Earlier from the second-story deck
I caught a glimpse of the gate
slamming shut as Ella chased
someone out of the yard.
Her wild barking was
what had summoned me.
The thunk of something landing
solidly on the wooden deck below
brought me down the stairs
to find a package for my wife,
too big to fit through the mail slot.
The gate latch was still vibrating
at a high B or C.
Earlier from the second-story deck
I probably would have been suspicious at the best of times to find what looked like an entire giant-size box of Milk-Bones, complete with a coupon good for your next purchase, emptied out onto the snow. But we're in the midst of one of those neighborhood panics where citizen complaints have spurred the police into cracking down hard on owners who don't keep their dogs on-leash at the park. My first thought on seeing the pile of biscuits was that some angry person had poisoned them. The idea that someone was just trying to get rid of some extra dog treats before they went bad came in a distant second. Scooby-Doo jokes limped across the finish line in third.
It's no fun to have your walk in the park marred by the thought that someone might be upset and unbalanced enough to try to murder your dog at random. So I laughed it off, and I won't worry about it again until I see a tempting platter of roasted turkey and mashed potatoes sliding across the field on fishing line toward a suspiciously rustling bush.
Let me tell you a story.
This morning I was out walking the dog,
who, honestly, can be a grouchy pain in the ass.
But today she was pretty good. It was clear and cold, being October,
and we had waited more than five minutes
to cross a busy street. Ella was alert for squirrels,
trotting with her head up like a tiny horse,
when half a block ahead we saw a woman walking a shepherd mix
of some kind. It was small for a shepherd, brown with
a little bit of red to it.
Ella sat down on her haunches, as she sometimes does,
and wouldn't budge. It's her way of telling the
other dog that they're equals, and she's not afraid.
I made her keep walking, though, but I kept her
on the side of me away from the other dog,
just to be on the safe side. Because you never know.
As we passed the woman, her dog lunged in front of me,
growling. Ella lunged back. She's a soft-coated wheaten terrier
and doesn't look like she could be that tough, but they
were both about the same size and it was an even match.
In the confusion of bodies and leashes and guttural snarls,
I could see the other dog's teeth, points of gleaming bone,
trying to find their way home in my dog's
throat. I hauled Ella into the air by her leash and
swung her clear of the scrap. She wears a body harness and not
just a collar for exactly this reason.
The woman, sounding shaken, could not have apologized more.
Her dog never acts like that. I was shaken too. She
thanked me for being so cool, but it's like I told her:
"Sometimes things like this just happen."
There's no reason for it.
It's much the same way that I don't like you.
There's a big preserve of prairie grass at the park in which the dogs like to romp. Ella herself enjoys tearing first one way then the other along the narrow paths through the tall grass. This morning Laura was nearby while a dog we know named Digger was playing in the preserve. She heard happy squeaks coming from Digger's direction. I'll let Laura report the rest in her own words:
I looked at Mike and I said, "Digger has a toy? A squeaky toy? I've never seen him with a toy at the park before! Fun!"
Mike replied, "He just caught a bunny. They sound like squeaky toys before they die."
Me: "Well, I guess that makes sense, but I have to go now."
Our own little carnivore is lying flat on her side on the floor next to me, her eyes fluttering as she fights sleep. I sure have a different view now of the delight she takes in running around the house with her rabbit toy squeaking in her mouth.
Bill here. I just entered Ella in the Orvis Cover Dog Photo Contest
Now I need your vote to help me raise critical funds for the Canine Cancer Campaign.
I just hope she doesn't start shying away from the dry cleaners. Ella loves running errands in the car, and the dry cleaners is one of her favorite places to go. It's also one of our favorite places to take her, if only because it's one of the few businesses we frequent where we can bring her in with us. Usually Ella and I park in the lot out back, then walk around the corner to the front door. Ella knows where we're going, so she likes to dash aheadaround the corner and in through the glass door, which is usually propped openwhile I brace myself so the tug on the leash doesn't dislocate my shoulder.
Okay, it's not really Ella's fault. It's not like she's a bird or something, attracted to her own reflection in glass. The door is usually, like I said, propped open. This afternoon Ella dashed ahead of me, like usual, and I cleared the corner of the building just in time to see her slam full force into the glass. I swear to God, she accordioned like a cartoon character.
She bounced off, shook her head, and seemed to be fine. But even as I was wincing and kneeling to make sure she hadn't broken something, I was wishing I had the whole thing on video.
I am easily distracted as a driver or pedestrian by beautiful creatures on the sidewalks. I'm not talking about girls in their summer dresses. I'm talking about dogs. Like the pair of huge, gorgeous English sheepdogs I guy was walking ahead of me yesterday, and which I furtively (and unsuccessfully) tried to snap a picture of. Or the reputed wolf-dog in the neighborhood I've heard reports of, and which Laura met this morning. Paint me jealous!
A few weeks ago, I was driving home from taking my mother to Midway Airport at the end of a week-long visit. I had run a few other errands (which included picking up a special-order copy of ccfinlay's The Patriot Witch from the Book Cellar) when up ahead I saw a young woman walking a stunning medium-sized terrier down the street near Winnemac Park. I slowed the car a little. I didn't spare a glance for the woman. I was just thinking to myself, "Wow, now that's a beautiful dog."
When I got a little closer, I realized it was our twice-a-week dogwalker taking Ella out for her midday stroll. I had to laugh at myself.
Laura and I became involved in a brief argument Sunday morning, not with each other but with a woman who loudly accused us of not picking up after Ella. She did this from some distance away, crossing the street toward us on a diagonal. After some hostile back-and-forth, I think we managed to convince the woman that the deposit our dog had just made was liquid in form and not solid, but our case was not helped by the fact that Ella had done so in the midst of a whole lot of old turds that had freshly been revealed by the melting snow.
The woman was understandably upset by the fact that some irresponsible owner was failing to pick up after his or her dog, and indeed this upsets us as well. It's not just that we sometimes get blamed for other people's failings. It's just ugly and unhygienic, and it's a hazard to the soles of one's shoes.
But the argument itself was upsetting enough that Laura and I spent a while afterward trying to come up with some better responses to false accusations of failing to scoop poop. How do you pithily yet politely point out to someone that the act they thought they saw was really something different, and head off an angry confrontation? Preferably it would something more disarming than simple denial.
The best we came up with, though I'm still not sure it's very good, was this: "I've tried and tried, but I still haven't figured out how to pick urine up off the ground."
Right now, Ella is mightily confused as to why we don't let her out the back door anymore.
It's raining fairly hard here in Chicago this morningnot like in Texas, certainly, but hard enough that there's standing water a foot deep in places on our street. Ella and I just got back from an hour-long walk in that deluge. We had a famous time, chasing wet squirrels in the park and clambering on the maze of playground equipment that is forbidden to dogs.
Ella was kind enough to deposit a pile of turds near a large plastic rolling waste bin. It was the kind of bin with a hinged lid that is supposed to stay closed to keep rats out. The lid was open, though, and I swung the tied plastic bag of Ella's turds through the air and into the bin. Two points!
But the thud and swish of the bag landing in the bin was followed immediately by a harsh, raspy squeal. Startled, I moved near the bin and peered over the rim. A medium-sized rat was hunched in the sludgy foot of garbage at the bottom. I jerked back, then peered in again. The rat was soaked and looked terrified.
I drew back again. I had never seen a terrified rat before. I didn't know if it was injured, or if it had babies in there, or what, but clearly it was unable to climb the smooth, wet sides of the bin and escape.