18 April 2017


Here's exactly what I think Otterpop can hear now.

A big space. A lot of nothing. I don't think she can hear at all.

I do think she can read lips. Waving arms. Smiley faces. Frowny faces. Clapping. Reaching into my pocket to pull out a cookie. Pointing fingers. I think she can see this all from quite far away. So her eyes are smokin' good.

But no ears. Nada. Not a thing. And I think she may have been tricking me about this fact for quite some time.

About three hundred thousand times every day I say, "OTTERPOP!" At least. Maybe three million. Maybe three hundred million.

She sneaks herself into the dirty clothes bin.


She's observed heading towards the trash.


I believe she's trying to sneak into the garage where the dog food lives.


She's got her eye on a jack russel over there, with a ball.


Oh, the chickens have appeared at work!


Oh, Banksy has the ball!


Oh, I'm just setting my dinner down here on the couch for a minute.


Gustavo has such a nice comfy spot there in the pillows.


Nobody tip Ruby over.


Mail lady's here.


Here comes Shorty the free-range basset/corgi/pitbull from around the block.


And so on, how our day goes. Every day. All day. It's a habit.

Guess it's time to change the habit, Otterpop.

16 April 2017

Tuggy bunnies, for a happy Easter.

Big bunny, little bunny.

A lot of beginning agility class involves me trying to get people to play with their dogs with toys like they've got a dead bunny in the grass. Activate a little prey drive. They didn't sign up for this. They thought we'd be learning the weave poles and dogwalks like they saw on tv. Instead, they drag their toys around, drag them away. Faster! There's running and flopping. Somehow I decided this is what dead bunnies do, when really, if it's dead, it's probably laying there immobile and headless or gutless or missing some limbs.

Oddly, most people totally get it, when I'm yelling about the dead bunny. So it's not just me, who can envision the spectre of the bloody baby animal trying to get away. Sorry, Easter Bunny. A popular idea, a sacrifical rabbit, standing in with candy eggs and Peeps for a bloody Jesus, dying for the sins of all mankind, the mankind that believes in that, at least? At least believes in the seasonal Cadbury egg and mocktail flavoured jelly beans.

"Dead bunny! Dead BABY bunny!" Because BABY makes it that much more, um, what?

The lady runs away, dragging the furry thing tied to a tennis ball on a rope along the grass. The dog is pouncing. This was the dog that didn't want a cookie. And was sort of blah earlier. But now it's gone a bit manic.

"Make it MORE Dead! Not that dead! Dead but it's running AWAY!"

Bam. Success. Dog grabs the toy and tugging is on. It kind of almost always works.

A lot of people try to start playing by flapping the dog toy in their dog's face. Which is a sure way to get most dogs to right away be all, not gonna happen. Even Banksy, who's over the top in sometimes not such a great way about tugging, does not want a toy flapped around in her face. That is saying a lot. Yuck. Too much pressure, too much whisker and sensitive fur hitting.

"Your bunny's an asshole! Don't be a scary bunny! DEAD bunny!"

Toy goes back on the ground, gets fastly drug and wiggled some more. Maybe it squeaks. Oh MY. Dog usually will go after it that way. Not always. But a lot of times, yes. Much of the time, the person is breathless and drops on the ground to play with their dog some more, because it's exhausting, manhandling a dead bunny on a string.

I have a rag tag collection of fuzzy ducks on ropes, furry stuffies on strings, bungee things with balls and rubber nubbins and god knows what in my toy bag. People trip and fall down. I'm screaming about the bunny. The mellow dogs start to get worked UP! I've explained at length that agility involves chasing the person, and I'm bloody, dead, baby bunny serious about this. And I'm a vegetarian.

Happy Easter, Easter bunnies.

11 April 2017

Teeter terror, freak flag flying.

A comfortable life could be lived in the manner of being held hostage in a continuous loop of Tom Petty songs. Like a living inside a souvenir snowglobe, the wilder things in life only observed from within the bubble of a carefully polished glass. With sparkle glitter for air. Always on the verge of thrilling, instead of ever having actual thrills. Tom Petty is really super ok for sometimes. His soothing thin lipped voice, wry with a nostalgic and singable hook. But sometimes we crave more. A jolt. Elation. Sun Ra's entourage cloaked in majestic tunics descending with unsingable grooves from outer space. We are agility folk, after all. We live life in the intersection between impulse control and crazed balls to the wall speed. Where Talking Heads meet Wu Tang Clan, and exposes our adventurous souls.

But what about our dogs?

At Gustavo’s very first trial, he flew to his teeter like he had flapping bat wings taxidermied on his hairy little feet. The teeter totter was a rocket he loved to fly on, his astronaut ticket to the moon. He was one of those WHEEEEEEEEE dogs who rode the teeter with flourish and style, running to the end and hanging on to grab the adrenalin rush of wind blowing in his bouncy hair on the drop, then running off to do the next thing. It was like a shampoo commercial of awesomeness! He had an ear to ear smile on his face! Because Otterpop had started out with an aversion to teeters, I'd worked hard for a year to make the see saw an object of his cult like devotion.

The teeter was Gustavo’s Fountain of Donut. His go-to, non negotiable It Bag. His rainbow unicorn waving banner of Magnificence.

Except at one of his very first trials, he scooted off before I could tell him to, and as he ran off the end the teeter totter rebounded back up and hit him squarely in the sensitive ass.

This is living life on the agility edge. With great daring, but with copious oodles of careful preparation. Trying new things! That move! That are high above the ground! Extreme adventure sometimes involves getting a little bit scared. Like jumping out of aircraft, and risking, oh, I don’t know, horrible smashing death by parachute non opening? Galloping a horse across a wide open plain knowing that you have an ice cube’s chance in hell of stopping them before their lungs blow out of wind on their own? Hiking through deserted woods where you see mountain lion tracks laid out right under your feet?

I saw a mountain lion track the other day, and got heart palpations. Always prepared, like the junior nature scout I am, I had choices of how to face the terror. I could turn back and efficiently, not frantically, hightail it to where I left the car on the side of the road, expressing to the dogs that we need to keep our tushies in right now high gear, and then stay out of that forest for good. I could use my super effective mental techniques of positive thinking, moving on into possible danger, not worrying because my brain extinguishes all negative thoughts. Even if they have claws and fangs. Or, I could just pick up a weapon, the stick kind with sharp twigs poking off of one end, swing it around my head as I moved onward, singing loudly a smash hit from Broadway’s Hamilton.

Did you guess the third one? Yep. That’s me. Grapevining down to the creek waving around a pointy stick, pretending to be Thomas Jefferson.

Whatever works. But what if our dogs have a different threshold for excitement and less knowledge of musical theater soundtracks?

That one big butt slap from Gustavo's former best friend teeter totter pretty much wrecked him. Teeter terror is an endemic in little dogs. My spouting of this statistic is completely made up false news, but I will randomly guesstimate that twenty five percent of little dogs encounter teeter terror at one time or another. Even little dogs like Gustavo, who are lovingly trained and conditioned to love the teeter. Who dive into the adrenalin rush every time.

Maybe not for the rush at first, but for the cookie. Then the rush becomes part of it. Operant conditioning, the cookie is the ride, the ride is the cookie, until the teeter ride is just cool. It's how we teach the game of agility. First it's for the reward, then the agility itself becomes the hook.

But we live in the moment, on this journey. Shit happens. For some dogs, there’s more sensitivity than others, and when that sensitivity has a perfect storm with the teeter plank being loud or slappy or moving too fast, the terrors can begin.

There are lots of ways to retrain a teeter totter. There are entire books and movies devoted to the subject. I consider myself a connoisseur of this topic.

Ways to Retrain a Teeter Totter:
The lower the teeter for a million cookies method.
The hold on to the end and hold a cookie there method.
The teeter on the tables with soft blankets method.
The teeter in your driveway on a whole bunch of pillows and moldy old sleeping bags method.
The teeter in your driveway with all the dogs leaping on it and bouncing around together on really disgusting and wet old pillows and sleeping bags method.
The teeter in your driveway with all the dogs leaping on to it and bouncing it around in really disgusting, wet, muddy and moldy old pillows and sleeping bags with the kids from down the street helping out and throwing cheese around and applauding method while their parents are probably judging you regarding the amount of dirty, wet bedding you keep stored on the ground in your driveway method.
The visit all your friends who have teeter totters in their yards method.
The visit and pay a lot of money for every fun match within a three hour’s drive just to go do one teeter totter and reward and go home because your dog did one single teeter totter method.
The visit and pay a lot of money for any trial within a three hour’s drive just to go do one teeter totter and run out of the ring to the secretly stashed super reward of triple flamboyant glory and go home because your dog did one single teeter totter method.

Perhaps you’ve tried these methods yourself? We tried all of the above. My favorite method was pressure removal system. Go near the teeter, then we ran away together, squealing. Touch the teeter, run away together, squealing. On the teeter? Yep. Run away. Do the teeter? Yep. Same thing.

Gustavo re-earned trust in the teeter totter. It took a long time. However. He did not re-earn complete trust in teeter totters at places where other scary things were possibly ganged up and ready to get him.
Kind of like being passengered in a robot powered self driving car through a dark and derelict amusement park riddled with shrapnel spewing firebombs while being chased by cops and machete wielding druids as adjacent sea levels are rising in real time. Something along these lines, I believe, is how teeter totter looked to Gooey. I think because he already had sensitivities to other spookies like tarps blowing in the breeze, low flying bugs with wings, weave pole bases that would potentially touch his hairy little toes, and generalized conspiracy level alien problems lurking in nearby trees. He had never been one to enjoy laying on a table for five seconds with all this going on, so throwing a table into the mix didn’t help things, either.

Aliens, toes, butterflies, blowy things, whatever. That’s Gustavo. I’d never hold it against him. When he’s scared by a funny piece of wood in the forest, he does the same thing he does when the dogs sense a coyote near. He comes and finds me and tells me he wants to be safe. I love that about Gustavo, with his beady black eyes looking up at me, asking if I can make it all turn out ok.

The question of dog training here was, where to draw the line of socially acceptable fraidycatness? Is it always the right thing to train through dog fear? What exactly is the point? To have an unscared dog, or to have a dog who can do agility?

What I decided for Gooey was a psychic pressure washing, the removal of all the pressure to run in a conventional manner, as if to win. We didn't have anything to prove, dig? I decided that one way for me to get his pressure off him was to forget about titles for him. For me to forget. He doesn't know they exist. Poof. Irrelevant. Titles were letters for my ego, and don't have squat to do with him. I don't write down if he Qs, I just run him in things I think he feels like running in. Usually Jumpers and Steeplechase, with an occasional Grand Prix or Snooker thrown in for good measure. Sometimes a teeter, usually not. Rarely do we visit Standard with a table. Sometimes. Never pairs, never teams, where I would feel even an ounce of pressure to ask him to do something based on anybody other than me and him. I enter him on whims, not in places he's told me witches live, and whether I actually run him in what I entered him in depends on both our moods. He's run in Nationals and Regionals, and survived.

Did I cop out on his training, or is this an actual training method? Could I have done this if I didn't have another dog who had achieved high level titles in her own agility career, or a brilliant young dog just starting out? Both questions that I don't know the answer to, in case you were going to ask.

So how has this all turned out? I have an amazing little dog named Gustavo. He loves teeters. He's an agility champ on his own terms, a smurf shaped peg who is never going to fit into a round hole. Every time I take him out on the field, he runs his heart out for the both of us. Just this morning we were running, and I yelled, “Teeter!” and he lit up and took his rocket ride to the moon. Bam. It hit the grass, and he stayed put and when I yelled out, “OK!” he flew off to the next thing and his smile was as wide as the ocean. Either my bad pointing or the pressure of it all can send him into the wrong side of the tunnel, that happens all the time. He runs really fast, and if we make mistakes, we just keep on trucking, as fast as we can.

Am I a flawed dog trainer, or am I letting him be who he is? Probably both. Free to be, you and me, Gustavo. Everybody's on their own trips. I'm afraid of climate change deniers, bears, and surveillance drones disguised as delivery lackeys flying over my house. Nobody told me I gotta get over it so we can win some prize. But I will bravely stand up for my dog. We let our freak flags wave proudly, me and him, and don't care what anybody else thinks.

06 April 2017

Ssh, don't talk so loud.

During a scrolling timesuck of facebook, I noticed someone asking for some good places to walk their dog. And I noticed some answers contained one of our quiet places.

I am a sneaky walker, I frequent places that not many others do. They're off the beaten path, perhaps are of nebulous legalities. But many years of stealth use has given me an understanding of the whens and hows to be low impact and under the radar there. I think the woods appreciate that. I pick up trash strewn by high impacters, keep my nose down and my ears up. We have learned to do things very, very quietly.

Social media doesn't mention exactly how to get on the path or where to park your car. And I'm not the only one up there. We all share, there are people that live out there, walk and bike in spots that are frowned up. I suppose everything comes to an end sometimes. The quiet dissolving of some of our woods shouldn't be a surprise, it's been happening all along. Ours? It isn't. We borrow them on borrowed time.

The more time spent borrowed for walking, the less time spent timesuck scrolling facebook. Best way to remedy that situation.

03 April 2017

An unexpected vacation.

I think I've broken Banksy.

The wrong way I held up my arm and pointed crashed her through a jump a few weeks ago. She seemed fine right after that, no ill effects, we did some more agility that day and called it a day.

Last week, she had a mini crash on a jump in class, and got scared and tried to hide. The next night at home, she was playing tug with Gary, suddenly cried out, ran and hid. A couple days later, in the middle of some poles, stopped in her tracks and ran to the car.

I never saw her lame, never saw anything any other time. Couldn't find a sore spot anywhere on her. She was entered in a trial, I almost cancelled and decided, well, just go and see, maybe whatever happened those days was a fluke.

On her first run, she landed hard and with a little twist over a jump in big extension. I have a video, I've watched it now four thousand times now. Her stride shortens, she gets in a tunnel. She comes out, she says she can only turn left not right on the next jump, and I say, "Hey Banksy!" thinking, huh, that's so weird. She runs to me and tries to do a couple more jumps and says ouch ouch ouch.

She doesn't limp, but I saw right there in her eyes and her short stride, something is wrong and I feel a horrible panic feeling.

I try not to freak out, tell her YAY! And leave the ring. And the dog show. I think she's broken.

I don't know what, I think there is a pinchy feeling that on the right landing says OUCH! In her back or neck. I feel really bad. She does anything I say and if I don't say it right in agility language, she will still do it. I don't think I did anything bad in the video, she was in full extension that I cued with a blind, but I had thought, maybe just skip this trial, and I didn't listen to that thought.

We haven't gone to a doctor, I think what she is is very subtle, so this is good and the animal doctor in me prescribes some rest. The next few weeks, just walking with no leashes, and some tricks and no balls or tugs or agilities. All her favorite things. Well, she does love walking in the woods and she does love doing tricks, too. But she loves the other stuff as much. I'm hoping whatever it was goes away forever and we can go back to Banksy being her amazing agility self.

27 March 2017

Fast and slow.

We have the whole gang together again! Part of the gang moves very slowly, and part of it moves very fast. If Ruby can get a ride to the park, we move very fast and she she's an easy rider, looking through her windows at the scenery passing by. When we get there, the fasts get to run and I throw a ball around and Ruby can follow slowly through the grass wherever I go.

Fast! Ruby doesn't do this.

Slow! Ruby doesn't go this slow. But who knew such a prize lay in the gutter, an ancient, bisected, skinned tennis ball, a thing to be admired.

On the way home, if Otterpop lags, up on top she goes. The rest of us can sprint walk to the finish. Hooray for the new car!

20 March 2017

Santa Rosa Bay Team USDAA

Nice run, Banksy.

Some bobbles, some Qs. One Grand Prix bye, so now we can go to two Regionals if we so choose for Grand Prix finals, socal and norcal. Gustavo didn't get to run, and we just drove up for the day.

I did crash Banksy through a jump in Snooker, it was awful and I'm still not sure what happened but she crashed about as bad as a dog could crash and landed on her face in the hard dirt. I may have freaked out a little bit. I was brave enough to run her in Jumpers after that, not brave enough to handler her very well down a scary line to the double and got a refusal.

Also Banksy still hates tables, with the new giant table she does at 20". We are never going to be standard champs, we have a whole conversation over there at the table. But all her steering was A+ and she did some hard things brilliantly and was never crazy. Just fast. And all nice contacts. Hooray for Banksy! 

Ruby's new ride.

Ruby is rallying, so Ruby got a new ride. No more staying home! It's a crate on wheels and I shove her in and off we go. Hooray for Ruby! Even has a rain flap, we walked in the rain and she got to sit and stay dry.

Otterpop wants in. I found her sitting in there in the backyard earlier in the day. Your time is soon enough, Otterpop. Banksy already stole a blanket out of it to chew on. For now, just Ruby gets to ride you guys.

Yes, Amazon is evil, I am a horrible hypocrite. But in case your dog needs a ride, here's it is: https://www.amazon.com/Sepnine-trailer-bicycle-carrier-stroller/dp/B01CZS6SY6

16 March 2017

The beginning of the end, part two.

When we left off, I had acquired a feral jungle terrier and talked my way into an agility class with her as an escape from the clawed talons of the feed store parking lot dog trainer. Read Part One here.

Some months into my agility training (reward, Reward, REWARD), one of the advanced students from our class invited me to join their practice group. They were the big fish in our very tiny agility pond, already trialing with their dogs, and as far as I could tell, pretty much professionals. Probably had Oscars and private planes due to their mad skills. One evening a week, they would meet at a clandestine location in the park, with their vans and trucks jammed full of equipment. A whole homemade wood, pvc and duct tape course got dragged out of trucks, and a temporary course sprang up until it got dark. Bright lights, big city, our local agility scene.

I had the same reverence for them that I had for the eighth graders in junior high. Those girls had platform shoes stacked up at least six inches, and bell bottoms that looked sprayed on, dragging frayed edges along the ground when they floated by. They smoked in the bathroom, slinked around in tiny little tank tops and wore peacock feather roach clips for earrings, visible when perfect Farrah bangs flicked back on a head toss. They had bad reputations and dangerous boyfriends. Basically, they were awesome. And I wanted to be just like them.

The practice group had border collies who did all the things, every time. Lie down? So flat, smashed into the ground like a possum under a tire. Contacts, weave poles, everything with Olympic precision, speed and accuracy, no hot dogs required. The handlers pointed in the right place, effortlessly floating off to their next positions. They ran mythical beasts, not dogs. A whole new tribe. And I wanted to be just like them.

Except that mostly I spent the whole practice retrieving Ruby out of the barbeque pits at the park. Greasy chicken bones and dirt coated ant encrusted ribs, a siren song for a wayward terrier. Ruby had speed, I saw it every time she bolted off away from me on a garbage food quest, and I was teaching myself how to pirouette through the air like a figure skater to indicate a turn. In my mind, I was Nancy, Ruby was Tonya. The big agility question for me, would Ruby like wearing sequins and would those little skirts make my legs look fat? And why would she always run back to the chicken bones even after my particularly stunning front cross?

Agility practice ended up being pretty much how things played out in junior high, albeit without my wayward home perm and fondness for a tremendously red blouse covered in appliqued parrots, worn in ensemble with kelly green high waisters that my mom bought at Sears. I tried to do my eyeliner like the the cool girls back then, but it came out clumpy and lopsided, giving more of the effect of a fuzzy headed, brightly colored raccoon. I just never really got it right. At agility practice, me and Ruby sat by ourselves on the sidelines, watching everybody else zip around the course, pretty much like watching the makeout action from the sidelines at a junior high dance, minus Foghat records blasting over the cafeteria PA.

Dog agility. Where you get to relive junior high over and over again.

I'm still not sure why the agility group invited me along. Pity? A grand gesture of kindness to the hopeless? One more set of arms needed for dragging the massive home made dogwalk out of the back of the truck? I even brought my own plastic jumps, but the first time I set them up on the field, they all fell apart. In hindsight, I may have invited myself. But how else was I going to get good? Often times the ranger would come and shut the whole extravaganza down, just like that. Rules! Leashes! You need a permit for this. Off with your heads. And back in the trucks all the stuff would go. So good thing I was there.

Eventually I moved up to a new agility class, across town in a backyard in between a goat pasture and a mobile home park, and we learned how to front cross (awesome, bend knees, toes on ground, use less leaping), how to not rear cross (a move which I avoid at all costs to this day) and how to get contacts (running fast and pointing at the yellow bits as I sped by throwing a hot dog, later proven to be a questionable method). We had a good side of the weave poles (right) and a bad side of the weave poles (unspeakable, but not impossible if I dangled another hot dog). Armed with this curious skill set, which I guess was better than no skill set, we set off to our very first dog show.

I still didn't get it about the footwear. Real running shoes, with laces and bumpy bottoms that people wear to actually run in, non negotiable. No engineers boots. No slip on Vans. And the stuff. You know the stuff you need for a dog show? Crates, canopies, coolers, dog beds, little fans, tiny swimming pools, reclining fold up chairs? Garage stuffing trinkets purchased in ugly colors at giant warehouse stores, made of synthetic toxic substances in giant Chinese sweat shops? A massive car that drank gas like a thirsty frat boy with a beer bong rammed down his throat? Yeah. None of that. I just packed a lunch and got in the car.

First dog show, deer in the headlights. Actually, gopher in the headlights. Wack a mole ground squirrel deluxe. Little bucktooth demon fang heads popping up everywhere on the field. Another of Ruby's leisure time hobbies was tearing apart small rodents and I wasn't sure what the judge would do if a gore and murder happened during a run. Also, on my very first run ever my hat fell off somewhere near the a-frame. To keep running or stop and save my favorite baseball cap, the one that said ART on it? So many questions in dog showing. Our very first run was a fiasco of Ruby charging around trying to capture gophers, and me charging around in my slippy sneakers looking for my hat and Ruby at the same time.

After a few trials, a pattern emerged. Ruby would run fast. Some things, she loved. The teeter totter! Amazing! She'd run across the field and dive right on. Any gamble with the teeter in it, she owned. For some reason, after numerous failed attempts at grasping the many confusing rules of Snooker (like, you are up in three dogs and was the problem that sevens were a good thing or a bad thing?) my brain grasped the concept and this became Ruby's very best thing. Contacts were hit and miss, probably due to my self invented contact training method. Turning was a bit hit and miss, too, but courses with straight lines weren't too bad. And the bars. Oh, the barhopping. At her 16” jump height, Ruby barreled through jumps like Evil Knievel, balls to the wall and right through the middle.

I also had a tendency to barrel through things like Evil Knievel's somewhat less daring but more clumsy aunt. But boy, what I would have done for a cool racing jumpsuit. Between the two of us, jumps could go flying in any direction. One arm extended out in wild abandon in my futile attempt to steer and down went a wing. Looking over my shoulder to see where Ruby had gone to as I sprinted across the field, not unusual for me to plow into the teeter totter or the shin high metal table. Occasionally she would bank off the table straight into my stomach, a soft pillow for a vertical crash test. A day of competing with Ruby left us both a bit bruised, battered and limpy.

When we started agility, I thought we were awesome. I truly did. My brain wrapped in a soft cocoon of champion fantasy grand illusion. The better we actually got though, the more I started to clue in that my perceived talent level wasn't all I had cracked it up to be. Kind of like that moment when you realize that Santa and his holiday buddies Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are all a big lie that marketeers came up with to perk up slow retail seasons. No large man dressed in fur is parking flying deer on your roof and throwing perfectly wrapped presents down your chimney, no fairies want your teeth so bad they leave you cash, no giant chicken loving rabbits are leaving candy for you. A crushing, sad making blow to a happy psyche cultivated from not living in reality.

My ears started to tune in snidely sideways post-run commentary from handlers armed with the burden of unwanted advice. You know that kind of slimy comment that's passive aggressive, but that the commenter thinks you don't know is passive aggressive, which I guess is actually what makes it passive aggressive? I collected them like the sticky little ticks that burrow into your arm pits every time you walk under oak trees, that drill in and suck your blood out, sometimes with extra added disease. I never thought to collect any kind words. Looking back, wouldn't it have been a way better idea to have carried around an apple picking bucket and filled it up with all the kindnesses extended that I probably overlooked? For the longest time, I let the prickly ones in to where marching out into a lead out pivot, where Ruby would probably break her start, felt like I might as well have been running naked, exposing everyone to my jiggling flesh. Gross. I'm not a good nudist. Who wants to feel like that?

New friends who waited outside the starters ring with me, trying to figure out snooker rules, moved on to win gold medals on world teams and finals at national events under the bright lights of big stadiums while I tried to get around any course at a local trial without some kind of travesty happening out there. I wonder what all those cool eighth grade girls went on to do? Go on to front important hair metal bands or become legacy rodeo queens? Ruby and I were consistent five faulters, in that never quite getting it right club. The more pressure I put on us, the more likely that we would choke, me making some really knucklehead rookie move and Ruby smashing through another jump.

But without those runs, I never would have stumbled down this agility path, with Ruby leading the way, her vampire bat ears and crazy black eyes zooming around the field. Maybe we never became agility super stars, but at some point, I did end up with a perfect, sweet dog who never wanted to leave my side and a whole new lifestyle that embraced ugly shoes and mini skirts with built in booty shorts. Dog training's hard, but teaching Ruby how to be a good dog taught me more than I ever dreamed I could know.

When we go to the park now, Ruby brings up the rear of my entourage of dogs, she needs to keep my feet and legs exactly in her radar. I'm her only navigation device, and I walk exactly as slow as she does. Sometimes the slowness of this drives me nuts. I tug on her leash and mumble to her to hurry up even though she can't hear me. I see her little face and blinky, murky eyes that run brown goo down her muzzle, and watch how carefully she steps, how hard she tries to keep up with the group, to not get left behind. Poor Ruby. I feel like a heel. She only gave me everything, and I'm griping about how slow she walks. I wait for her and reach down to pet her, lately this scares her, like it's the hand of the Grim Reaper reaching down from nowhere and she skitters away and topples over.

Ruby will always be wild at heart. It makes me happy to see her wobble across the floor, and scream the disturbing hyena sounds that she started making when she lost her hearing, until someone gives her a piece of chicken. She doesn't chew good and it dribbles out her mouth. She doesn't care. Sometimes she pees in the house. I don't care. Later she'll climb into her special blue chair, and dream of chasing wild pigs through a dry wash, mountains of fish tacos, and running with me across a field, waiting for me to pirouette so she can not turn and blast straight through a long line of jumps. Agility is amazing.

Originally published in Clean Run Magazine, December 2016

15 March 2017

The beginning of the end, part one.

An era marks an ending. One door shuts, and it stays shut. A half full glass person would tell you, SO lucky, because another door is opening. A dog gets to go home to the rainbow bridge! How lucky is that? I look at my shaky legged, mostly blind dog, slowly wobbling her way across the room so I can carry her down the stairs. Rainbow bridge my ass. This is the end of an era.

I didn't get Ruby to be a performance dog or a partner in agility crime. I got her to be a friend for Timmy, my little black dog and because I thought she might fit in a purse. Timmy was my wingman. Timmy went everywhere with me, slept with me and the mice on my packing crate when I lived in a corner of a warehouse art studio and slept curled on the end of every couch in our San Francisco couch surfing years. He was my ride along dog, shotgun in the front seat of my old truck with the door that only opened from the inside with the magic touch of a special pair of pliers. Happy as a clam to be smuggled into the Reno Nugget in a duffle bag for the last time Johnny Cash would ever sing in public. Timmy would pee in terror at the sight of anyone who wore motorcycle helmets and wallets on long pocket chains, yet bravely defended me when we were chased down the block by a screaming, knife wielding junkie. When me and Timmy settled down in Santa Cruz, in a real house with a little picket fence around it, I decided he needed a dog buddy.

Ruby seemed like a good fit. Why, I have no idea. She was feral, some kind of terrier, and had a lot of spring. I used to volunteer at the shelter, and she came in, somehow fitting my inexplicable vision of a Lassie to my Timmy. Legally Blonde was the movie dujour, and I think I wanted a Bruiser Woods. A Beverly Hills chihuahua. Another go everywhere dog so I'd never have to have a go at it alone. When Ruby came in, I called one of my friends, a dog walker who knew everything about dogs.

"Are there bat shaped jack russells that come in black? Do you think these would be good dogs?"

She didn't see any reason why not. At least not that she told me. And so I brought her home.

Ruby may be a rat terrier, she may be something else. It's a thing we'll never know, and neither of us care. She didn't come wired with domestic dog skills. Eating out of bowls was bogus, she preferred leaping up to the refrigerator or across kitchen counters in single bounds to help herself to a pizza or a loaf of bread. Once I busted her on top of the kitchen table in the middle of a giant chocolate Easter cake, amidst a pile of Peeps and an explosion of chocolatey goodness. Walking her on a leash was like taking a flying tasmanian she-devil out for a stroll. Running free on the beach tired her out some, except that running humans were her favorite prey for a small black dog take down. If she smelled food within a mile radius, she vanished instantly, right before my eyes. Ruby was lawless, and she was fast.

I'd taken Timmy to a training class just once, from a slow moving man in the park who showed us how to fill up a coke can with pennies and shake it in our dogs' faces. Timmy was mortified, peed on the spot. I didn't want to buy one of the special collars he was selling out of the trunk of his car, a fancy pronged affair with medieval neck poking spikes. That pretty much did it in for me for dog training, one class was enough. We just muddled along, Timmy was content to do whatever I did and that worked ok for us.

Ruby was something altogether different. She came from exotic wild jungles, she could swing through trees by her toes. A wonder woman who could run for miles without taking a breath, especially if she was chasing a motorcycle or on the scent of a fish gut pile. Her spiderman skill of reaching the top of our refrigerator in a single bound was breathtaking. If I tried the can of pennies thing, it just made her jump higher. I needed professional help.

Our feed store had classes with most popular teacher in town. Every Saturday morning, she creaked into the parking lot where class was held in a old Ford Econoline. She'd climb out like an ancient gunslinger, armed with a spray bottle of vinegar.

"Works like a charm," she cackled in her gravelly 2 pack a day voice. The van doors opened to a load of stacked up crates, and the first dog to utter a bark got an eyeball full of her spray bottle. Then silence. I'd never seen anything like it.

The teacher had a lot of secrets to dog training. She'd been a champion obedience trainer since Herbert Hoover and had yellowy white hair firmly cemented into the shape of a lemon meringue pie, with a little sun visor poking out the front. She ran a tight ship. Most of the class was spent heeling in little figure eights while she barked out orders from a patio chair. Everyone had a turn being an eight, while somebody else heeled. The dogs were stored on little squares of carpet while they waited their turn, leashes tied to the fence.

The theme of the class was pop 'em good with the choke chain. There weren't any cookies, although she did have a jar of cat food onboard the van for exceptional behavior. I think everybody was scared of her, dogs and handlers both. The biggest bonus of class was a baby tunnel, wedged against a wall. A spin through the tunnel earned a piece of cat food, definitely our favorite part of class.

Ruby did all right, especially at running through the tunnel for the cat food, but she didn't like to lie down. The exasperated teacher took her from me once, grabbing the leash in her gnarled claws. "You gotta pop 'em good," she croaked, trying to pull Ruby down to the asphalt.

She pulled and yanked, yanked and pulled. Ruby held on like a sack of river stones and wouldn't budge, very showdown at the OK Corral. Ruby may have been a manic terrierist hell beast, but the yank and pull standoff broke my heart. After it became apparent that the deadlock might last for hours, I couldn't take it anymore and somehow wrestled her back from the teacher. Failure. I'd never train this feral beast. We kept going to class, but I kept Ruby far away from the teacher. And snuck her extra cat food pieces every time she didn't run away from me.

One cool summer night, at a backyard potluck barbeque, a friend of a friend started telling me about the dog training class all the cool people were going to. They went fast instead of slow, and ran through a tunnel. The real kind, just for dogs. It was like that agility stuff on tv, and the teacher was really nice. I figured this would be a breeze. Ruby was already good at going fast and running through the tunnel. And she'd never have to learn to lie down. Actually, with a dog like Ruby, we'd probably be the stars of class. Not the ones getting barked at for not laying down or heeling all crookedy in the figure eights.

On the first day of agility class, I marched in with all the confidence in the world. I had this one. I was showing up with quite possibly the most talented dog agility had ever seen, and we were going to crush this thing. We had the winning combination of my cat food feeding dog training skills and Ruby's ability to leap even the tallest household appliance. Class was in a tiny fenced yard on a busy street behind the local SPCA. Motorcycles sped by with alarming frequency, and there were burrs and stickers underfoot. The teacher had the patience of a saint. I told her my dog could jump over brooms balanced on buckets in our barn aisle and could leap to the top of my refrigerator if she started on the kitchen counter. She smiled and nodded like I'm sure she had a million times before.

The other dogs sat patiently and quietly next to their owners, seated in a row of cheap white plastic chairs. They looked different than me. Sporty pants and sun visors, and neon striped running shoes. Little belt bags filled with hot dog chunks. Sturdy cordura training bags with various dog toys inside. A lot of purple. Right away I sized them up, not my people. Costco shoppers who didn't own Fluevog shoes. And probably nowhere near as good at agility as me and Ruby were already, what with the broom grids I'd been setting up, and her excellent cat food tunnel running.

The teacher gave us a little assessment before class began. Recall? Well, not really. Sometimes. Heeling? Right! If we do the little figure eights around people and but I have to pop her good. But she won't lie down, the other dog teacher tried that and she's too stubborn. She does go crazy when skateboards go by, and has been known to chase running kids on the beach. But she can jump three brooms and a rake! I dragged her over a couple jumps on her leash. Ta Da! Genius!

"Does she know how to do a nose touch on a target?" patience of a saint asked patiently. I think patiently. Likely, there had been ones like me before. I had no idea what she was talking about.

She brought out a clicker, and handed me off to her helper, who had a bag of hot dogs, so she could start class. I was in! My audition hadn't gone well, but my spunk, grit and blindly hopeful enthusiasm somehow got me a spot. Right away, I was the irritating student sitting up front, hand shooting up constantly with a never ending string of questions. I couldn't stop myself. I bought a treat pouch to hitch onto my pants, and started sewing dog toys in the shape of little handbags with velcro pockets for cookie storage. I bought not one, but 2 clickers. After class, I sent rambling manifesto quality emails to the teacher with the patience of a saint with a million more questions and concerns. I was the agility student from hell bordering on stalker. I had to know everything.

Ruby is very much a terrier. She took to clicker training like a greedy monkey takes to gold dubloons. Hungrily, she knocked out her trick, gobbled up the treat, then went about her previously planned business somewhere else. But it was a start. I did the homework. Probably did it wrong. But I was learning important things. Flip flops, not good dog training shoes. Giant zip loc bags of treats, don't leave lying around on the ground. How to hold a clicker, a cookie, and a ball in one hand while capturing a rampaging terrier with the other.

This was back in the days of teaching the a-frame by leading the dogs over with a trail of hot dog morsels. Weave poles by dangling said hot dog over the tops of the poles. Contacts by tossing the hot dog on a yogurt lid at the base of the yellow. The teeter totter by leading the dog up, hot dog in hand. I thought it was amazing. Ruby thought it was raining hot dogs. And it looked basically like the agility I'd seen on tv. As long as I was well armed with our new pal Oscar Meyer. It was greasy and stinky, but a huge improvement over the rock can or a vinegar squirt to an eyeball.

So now I was a vegetarian buying hotdogs in large poundages, whispering a quiet “so sorry” in the supermarket aisle to all the cows and pigs and their ground up ears and feet and intestines. This was a whole new world. And I was hooked.

Ready for Part Two?

Originally published in Clean Run Magazine, November 2016

13 March 2017

Precious Ruby.

I don't know if Ruby has long with us here, anymore. All of a sudden it's too far for her to walk all the way out to the pond, or out to the bluff. We go in the car, I drive right up to the edge of the grass, it's just too far. Even around the block seems far, so tonight just me and her and Otterpop walked very slowly down to the corner. We stood there for a while, at the telephone pole, and then we walked back. One very small footprint at a time.

She eats, but not always. She very much wants to be back in her crate, under my desk. The blankets in there make a perfect depression for her best sleep, where she breathes shallow breathes that seem to take forever for the next one to come. I watch this a lot. She has her own coffee mug in there, but she isn't drinking much now. I bring her mug in, Room Service! She doesn't look up. I carry her out in the evening, when we sit in the living room, and set her in her chair. It takes her a while now to lie down, in excruciating increments she maneuvers herself to the right spot, then stares out at us with her cloudy eyes til she falls back asleep.

I have the sense that inside her head, she is sharp as a tack. I don't think she's gone in there. But there's layers of thick woolly tentacles slowly wrapping themselves around her and taking her away, like the vines that take hold of trees and won't let go.

Ruby is a classy dog. She has dignity and she does things her own way. A month or so ago, I lost hold of her leash when we were taking a walk in the dark, and she put herself out in the lead and ran, if you can call it running, on her own around the block and back to our house. The rest of us trotted behind, not sure what else to do. She got waylaid at the neighbor's garage, and ran in there and got stuck behind his motorcycles. He reached in and got her and handed her back. She was cool with it.

 I carry her most places. She can't take the stairs,  and in the backyard she mostly enjoys to just stand there, looking at the air. I stopped taking her to the doctor. I am letting her wilt, letting her degrade on her own time. She's on no meds, no special heroics. No needles, no pills. Her leaves have turned and they're drifting off now, slowly dropping off one by one.

12 March 2017

Here is what a walk is right now.

Here is what a walk is right now. Mud mud mud. Go around the bog. Some bogs are quicksand. For real. Go around when you can. Don't drink the mud water, it's full of bugs.

Step up on a root, swing over the tree. Scrape along damp bark to make it over. Keep going.

Some walks are still too much of that to keep going, turn around before you get to the creek and maybe next week.

Some walks have been walked by people apparently lugging a chainsaw or axe all the way down there. I have run into exactly one of them. Be down in the darkest part of the wood and run into a guy with an axe? He is likely friendly and just a groovy woodcutter but guess what, we go the other way. Thanks, though!

Lumpy guy in running shoes with the machete, less disconcerting. I can outrun him if I had to, really  he's only making the vine walls taller for everyone and won't take that thing to nobody's throat.

A few walks have been interrupted by a little too much coyotes. The other night, walked in just about three minutes and heard every single coyote all at once screaming. Maybe fifty? One hundred? Too many. That was unsettling to say the smallest and I threw on leashes and we carefully with enthusiastic and efficient intent walked back to the car and all dogs got thrown in fast and we drove down to the park where nothing is wild and that was cool.

There was the very loud four coyote fiesta at work the other day, with the happy ending of no chickens dead no kids tossed off of horses. It's been feeling a bit extra mountain liony some places, maybe I make that up in my head but something about the light and green and the way the air feels I think the animals are all waking up and ready to rumble.

A new thing is Otterpop's hearing is going away fast. I had thought her thirteen years of age but the vet's office claims fourteen on some paperwork and I had never thought that a thing that could happen. But now I ask her to stay in exactly close to me and if not I tie her up because deaf dogs loose in the woods makes me nervous.

Small problems to have, in the grand scheme of things. At least some woods left here now, to have small problems in.

08 March 2017

Visit to snackland, with plenty of seating.

The other day, rainbow told me where to walk. I've been pretty glum lately, what with the shitty tweety governmental debacle setting up to ruin all our lives and all, and I looked up and there it was so that's the way we went. Part way there, a big fat coyote ran smack in front of us in front of a quiet intersection up where the houses get bigger. Nobody was eaten and he was last seen heading towards the cul de sac where the one fingered farmer lives and where the family that had all the reptiles in the dining room used to live til they moved away into the mountains.

What I assumed he, he being the coyote, was saying, was take the sewage trail. A sign's a sign and I'll take it. The sewage trail's a fire road that's not much used that runs through the arroyo between the big houses on each side of the hill. You have to know to walk through this squeeze between the hedge and the wall by the condos. There's a fire hydrant right there in case you can't find it or no coyote runs lickety split down the hill, albeit with no chicken in it's mouth.

I don't worry too much about Banksy being a snack, and also she found a ball. A dirty, filthy, sewage ball. The coyotes seemed to have vacated for a jaunt wherever the fat one was going, so it was a good day for nobody getting eaten.

I think mostly the sewage trail's used for smoking pot and drinking beer. Both things are now legal, except if you're a kid. Then I think you can only smoke pot. So probably mostly used for kids to smoke pot and drink beer, and coyotes to eat small housepets. On the sewage trail! Move to my town! It's great! Plenty of seating! Not much healthcare in days of the near future, but all the medical marijuana you can drink. Plenty of seating! Mind your small pets!

NYTimes ranks Santa Cruz as 3rd happiest city for happiness.

Which picture doesn't belong?

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody” — with coverage that would be “much less expensive and much better.” Oft repeated campaign quote, T&$#p.

Healthcare rationing with the new more expensive and far less comprehensive plan would though, effectively weed out anyone caught being poor and old, so you can see where this is going.

02 March 2017

Continued false narratives of a broken culture drive dogs into the woods.

Why isn't it a priority to make institutions like school and healthcare basic human rights?

Why so much lying about who says what to Russians?

Why are basic human rights argued and debated and shunned and unrighted?

23 February 2017

Otterpop rides again.

You would think Otterpop was done with her shady past. She's 13 years old, according to my calculations. Something like that. She's losing her hearing, and she snores really loud, and walks with a funny limp.

She is Otterpop, though. She gets to go with me wherever I go, because when I leave her home she howls and tells the other dogs to howl and tells them horrible stories along the lines of I'm never coming home and horrible disfigured witches are coming over to eat them and fly drones in the living room. She's also is the one who doesn't want to sit before dinner time. Dinner time can take a long time because of Otterpop. She chases chickens. She barks in Banksy's face til she gives Otterpop the ball. And she jumps on the couch and smashes Gustavo. And she bosses Ruby around. And she hates all the dogs in our neighborhood, especially the black and tan pair of little dogs around the corner that bark at her from their window. And Rio next door. And Oliver in the other next door. And so on and so forth.

There are a lot of reasons why only I love Otterpop. She is not easy to love.

And tonight, we were walking along the bluffs. And another dog came along, and that dog said something mean to Otterpop. It said something mean to everybody, but Gustavo and Banksy were all la la la la la la and were so happy there was sun! And grass! And air! And Ruby wasn't there because we were walking too far for Ruby.

But when that dog said something mean to Otterpop, Otterpop bristled. And she marches over to the dog. And I think oh oh. Does Otterpop still DO shit like this?

I keep moving on. "Come on, Otterpop." There's lots of space. A huge field, walking out to the bluff. Room for everybody.

But Otterpop goes over to the dog, who weighs about 50 lbs and looks pretty mean to me, and stands there in mean dog posture. And the mean dog is standing in mean dog posture. And both of them are all, yeah, muthatruckah. Just make a move. Double dare ya. And where most dogs eventually would stand down and diffuse and move on, and keep walking, OH NO. Not Otterpop. She can't let things go. And she kind of snaps her snappy, horrible little teeth. And the mean dog is all I HATE YOU BITCH! AND I'M TAKING YOU OUT.

And it's on. And Otterpop weighs like 15 lbs and the mean dog weighs like 50 and it's on Otterpop and there's a lot of noise. Otterpop is all NO I HATE YOU MORE YOU BITCH and the mean dog is all NO I HATE YOU MORE YOU SCRAWNY LITTLE MONKEY ASS. I'm hoping the mean dog isn't like a killer mean, dog just a blustery mean dog, because I have no doubt that Otterpop actually is a mean dog and I run over and stomp my feet and the mean dog is all EEK! Because Otterpop is under the very large mean dog and there is so much dog noise and dog teeth noise. The EEK dog backs off but Otterpop is still all I HATE YOU BITCH I CAN STILL TAKE YOU! So I grab Otterpop and yank her out of the fray and fling her a little way and she hits the dirt pretty hard. Oops. But I was really mad. So now I'm a mean dog too.

I told the guy sorry and he said he was sorry too and we go our separate ways. I feel like a shit heel for flinging Otterpop but I'm also pretty mad at her, where did that come from, that was so 2008?

Once an Otterpop, always an Otterpop.  

21 February 2017

The rain, mostly I can only listen to Metallica.

The storms keep sweeping through. The trees come down, leave craters were they used to be, and the mud slides down the hill. We haven't been near death, although I have had some nervous moments driving on a muddy cliff edge, forced over by some monsterous tree's evacuation and death all over the road. Mostly it means roads are shut and sometimes we can't get to where we want to go. We're lucky to live in the flatland but we do have to cross mountains to go anywhere.

So instead we walk through puddles, we walk where it's flat. When we try to walk in the woods, we mostly now can't get to where we want to go, so many trees laying down. Not trees you can easily go around. Big trees, hundreds of years old, ones that don't move once they're down til someone with a chainsaw can spend some time and cut through. Or not. There are places that we walk where no one much goes, and those trails will eventually go somewhere else, and somewhere new. Those trees aren't going anywhere. So many going down that we have been avoiding, for the most part, walking under them.

The sun comes out every few days, I put on my boots and we see where else we can walk. I never knew about the springs, now I know where some of the creeks start, where their beginnings bubble straight out of some mud in the ground. There is more water everywhere than I've ever seen in my life. The invisible spring now sounds like a bus fleet roaring by, the dogs are afraid to get in, these aren't creeks like they've ever seen.

Mostly I can only listen to Metallica, Slayer, and Judas Priest. Some Iron Maiden. Oddly, Rush. This started with the election. Sort of like when you have an aversion to a smell, or a taste and you can never eat peppermint again. But opposite of that. It's quietly soothing to bang my head over and over to the old Metallica back catalog. I thought this was a phase, but it doesn't seem to be going away. It's a concern, for sure. Oh, I do perk up for the Hamilton soundtrack, I know all the words.

Some rainy days I just give up and sit in the living room wearing this tunic thing that looks like a bathroom rug. I believe it was originally a sweater. It's horrible and has a mock turtleneck. The dogs climb up on the couch, well not Banksy, because god forbid she ever sit anywhere near me, but the others do and I watch documentaries and track the doppler radar and listen to the wind tearing things off our neighborhood.

Those are the bad days. We do get out. It stops raining in little bits. The dogs run, me and Ruby shuffle along. There isn't really any agility to speak of. There were few runs at Turlock the other day, I drove out for a few runs on a Sunday and didn't come home with a Q. It felt shitty for a while til it didn't.

My rain boots have sprung a leak, this saddens me, and I love them so much that I keep wearing them as if they aren't leaking and I don't have wet feet all day. My feet now have this permanent moistness. Always damp, always clammy, til night time. I think this defeats the purpose of rainboots. But I'm still holding on. Maybe today, they don't leak. I stuff in my pants legs, and off we traipse, at about half speed. Looking up towards the mountains, maybe we have an hour or so til it starts again.

09 February 2017

Happy Birthday to Banksy!

We got down to the beach at the crack of dawn to miss the crack of storm coming. A dog has to do something good on her birthday, and Banksy's our only dog that has an actual birthday. Everybody else has a fake one. Some of them have to share mine, so they don't even get their own.

Banksy is three years old. That seems old. We missed our goal of finishing her ADCh while she was two, we need to actually run pairs classes to get those pairs Qs. And go to trials. This is the year of maybe not so many dog shows. So if I can run pairs 4 times and get Qs this year, she can have her ADCh. But she did compete at Nationals in Arizona and competed amazingly.

Three year old Banksy seems about the same as two year old Banksy. But with better behavior. In general. With occasional lapses. Her favorite things to do are run, run, run, run. I say, "Go go go!" and she takes off around the perimeter of the park. Sometimes adding ciks and caps around things I point to for style points. Those would be left and right wraps around posts and trees, in case you don't speak Slovenian. Banksy speaks Slovenian for several words.

On these rainy days, this year the year the drought has broke, we go to the park in the breaks between squalls and I send her around and around to do laps, while I slog around in my rain boots. She likes to run, and she has to run. Running is a big part of her life. Being a border collie, and all.

Her favorite toys are Tennis Ball and anything she can tug on. Banksy is a tug machine.

I can't trim her nails. However, Erin can trim her nails and I drive her to Erin's groom shop and apparently we will do this forever so hopefully Erin never moves away. Sometimes Erin's sitting out front having a smoke when we pull up, Erin with her purple pigtails. Banksy loves Erin, she runs up to her even though she's also ready to bolt. She's terrified of everything involving fingernails and tries to leap off the table like a maniac. Erin just counts her nails like little piggies and it's done in a flash and that's how we do her mani/pedis forever.

Banksy's an agility machine. Our machine ran into bad weather this winter so we actually don't do agility except for maybe once a month. I'm sure she'll know how when the sun comes out again. I hope. They don't forget over winters, do they? We're lucky she was a puppy during the drought.

Banksy's best friends are Otterpop and Gustavo. Also everyone she meets at the beach or the park. Except huskies. Usually she runs away from huskies. She is not best friends with anyone at agility. Agility Banksy is run by Banksy's evil twin that must be alone. I MUST BE ALONE, says evil twin. Agility time is apparently THAT SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT and she must be alone with only me the person who drives to agility and points at the things. Then go all crazy watching the others do the agility til it's her turn as long as she is ALONE while doing so. We hate it when her evil twin takes over, but luckily it's not all that often. Sometimes her evil twin shows up at mealtimes. Evil twin wants all the foods to herself and must be alone to consume it and woe be to any dog who is near.

That thing about girl border collies who can be total bitches? That would be Banksy's evil twin.

Banksy turned into a stay at home dog when I go to work last year. She's kind of a couch potato during the day, so she's cool with that. She likes to sleep in the window so she's right there to see my car drive in the driveway when I come home. She is not cat sized, unless cats can weigh 25lbs and be 17.25" high at their withers. Yet there she is, in a cat sized spot, Gustavo takes the other window and as far as I know that's where they spend their days.

So happy birthday, Banksy. We survived. I think you're officially an adult. Three years old for border collies is I believe drinking and voting age. Banksy would have been Hillary all the way. We have our ups and downs and you are still a bad girl when we're on a walk and the german shorthair pointer that pulls the kid on the skateboard zooms by which makes me crazy but has gotten a lot better in general so at least if the german shorthair pointer walks by you don't freak out anymore. All that control unleashed stuff works good. And you're pretty cute. And let me pet you a lot of the time, if not all the time. Maybe someday you will sit next to me on the couch. I think once you did that but it was by mistake and you realized it and maybe that will be when you're four. If not, it's cool. You are your own dog, a lot of dog, and we can't imagine how life would be without you.

Here's to many, many more.

30 January 2017

La Vida Phantasmagoria

Competing in an organized sport with a dog who can see ghosts requires a delicate feather touch and nerves of steel. You get like that, hopefully, once you've sunk down deep enough into the quicksand that is agility. The muck crept up past my shins years ago to where I barely even notice it now. Why do I do it? With a dog who can see ghosts? I can tell you right now, it's not the financial genius behind stockpiling Qs instead of retirement dollars or the tremendous fame brought about by coming in second in Masters Jumpers on a random Sunday morning in somebody else's hometown that has a liquor store and a taqueria that are pretty much exactly like the ones just down the street from my own house.

Definitely not the gigantic windfall of a Steeplechase victory, where President Grant smiles brilliantly for a few brief moments before getting pawned off at the gas station on the way home, with just enough left over for one travel mug refill of caffeine from the nearest corporate coffee clone that also looks exactly like the one back home. And I finally figured out there's no impressing friends, family or random acquaintances with fancy title accomplishments and acronyms. Not surprisingly, the underage pot dealer in the park doesn't find inspiration or life improving aspiration from meeting dogs who come with their own set of fancy initials like MAD and ADCh. He's all, "Hey dogs," and moves on, back into the bushes to conduct his business. Their lifetime achievement memorabilia, flooffy ribbons and dusty plaques, get displayed unceremoniously under the bed with other long forgotten souvenirs.

If agility was solely leisure time recreational jolly good fun, I think there'd be less festering porta potties and questionable mattresses in cheap motels with cat suited hookers working on the other side of thin sheetrock exactly adjacent to my headboard. Fewer crazytalk ladies from opposing political solar systems yammering on about trying to get their dog to poop, and more majestic forests with dog swimming creeks adjacent to dog shows instead of freeways, train tracks and dead fields. It's doubtful I'd be volunteering to empty all the garbage cans into the dumpster on the edge of the parking lot or constantly waking up at dark o'clock to hit the road for another weekend somewhere else. Taking that long highway drive that's fueled by a a competitive streak to win. Or at least to be the best. The best that you can be. The best even if you're the kind of person who is sort of more pretty much usually all right, than the best. Like those army commercials. Be all that you can be? Working under the assumption that you're already somewhat limited?

The specific reasons for this completely illogical lifestyle are still unknown to me. And to be so addicted to it, to keep on going, when a dog such as my beloved Gustavo lives la vida phantasmagoria. For today's theory, I'll chalk it up to climate change. While CO2 emissions grow uncontrollably and unaccountably, the best way to hide one's head deep in a sand hole is to instead, immerse it somewhere else.

Dog agility, a fantastic somewhere else. All encompassing and all consuming. The competing and the training with pet dogs that have seen us naked and sleep in our beds, makes for tricky emotions, though. This is a thing I think I've finally grown out of, the emo that can spring up faster than a wet rat popping up through the bathroom plumbing. Mostly. Agility is a lot of bruised innards sloshing around out there, all the ladies and just a few dudes shoved together for two or so days, brushing shoulders and shedding hormones, all in the name of running the dogs. Passionate devotion can unleash complicated emotions, turning them loose like a wildfire sparked by fireworks that someone drove all the way to Nevada to procure, just to be able to set them off in the street in front of my house. All you need is one spark in a shabby neighborhood of dead shrubs to send the whole place up in flames.

You know how it goes. For the most part, I usually keep my head down in the dirt or up in the clouds. Maybe perk up an ear for some juicy little gossip tidbit now and again. I like to whistle to myself the cheerful little motto that's taken me a while to figure out. When I whistle it, bluebirds sit on my finger. Nobody really cares about you. Which is true. Although they may not care just enough to make a little remark in overhearing distance or even to your face, that due to the hormones or who you were in a past life or just that you didn't have a healthy breakfast that was at least 40% protein based, stabs a little deeper than it really should.

Used to be, when me and Gustavo had a fiasco run, I mean the worst, definitely the worst, the trauma used to spout out of my heart and eyeballs, red splatter trauma. The only good thing that at least it wasn't projectile barfing on the leash runner waiting over there as I came out of the ring. Let's say that, wow, does that Masters Challenge course look challenging but it's what we've been preparing for and practicing and training for. We got this one. In my mind, I can see it. Going to be the best ever. And then we're off the startline like somebody let the guinea pig loose at the boa constrictor jamboree, but when we get to jump number three, there's a lady who ran a few moments ago with her poodle, little poodle bangs held back with some rainbow hair ties, and the poodle lady, she's awarded the poodle a stack of meaty bones that are within sniffing distance of jump three and that's it. Gustavo's out of the ring and to the meaty bones which are being consumed under a score table so there's a bit of a ruckus as I rush over and dive under the table where scorers are quickly tabulating numbers on the score sheets.

Gustavo's will just read, E. No Time. Elimination. All day, the anticipation of this run, reading it on the course map, talking about it with the colleagues, walking it, thinking it, then a poodle with a pony tail and some bones, that was it. All done and over, before it hardly even began.

How many times does this happen? In my case, so many. In so many different ways. Chalk it up to bad training, funny dog, shit happens. Gustavo, who runs away in a crazy zig zag pattern involving a couple freebie tunnels not even in the course, until I air traffic control him, light sabers in hand waving wildly, over to the exit gate.

It's not necessarily a whiff of savory snack items. It can be something horrible about the poles. Maybe the bases touched his toes. Or the teeter. Might slam him in the sensitive booty. Or the table. Not so nice to lay down on, much comfier to spin in a couple circles before hiding underneath. Or a tarp that's blowing in the breeze. Looks like giant, sparkling wings of a fire breathing dragon with talons that pluck off hobbits and little dogs. Or maybe a butterfly flew by, just in front of him. There's a 50/50 chance that crazyland can happen out there. Which is a 50% chance that it won't. So the odds are better than the lottery or most Kentucky Derbies and we go out and run and roll the dice.

I understand his terrors. Used to happen to me as a kid from the psychedelic 7-Up commercials in the era of yellow submarines, with flutter attacks of technicolor animated butterflies unfolding into floral explosions. They would kaleidoscope at night into my dreams, causing me to wake up screaming over butterflies. Too many flapping wings, too many exploding flowers, too many colors, just too much. Where some find beauty and normalcy, others see dread.

Sometimes it's just the vibe. One spot where we compete, in the dry Californian central valley, we spend a day parked in the dirt, backed up to a rotting trash pile behind a mobile home park where a chihuahua pack holds court from a stack of plastic bottles and we see spooky little kids peer out of dirty windows from behind flowery polyblend sheets. Where Gustavo cannot tread near the end of the arena. A few times in his life, he's made it past the spook zone, but most of the times, most runs of his life on that field, he recoils in terror, or occasionally just stops dead in his tracks, looking at the sky or the wall or whatever it is, communing in his mind with some mothership that only he can see.

I got Gustavo from a lady I met at the beach. I saw him spinning circles around her and was smitten on the spot. She was the rescue dog foster lady, someone else plucked him off the street and drove him up in a van from Juarez and he wasn't really suited for regular pet dog home. He'd already proven a talented escape artist and had an energy level that might drive more gentle folk than I up the wall. I told her I'd take him and went home and told my husband I found what I wanted for my birthday, a skin and bones little dog from Mexico that I saw down on the beach. Gary rolled his eyes, and drove up to meet him and it was true love for all of us within minutes and it always will be.

But he's odd, not that all dogs can't be sometimes. It used to be, his kind of odd during dog show runs sent me running back to the parking lot and the privacy of my front seat, where I could sniffle and fume and bang my head against the steering wheel. So much hard work. So much! We've trained for distractions like this. But not hard enough or not good enough, because, this. Time after time, the course is thwarted at jump 3. Or 5. Or 7. Or wherever. With what feels like a hundred voodoo glow skulls watching, all staring in judgement at Why. Why does she run that dog? They never even get around. Hardly ever. I would say, equal part poor Gooey, equal part the hard work gone down the drain, and equal part wondering, did everybody see that? Now they think i'm a Loser, the kind with a capital L. That lady who said something about it, probably either to be kind in her own socially awkward way or just to fill up a blank space in the moment, her off the cuff comment went down my gullet like a handcuffed lobster before it got boiled alive.

Here's what the life coach would say. You can find them on the internet, everybody's a life coach these days. They help you corral your mentals into one convenient location, as far as I can tell. Maybe I can be yours. The life coach will say it with really tasteful yet chunky accessories and a flattering neckline. Always good hair on those ladies. Her advice, I can see it printed out now on an inspirational poster with seahorses or a mysterious snowy vista that has a little stone dwarf house off in the distance.

Nobody really cares about you. There's that bluebird, sitting on my finger. Maybe some butterflies and their hairy little antennas, too. It's a fact that's easy to forget in the moment, until you practice it and get used to it. You train, don't complain. Move on, shake it off, remember that failure's the stepping stone to success and that success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. I heart those failure quotes so much, so much that I want to eat them up and never, ever poop them out. I want them to live forever in my stomach bile and dissipate through my bloodstream and ooze out of my pores. They are so mine. I take ownership to my failure, we love our agility and me and my dogs like to train til we're blue in the face and laying upside down in the grass, panting visibly.

In competition, I'm the only one who cares that we just faced disaster. As in, first world problem, dog agility disaster. Like if you went on a vision quest, and in the peyote infused haze, the shaman decreed that kitten was your spirit animal. And everybody else got bears and cheetahs and majestic buffalo. Life goes on, you know?

The horror of defeat from all directions diffuses pretty fast, because Gustavo's the cutest, sweetest, little dog you'll ever meet. His fur is really soft, and he has little white rings around his eyeballs, like a creature invented by Wes Anderson that's emblazoned on rain boots and desert plates and stuff you'd buy at an organic kids clothing store in France. He has a tremendous terror of coyotes that keeps him safe in the forest where also many shapes of tree stumps horrify him and stop him in his tracks. He suffers a medical condition, crappy deformed blood vessels that don't quite pass through his liver send ammonia through his bloodstream, where it does funny things when it gets to his brain. He gets medicine for it, and became a vegetarian.

Yeah. One of my dogs is a vegetarian to stave off the hallucinations that live in his head. It's cool. I live in Santa Cruz. We're used to situations like this.

He's healthier now, though, and pretty much his funny little seizures have turned into a used to be thing. He doesn't see ghosts anymore, officially. But he does, sort of. It's just him. He's the kind of dog that even if I was weeping because I can't figure out how to get him to be good at agility, I can pick him up and sigh into his fur and it smells like grass and begonias and the expensive kind of wheat bread, and he gives me a tiny kiss and would like to stay in my lap all day. When he hops off, you hear orchestral magnificence, an entire string section wells up, like something Sufjan Stevens wrote just for him. Gustavo's a dog who doesn't even know he has a soundtrack when he moves.

In agility, your everything is based on this. You're going to run around the ring with your dog as fast as you can and almost become like one animal together, driven by one giant endorphin rushing brain, with with six legs and two arms and shared blood and so many exposed teeth in open mouths, gasping for air and gaping open in joy.

Gustavo actually doesn't have many teeth, part of his medical condition. His tongue hangs out the side of his mouth like a chipmunk gone limp swilling acorn rotgut. Except for when he puts on his biggest smile, then it hangs right down the middle. When I tell all my dogs it's time to go back on leashes, coming out of the woods, he's the first one to run in and he always has that smile on his face, tongue wagging back and forth when he comes running in so fast. When we make it around a course together, the both of us doing the same thing and the run may or may not be clean but for sure it was fast and it contained clarity, my god, the smile that blooms in his face. His smile's infectious, his smile's the day when the Liz Taylor rises from the dead to win the Grand National on the Pie, it's the dolphins being freed from the bloody lagoon kill pen, it's the munchkin proclamation when the witch lays prostrate under the 3 bedroom 2 bath vintage Kansas charmer, it's the polar bear clan who suddenly wake up on intact ice and believe that imminent meltdown of the glaciers was but a nightmare.

His smile is my own personal saving grace. I've never felt so lucky, having a dog such as Gustavo.

Originally published in Clean Run Magazine, May 2016

29 January 2017

When the biggest tree in the forest fell down and died.

We went to visit the Advocate tree. We've known it for a long time. It fell down and died in the storm a couple weeks ago. All it took was the right wind and rain, and it toppled down, crushing everything in it's path. It was over 1,000 years old, 300' high and over 40' circumference.

Can you see Banksy looking up at you? She was the first one to run down and see what happened, where the tree went.

For over 1,000 years, it did all right, tucked on to a slope near the creek, with a friend of nearly the stature just at it's side. Why it picked this year, 2017, as the year to die, I don't know. Don't know how hard it tried to hang on, or if it even had a chance. I just know that it's gone.

The forest evolves, trees die, new trees grow. The river changes every season. There are some things, though, that are never coming back once they're gone. The tree grew during the middle ages, during holy wars between muslims and christians. Not sure what was there before it.  Now when we walk to its spot in the woods, heading down the hill towards the creek, we're blinded by a huge burst of sunlight where before it was always dark. The silver lining, sun blindness and a tremendous pit where it's roots used to be. I don't know how that is a silver lining, but isn't that what you're supposed to try and find in a situation like this?

27 January 2017

Limited edition, new shirt! Order by 2/3/17 or it's gone.

Buy it now, mens, womens and long sleeve mens. Limited edition means after next Thursday 2/3/17, it is gone forever so get it while you can.

100% of the profits go to Planned Parenthood, let's help them out this week since things aren't looking good for them. More shirts coming, different non profits will profit. Off we go.

Order now: https://teespring.com/love-trumps-hate-4515

26 January 2017

Limited edition free Trumperstickers.

To get yours, end an email to laurah at plasticdisaster.com and tell me where you think an excellent place for stickering Trumperstickers would be. If it makes me smile I’ll give you the address to send a SELF ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE to get your stickers.

First come first served and slow service.

If I run out, well, hell, I told you, LIMITED EDITION. Sorry about that!

Stickers are of course ©2017 Laura Hartwick/Team Small Dog who of course does not condone illegal sticker placements.

21 January 2017

Yes we can, Women's March against Trump.

Our March was small, only about 10,000 marchers. I believe the population of Santa Cruz is around 60,000. An entire sea of people and signs flowing through all the streets of downtown. I wish I had photos of so many amazing hand made signs. All my friends were there, all my neighbors, Otterpop, and all citizens who wanted to express that Trump is Not our President.

I'm not sure where we go from here, but the sheer numbers of people like me in hundreds of cities who came out in one day to announce together that the new president does not reflect our values and our beliefs, that's an awful lot of voices. The march in some cities was so big that they didn't even fit to march, they packed all the streets and could do nothing but be there, stand to be counted.

All totaled, more than a million people across the country stood up and marched to say that yes, we can stand up for what we believe in.  And yes, we will continue to do so.

17 January 2017

Free poster for you, carry proudly in the Women's March on Washington.

You're marching, right? Even if you're not in Washington, I bet a city near you has a Women's March on Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of women will be marching, in Washington and in every single state of the union that day. The point is, to send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world, that women's rights are human rights.

Since, among so many other things, the new president thinks it's allright to grab ladies by the pussy. Maybe you knitted your pink pussy ear hat. I didn't. I can't knit. It's cool.

We'll be marching in the Santa Cruz march at 1:30pm, starting at Santa Cruz City Hall. If you want to park near my house and walk there with me, me and Otterpop are leaving at 1pm sharp. Otterpop is the best parade dog. The other dogs are staying home. Otterpop can ride in my backpack if it's too crazy down there. Gustavo's afraid of loud noises and I'm pretty sure Banksy would blow all of her gaskets out in that kind of mayhem.

Here's a file you can print if you need a poster. I left a blank spot so you can add anything else to this you want. A little paint, some pens, some glitter, you're good to go. I'm covering mine with clear packing tape because it's supposed to rain.

The files will be a little blurry since I made them shrimpy for ez downloading. But just trace over all the lines with a black sharpie and you're good.

Here's the 11x17" file.

Here's the 18x24" file.