Our Nutcase Border Collie

Captain Jack is a border collie, at least in part, and he wants to herd. Man, does he want to herd. (Just ask Moonlight, our cat. You thought you couldn’t herd cats? Tell it to Cap’n Jack.) He also seems to regard my dirty socks as part of his flock, because he’s forever fishing them out of the laundry hamper and herding them out to the living room. He doesn’t chew them, just puts them where they’re supposed to be. Only my socks, not anyone else’s.

Maybe it’s a control issue. We have several jumbo dog pillows -one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and one in my office in the finished attic. The bedroom pillow regularly finds its way to the dining room, sometimes just minutes after I’ve returned it to its proper spot. Or if it isn’t in the dining room, it’s in the doorway of our little central hall, where Jack lies on it as though deliberately metering the flow of traffic. Border collie cop?

The pad up in my office is a tougher case: it’s stiffer and more awkward to move, and generally it stays in the corner where it belongs. Or did until the other day, when it too started migrating to block the nearest doorway. And then, not just to the doorway, but down the cluttered hallway of the library, down the steep attic stairs, through an even more cluttered entryway room, through the fairly cluttered living room, to the far side of the dining room. I was in my office working at the time, but I didn’t see or hear him move it. Later, though, I found it -and him curled up on it -right in front of his crate (which of course has its own pad).

Every time I try to catch him in the act with a camera,  he immediately drops whatever he’s carrying and gazes at me in innocent wonder. You can almost hear him: “Yo, what’s up, dude?”

My last border collie, Sam, was certainly a dog with personality. But I think our Captain Jack is taking idiosyncrasy to a whole new level.

Here’s another dog thinking outside the box:


Animal Friendships

Who doesn’t love a story about inter-species friendships? A dog and an elephant? A cat and a crow? A hippo and a tortoise? A cat and a dolphin? A lion and its humans? Time Magazine compiled a dozen such stories in this video series. Click to the Time page to follow the sequence. (I’m starting you with #2, because I thought #1 was kind of dumb. But you can go back to it.) Be prepared to say, “Awwww…” a lot.

Now click that Time link to watch the others. Or wait! Why don’t I list them here for you?

And then watch this one, about a family of gorillas who strolled in to visit a tourist village.

Captain Jack Carver

Meet the newest member of the Starrigger Ranch! Cap’n Jack is a border-collie/lab mix, probably with some other seasonings, as well, who joined our family just three days ago. Jack came to us from a shelter in Connecticut, courtesy of the rescue group http://www.helpsaveone.org/. Guesses vary on his age, but average out to about two years.We know that he came from West Virginia, and that he’d been hit by a car and lost or abandoned. But his leg injury is all healed up now.

Jack is a terrifically sweet guy, and has made himself right at home. Our cat Moonlight isn’t so sure yet. She was a bit alarmed, at first, but stood her ground. Now, she seems to regard him as a big oaf who is all too often between her and where she wants to go. They’re not yet to the point where she can just walk past him. But I was cheered yesterday to see Moonlight curled up on the sofa, and Jack crouched on the floor nearby, woofing an imploring “Please play!” Moonlight was unperturbed, and declined the invitation.

The only big problem so far is that Julia’s having some allergic reaction to his dander, so we’re swabbing him down with Allerpet/d to try to minimize it, and the Roombas are working twice as hard. And I keep calling him Hermione, which was the name of our boxer who died back in January. (Even though he really looks way more like our old dog Sam—not the beagle of recent years, but the border-collie/lab mix I had about twenty years ago. I don’t seem to have any of old Sam’s pictures scanned in; I really must dig through the photos piles and find some.)

This weekend, we’re going to meet another rescue dog named Igby—don’t ask!—and see if he might be a good brother to Jack. (I almost said Sam just then. I’ll get it straight eventually.)

Update: Igby was a charming little guy, but didn’t seem like the right fit.  So for now, at least, it’s Captain Jack and his cat-friend(?) Moonlight.

The Heart of Dog

One of my writing friends, Doranna Durgin, has a beagle named ConneryBeagle who’s sick and has expensive vet bills. Doranna put together an anthology of SF and fantasy dog stories, all proceeds to benefit Connery. She’s written a bunch of stories herself, but nine more reprints were contributed by her writing friends, including Julie Czerneda, Tanya Huff, John Mierau, Fiona Patton, Jennifer Roberson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, John Zakour, and me. Do check it out. It’s only $3.99 at Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.

Our Dog Hermione 1999-2011

In a real shocker to the family, we lost our beloved boxer Hermione this morning—pretty much without any warning. Not quite twelve years old, she had seemed like a healthy, if slowing-with-age, dog. Just yesterday, I looked at her and thought, You’re looking fit for your age. I hope we have you for a couple more years.

 Hermione, pretty much the way she always looked

This morning she staggered up out of her bed, stumbled, fell, and couldn’t get up. She was dazed, and her lips and gums were pale. We got her to the vet as fast as we could, but the news was grim. An ultrasound showed a tumor on her spleen, with internal bleeding. Dr. Grosser, a lovely woman who has seen Hermione through several difficult situations, couldn’t offer much hope. It would be possible to spend thousands (which we don’t have) on surgery to try to buy her a few months. But she couldn’t recommend it, even medically. Hermione’s condition was likely to grow worse, not better. The doctor’s recommendation was to put her to sleep before she went from dazed and helpless to being in a lot of pain. And that’s what we did. All four of us were there—I’d gone to get Julia out of high school—and Hermione was aware of us being with her. She went peacefully.

About two minutes after she slipped away, Alexandra, our older daughter, changed abruptly from sobbing tears to a big smile and cried, “She’s running!  I can see her.  She’s happy!” I looked up at Alexandra and saw joy and recognition of something ethereal in her eyes. That vision for those few seconds transformed Alexandra on the spot and greatly comforted the rest of us.

Hermione was one of the sweetest-tempered dogs I’ve ever known. She didn’t always like other dogs, but she never met a human who wasn’t her friend. And she was supremely tolerant of her buddy Moonlight the cat, who would from time to time swat her for no apparent reason except to say hi. As a puppy, Hermione was almost ludicrously eager to please, but as she matured, she came to decide that life was not entirely about following instructions. We were always kind of glad about that.

Hermione and Moonlight, in younger days

The house feels strangely empty now. Moonlight seemed for a moment to sense that something was wrong, when we came home–but who knows what cats can understand? And I guess I’ll have to get used to going on walks by myself now.

The Short, Sweet Life of Pippa

We buried a 5-month-old puppy yesterday. Her name was Pippa, and she weighed less than ten pounds. She came to us from Puerto Rico with Allysen, where she had been rescued and made briefly part of Allysen’s parents’ household. She was adorable and sweet and alert, probably part border collie but tiny.  We decided that she was of the breed Foxbat, or Borinquen terrier, and she captured all of our hearts. She made friends with Hermione, our boxer, who doesn’t always like other dogs. Moonlight the cat was a slow adopter, but I was sure it was just a matter of time before they bonded, too.

Pippa never got that time. She was here for just four days before she started having seizures during the night. The seizures subsided for a short time after we started her on some meds from the vet, but soon they returned—frequent and severe. Monday night, late, we took her to the Mass Vet Referral Animal Hospital, where we got the grim news that the outlook was poor without major medical intervention, way beyond anything we could undertake—and even with the intervention, there would be a lot of uncertainties. And so we made the heartbreaking decision to let her go peacefully, which she did while we held her in our laps. We brought her body home, and the next day laid her to rest in the back yard. With her we put the ashes of Sam the beagle and Mattie our first boxer—ashes we’d kept on a shelf for years because we couldn’t bear to do anything about them at the time. It comforted us, thinking that Pippa was in good company.

Here’s Pippa, as I imagine her right now on the Rainbow Bridge

Hawks on a Ledge

A family of red-tailed hawks have taken roost on the front ledge of a building near us, opposite the Fresh Pond Shopping Center in Cambridge. The first flight of one of the fledglings created quite a stir the other day. And the day following, I happened to be passing through the parking lot of the office building when I found a crowd of people gathered around a parked car. There, on the roof of the car, was the young hawk—peering around, probably wondering who all these yahoos were that were getting in the way of his flight training.  I snapped a few shots with my cell camera, and a few minutes later, he took wing and got himself up onto a tall CVS sign in the same lot.

They’ve been drawing crowds of birdwatchers from all over the area. There’s a gallery of some pretty good pix on Boston.com. But—rather like my experience watching the space shuttle launch—the pictures don’t compare to standing fifteen feet from the (not so) little guy, watching him try to make sense of it all. I could identify.

Trouble in Dogland

Our boxer Hermione took one wrong step on Sunday—she ran into something sharp on the playing field, a piece of an old soccer goal. I was home making coffee when Allysen arrived carrying our fifty-pound dog, who was bleeding from a nasty gash above her left front paw. (Several neighbors, bless them, had pitched in successively to help carry Hermione from the field.)

A long visit to the Mass Vet Referral Hospital later, we learned that she was in not just for stitches but for surgery, because she had not only cut her leg but had hit two arteries in the process. (Fortunately, we’d bandaged her up tightly.) She came home with a nice purple wrap covering a splint that extends all the way to the end of her paw; the injury was near a joint, and that had to be immobilized. We, needless to say, also brought home an impressive vet bill. 

The old girl is going to be fine, but for the next two weeks she’s going to be stumping around the house like a peg-legged pirate on this splint. We’ve taken to calling her Thumper.

Here’s a picture of Hermione and Moonlight on a happier day.

Dog Star

I can’t believe I forgot to mention this earlier. I recently sold a short story—the first short piece I’ve written in years—to Diamonds in the Sky, an online anthology edited by Michael Brotherton and funded by NASA to promote astronomy education. It’s going to be available online realsoonnow, I understand. The anthology is intended as a free online resource for astronomy teachers and students, bringing together a group of science fiction stories each of which illustrates a particular astronomical concept. The hope is that the stories will be a fun way to learn science, and might even make some difficult concepts clearer than a straight expository approach. It’s to be kept “in print” indefinitely, so that teachers—and their students!—can always go back to it.

In a way, it’s a throwback to the Golden Days of Science Fiction, when men were Real Men, and the science in science fiction was Real Science. (Sometimes, anyway.) It should be interesting.

Oh—the title of my story is “Dog Star.” It’s about a boy and his dog and asteroids and dark energy.

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