Monday, July 28, 2014

Security unit

I always feel like I should follow my posts about Thomas with a post about The Girls. This one will be brief, but it serves to remind us that we should never underestimate the intelligence, love and devotion of our feline friends—even if they are far less demonstrative than our canine friends.

Last week I decided the time had finally come to bathe Thomas. Although we have jogged through a fair share of sprinklers on our walks at 5:30a.m., he has never been officially bathed in the six months that I've had him. I understood his fear of hoses and of being confined, so I have put off that chore. But oh my Buddha how dirty this dog was, and he actually resembled the Peanuts character, Pigpen, as he walked through the house with dirt and hair swirling around him.

The Plan was to wait until The Girls were in the bedroom deep in sleep for their afternoon nap, then bring Thomas in and put him in the guest bathroom tub (a tiny, still pink 1950's job). I put a few inches of lukewarm water in first, then brought Thomas in, lifted him into the tub, stepped in with him and slid the shower doors closed. I soaked a soft rag with water and began wiping him down. He didn't like it, but at least he stood there compliantly.

All went well until he decided to turn around, at which point he slipped and slid down sideways, after which he panicked and started to claw his way out any way he could. Several seconds of complete bedlam ensued, with Thom slipping and splashing and me repeating his name over and over, trying to get him to stop thrashing and hold still. Finally he did, giving up and allowing his body to slide down into the water. Perfect. He lay curled at the end of the tub while I rinsed him all over. (No soap this time. I'm not crazy.)

With the completion of the task, all I had to do was roll back the shower door. He hopped out onto the mat, I dried him off, and all we had to do was get him back outside before he shook water everywhere. Yes! I opened the bathroom door to facilitate our escape, but we were met with the most intimidating security squad I've ever faced—two small cats puffed up like Halloween kitties, backs arched, ears back, mouths open with spits, hisses, growls and snarls like I've never heard (well, at least from Purrl; Sug exhibits this behavior on a regular basis). Oh no! I slammed the door closed again, looked at Thom and burst out laughing. Having heard the commotion and convinced I was finally being torn limb from limb by that huge red wolf-like creature I'd insisted on bringing into our home, The Girls had come to my rescue. (Oh, and if you don't think felines are capable of protecting their humans, you've got to read the amazing memoir Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper—especially if you're a cat lover!)

Somehow through the closed door I managed to convince The Girls that I was fine, and they eventually backed away, waiting in the hallway but allowing us enough space to exit the bathroom and get outside where Thomas, of course, ran and rolled in the grass and unfurled his beautiful flag of a tail and shook to his heart's content.

I gotta say, if anyone ever tries to come at me, I'm pretty sure it will be my cats and not my dog coming to the rescue. They are quite the formidable pair!

The Girls in a much calmer state

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How is Sgt, Thomas Tibbs, you ask?

Stay tuned after today's blog post for a brief commercial message.

Thomas is doing just fine these days. It's hard to believe that I last posted about him in February. He has made amazing progress since then, most notably now wagging his tail for me (which took four months) and taking a treat from my hand (which took five). Of course, he's still the world's most quirky dog, but that's okay. I love him just as he is, and I don't mind making a few accommodations for him. Well, maybe more than a few. But still okay. Below is a brief update on his progress (and if you haven't read the previous posts about Thom, you might want to click here):

What I mean by quirky:
He's still nocturnal, and I'm not referring to sleeping patterns; he's happy and awake and alive if it's dark outside. As the light comes on, he becomes more and more wary and afraid and shut down. His ears literally begin to droop as dawn turns into day. Thus, I find myself running around the back yard at 4:30 in the morning doing dog bows with him as he huffs and jumps happily, using a stage whisper (so as not to wake the neighbors or their barky dog) to tell him, "Good boy! Good job!" if he runs to retrieve his chew bone. While he will now wag his tail at 4:30 in the afternoon when I feed him (yes! progress!), he will not play at that hour. At least, not until the sun goes down.

Anything out of place makes him anxious. He is learning to come in the house by himself (without being led in on the leash), which, again, is great progress. But if he sees anything out of place—a pillow on the floor, a chair moved to a different spot—he will turn around at the door and trot back to the safety of the side yard, at which point I have to go get him and guide him in to show him nothing will hurt him.

He will sit calmly in the family room while I vacuum the house, will stand in the doorway of the garage while I start the truck, slowly wagging his tail to ask if he can go. Neither the dishwasher nor the garbage disposal scares him. But if he hears a motorcycle start up—even if it's blocks away—he bolts for the side yard in terror. If he sees a motorcycle parked at the curb while we are out walking, he has to be coaxed around it.

His favorite spot to sleep is now the extra cab of my Ford Ranger. When I first began taking him places in the truck, he would become anxious and often get car sick. But he has slowly learned to love sitting in that protected back area between the seats and the wall of the cab, his face turned toward the wind blowing in from the open passenger side window. The loud explosions around the Fourth of July (which are still being heard in my neighborhood) were terrifying for him. One night recently when we came home from a long, leisurely walk in Mt. Baldy, a very loud boom resounded just as he was getting out of the truck in the garage (which is also something he does by himself now). He turned around and dove back in and didn't come out for over an hour. No problem. He's still sleeping part of the night indoors and part outside, so I leave the doors of the truck open in case he wants to duck for cover.

He steals things. Specifically, my gardening gloves. The first time he did this, I didn't realize what had happened (Now where did I leave those gloves...?) until the next day when I found a pile of dog vomit in the back yard and, as I cleaned it up, found both gloves. He had taken them off the patio table, ingested them, then (thank heavens) regurgitated them. Now, there were several other items on that table: His leash. His brush. His Nyla bone still smelling of peanut butter. His Kong toy that is hollow inside so that I can put treats in it (which he loves to play with to extract the treats, even though he still doesn't know how to play with toys). But he ignored all those goodies and took my gloves. So I have been very, very careful since then to always leave my gloves up on the workbench in the garage where he can't reach them. Until today. Today while we were working in the back yard—me heartily pulling weeds, Thom contentedly curled in a corner—the phone rang. I ran to get it, pulling off my gloves and setting them, yes, on that same table with his Kong toy, etc. while I went to answer it. Ten minutes later I returned to find one glove missing. Thomas was still in his corner. I looked everywhere in the yard for the glove, thinking I might have dropped it. I even made him get up to see if he had taken it to chew on and then curled back up on it. It was nowhere to be found. In the hour it took me to mow the lawn, I considered my options: I could wait for him to puke it up. I could make him throw up. I could call my vet to get his opinion. I was still mulling these things over as I went to check on Thom, and as I stood talking to him, I kicked some loose dirt with the toe of my shoe. A finger emerged. Well, not an actual finger, but the index finger of the glove. When he'd seen me set the gloves down, he'd gotten up, trotted over, taken one and trotted back to his corner to hide it for later. Son of a gun. There are just certain things—my gloves, BunnyTibbs—that he feels are rightfully his, and he will reclaim them if he gets the chance.

He still refuses to come when I call him. (I say "refuses" because I'm pretty sure he knows what I want, he just doesn't see any good reason to comply.) But he has gotten better and better on the leash. When we first began walking together, he would bolt through doorways or gateways and around corners or up onto curbs. We worked on it constantly, and I finally began teaching him the command, "Walk slow, Thom." Doing so was serendipitous. Just as he began to become proficient in responding to it, I tore a tendon in my ankle. At first I was devastated because I assumed we'd be unable to take walks for a while. But a day later we were limping around the culdesac, Thom on "walk slow" and me hobbling beside him at a snail's pace. Yes, it probably took much longer for the tendon to heal, but I just wasn't willing to give up our daily walk. Now when I tell him "Walk slow," he immediately slows his usual trotting pace to that of an old arthritic woman, which is basically what I am these days. I use this command to take care of my ankle when we are ascending or descending steep trails. He will continue the slow stroll until I tell him, "Ok, thank you, Thom," at which point he resumes his standard trot.

He still has a long way to go in terms of recovery. I know there are memories that still haunt him. Sometimes in his sleep, he barks or emits a low, ominous growl. But he has never uttered a sound while awake—even when all the dogs in the neighborhood are barking, even if that pesky little black cat is taking a swipe at him again. If people pass us while we're walking, he still cowers and tries to move to the side, tucking his tail so far between his legs it touches his belly. When friends stop by, he runs outside, remaining in his safe corner until he's certain there are no strangers present. But he has slowly warmed to my son and my friend Doug, so I see a time in the future when he will begin to trust other humans more readily.

My favorite time of day with him is early in the morning, just after he's had his breakfast, when it is still dark and he is feeling as happy and goofy as a much-loved dog can feel, trotting around the yard with his tail and head held high. My second favorite time is in the afternoon when he lies sprawled beside my desk as I write (as he is right now, matter of fact), softly sighing in his sleep. Just his presence here makes my life better.

And now for that brief commercial message: If you have enjoyed reading about Sgt. Thomas Tibbs, you might also enjoy the memoir I wrote entitled The Dogs Who Saved Me. All of the royalties for that book are donated to animal rescue groups who do the hard work of rehabilitating dogs like Thom. There is a link to the Amazon page for that book right here in the column on the left. And thank you!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Birthday Gift

Back in the late 1970's when I was a young wife and mother with very little money, someone in our church began selling Avon products as a way to supplement her family's income. I sympathized with her plight, and so I found one thing to buy when she made her obligatory pitch over tea one afternoon. The "Dear Friends" cologne decanter (pictured above) with its lovely girl holding a cat reminded me of my then three-year-old daughter and her tenderness with a tiny orange kitten she named "Sweetheart" (because that was what I called her). The scent, "Roses, Roses," seemed like such an extravagance, but it really did smell just like roses, and I really did want to help out the young woman whose young family was struggling like my own.

So I bought the little decanter, and I kept it on my dresser, and every time I dressed for church or to go to dinner with my husband, I dabbed on a few drops of the sweet scented water. It took years to empty the bottle. Once the cologne was gone, I kept the bottle on my dresser because I loved the figurine, and the scent of the roses lingered in it. Now my granddaughter has it. She's sixteen.

A couple of years ago for my birthday, my daughter bought me some rose water, telling me, "This reminds me of you because you always smelled like this when I was growing up." It swept me back across decades in an instant. Until that moment, I'd had no idea she associated that scent with her childhood.  I used the rose water she gave me, though it didn't smell quite as sweet as the original cologne, and of course it was lacking the nostalgia of that lovely Avon bottle.

Then yesterday, for our birthday—because my daughter was born on my nineteenth birthday, still the best birthday I've ever had—she handed me a small gift bag. In it, wrapped ever so carefully, was a very familiar figure. Somehow, she and my granddaughter had found (online, of course) a woman selling the Avon products her mother had collected for years. As I opened the package, tears in my eyes, my granddaughter reminded me that she still had that old "Dear Friends" bottle because, she said, it reminds her of her childhood. My son, sitting beside me, didn't remember the bottle at all, but when he smelled the cologne inside, his eyes widened. "I remember this!" he said. Of course. When scent is connected to memory it can snap us back to places and experiences from long, long ago.

And what a gift it is when someone can give us something so simple yet so powerful! I love this gift because it will remind me, every time I splash it on, of those long ago but much beloved days... and how far we've come as a family. And now, having seen my granddaughter, as beautiful as her mother, gently cradle a kitten in her arms, this simple glass and plastic container takes on an even deeper value.

So here's a birthday toast to nostalgia, to vintage memories and to making new memories as our family grows in ever widening circles of love.