just learned how to interact with a mature, dominant female who didn’t want to share her ball. You’re welcome.

No matter what they thought about me and Mia, I related to this couple looking for a way to exercise and stimulate their puppy. There are no clear rules of engagement for people or dogs in off-leash situations, and even if there were, most people would either be ignorant of them or ignore them on purpose. I was sad to read The Fur Mom’s blog post about the decline of the charmingly named Strawberry Fields For Rover dog park in Marysville. It’s so hard to trust other dog owners, never mind their dogs!

Pet Blogger Challenge

Rather than have an existential crisis about whether Rhymes with Safari counts as a dog blog, I’m gonna just jump in and participate in GoPetFriendly’s Pet Blogger Challenge.

me and doggies

1. When did you begin your blog?

I started blogging in 2002, when I was living in Prague and working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

This was before Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t even know what a blog was until my friend Chelsea told me she started one. At the time, I posted whatever random musings I had during the day, much the way we all use Facebook and Twitter now. I also posted links to funny things on the Internet, and commented on the international news events I covered at my job.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Not at all. You’ll notice that the above description has nothing to do with pets. My fella and I got our first dog, Isis, in 2006. For a few years, I blogged fairly infrequently, but when I did, it was usually about Isis. I posted lots of  pictures of her with soccer balls.

Isis died in 2011. I have written a memoir about Isis’s life, and am starting the process of getting that published.

Now my blog focuses on the antics of my delightful muses Leo and Mia.

4. How often do you post?

A goal I feel I can meet is to post at least once a week. I would like to post more often.

5. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

As the spirit moves me. I find it hard to stick to “dog blog” topics only, so I also write about pop culture a lot, books and authors, food and fitness.

6. How much time do you spend writing your blog per week? How much time visiting other blogs? Share your  tips for staying on top of it all.

I find myself thinking of topics and mentally writing blog entries throughout the week, and spend less than an hour actually typing up each post. But then, I write pretty fast. I could never charge by the hour for my services!

I visit other blogs all the time, as part of my regular social media diet. Every time I scroll through Facebook and Twitter, I find lots that I want to read. When I’m on a desktop computer, I’ll click all of them and read at my leisure, but it can be tough on a mobile device. Especially when the wifi is temperamental.

7. How do you measure the success of a post and of your blog in general (comments, shares, traffic)?

All of the above. Mostly I look at my stats in WordPress. I’m learning to use hashtags in Twitter to stimulate sharing. Last fall, I got more “likes” on my posts about a trip to Russia (which did not include the dogs) than I did on my most heartfelt dog posts. I started to wonder if I should be writing a travel blog instead of a dog blog.

8. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one issue you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

I would like to attract more readers. Can I do that by writing about other topics besides my dogs, or will I lose my cred as a dog blogger?

Please subscribe and/or follow me on Twitter: @KariNeumeyer

9. What goals do you have for your blog in 2013?

More readers! Post 2-3 times a week. Lose 25 pounds. Sell my memoir! (OK, those last two are more personal goals than blog goals.)

~~
Pet Blogger Challenge Jan. 10
The Pet Blogger Challenge was started by Amy at Take Paws– Go Pet Friendly and Edie of Will My Dog Hate Me? as a way for pet bloggers to meet each other, learn about each other’s goals for our blogs and find support for our blogging. This is the 3rd year and the number of bloggers joining in grows each year.

This is a Blog Hop, but WordPress won’t allow the Javascript to include the links. Please visit Take Paws to see the complete list of Pet Blogger Challenge participants.

The Next Big Thing

Well, this is interesting timing. My friend Cami Ostman tagged me in the following author meme. I just created a page for my memoir, Bark and Lunge, and wondered if anyone would notice the new link over there to the left. Is it premature to publicize a not-yet-published work? Too late now.

What is the working title and genre of your book?

Bark and Lunge: The Isis Story

Where did the idea for the book come from?

My dog Isis died suddenly at only four years old. I was taking a fiction class at the time, and I don’t think she knows this, but Cami had guest taught the night before Isis died. At the time, the thought of writing a memoir hadn’t crossed my mind. The next day, I realized I was meant to write the story of Isis’s life.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version of the book?

Claire Danes as me. Matt Damon as Rob. Casting Isis will be the challenge.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Bark and Lunge is a love story between a woman and a beautiful, brilliant, and aggressive German shepherd.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency or publisher?

We’ll see.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

One year.

What other works compare to your book?

I call it Marley and Me meets Merle’s Door for the generation who raised their dogs under the influence of the Dog Whisperer. It also compares to Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou by Steve DunoA Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz, and Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill.

What or who inspired you to write this book?

Isis, obviously. Also my teacher Laura Kalpakian and fellow memoirists Tele Aadsen, Pam Helberg, and Jolene Hanson. And my mom.

What else about your book might pique interest?

There are a lot of dog memoirs out there, but I haven’t read any that take as careful a look at the roots of dog behavior. Bark and Lunge explores why a dog might behave aggressively. During this tragic love story between me and my dog, I experiment with an array of dog training methods until I arrive at the one that worked for us: positive reinforcement.

smiley bird

Tagged Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Laurie Frankel

Andi Brown

Katie Woodzick

Kelsye Nelson

Give doggies the gift of mental stimulation

I celebrated Christmas with my babies this weekend because I leave tomorrow for my traditional Los Angeles festivities.

the tree

I showed a lot of restraint by only buying the kids one present. To Share. Am I stingy or what?

Since it’s so dark, wet and cold around here, I’ve had to find creative ways to keep the dogs entertained. I’ve been feeding them their evening meal in puzzle toys. Based on the concept that our dogs’ ancestors used to spend a lot more time hunting for their meals, food puzzles make domesticated doggies work for their food.

According to Marty Becker, DVM, “Eating out of food puzzles takes memory, skill and manipulation, all of which help our dogs find healthier, less-destructive ways to release pent-up energy.”

Nina Ottosson’s are highly regarded. The plastic ones are durable and easy to clean. I consider $30 to $50 to be pretty expensive for a “dog toy,” but my judgment may be clouded by the fact that regular toys don’t last very long in German shepherd mouths. We’ve had the Tornado and the Brick for a few years now, and I consider them well worth the price.

Recently, we acquired the less expensive, but equally durable and easy-to-clean Dog It Mind Games, which can be played three different ways. The spin-a-whirl version seems to exercise my dogs’ minds the best.

After a few weeks of feeding them in the same three puzzles, I worried that the novelty had worn off and my kids weren’t reaping the same stimulating benefits. So I bought them a brand new puzzle for Christmas. Made by Aikiou, it’s shaped like a paw! I picked it up at our local PetStop, and was so excited about it, I told the salesgirl that I might even give it to the dogs that night. “They don’t know when Christmas is,” I explained.

Again, I showed restraint, wrapping it and putting it under the tree. This is the first Christmas that Leo’s had free roam of the house. Could he be trusted not to mess with wrapped presents under the tree? After all, he’s been surprisingly tolerant of all our decorations. He only pulls ornaments off the tree when I’m sitting right there and he wants my attention.

Turns out, no, he can’t be trusted. How could I have thought otherwise? Within two minutes he had a corner of wrapping paper and the cardboard box underneath torn open. I confiscated the present and waiting patiently until tonight, when I gave him permission to tear it open tonight. He sniffed it and wandered away.

Typical. Last night he proved that he only wants what he’s not supposed to have when Grandma gave both doggies Crunchkins edible cards. Mia enjoyed hers immediately.

mia crunchkins

Leo wasn’t sure what to do with his, and abandoned it in search of some dirty dishes to lick. Later, he pawed through the cardboard box of used wrapping paper to find the plastic wrap that the rawhide card came in, because that’s what he wanted to chew. When we got the dogs home, Leo took a renewed interest in the edible card, running around the house, looking for a place to hide it so that Mia couldn’t take it from him.

“Leo, just eat it! That’s the only way to keep it safe!”

In the middle of the night, Mia got a hold of it and noisily ate it on the bedroom floor.

So. After I unwrapped my dogs’ gift myself, and filled it and the other puzzles with their dinner, they enjoyed their shared Christmas gift. I especially like this one, because, like the Dog Tornado, it holds a lot of food.

Leo puzzleChristmas really is all about the children, don’t you think?

Leo