Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How to Croak Alone in the Woods, Without Killing Your Pet

The marketing department here at the Institute for Advanced Recreational Studies barely approved of this post. "This isn't the topic to increase clicks," they tried to explain.

Still, the problem remains for a solo camper who wants their pet to survive their sudden and unexpected demise while camping alone. Just imagine the situation for a ranger or emergency personnel: they must bust into a rig, and what do they find? Pet urine and feces, and probably vomit. The pet might still be alive. They also encounter a partially eaten human carcass. If your pet is a dog, it would have actually felt bad about that. But what choice did it have?

Presumably, this would not look good on your pet's adoption resumé at an animal rescue organization. Then again, a clever worker there might advertise, "Fluffie has shown herself to be self-reliant and resourceful..."

There is a solution available: a doggie door. Few products in this price range have improved the lives of owners and pets so much. The typical customer works long hours and doesn't want their poor dog to have to 'hold it' for 10 hours per day.  

I saw one of these doors in action at a friend's house. It was impressive how much her dog depended on it -- and liked it. Doggie doors are available at Lowe's, Home Depot, pet stores, online, etc. I bought the Ruff Weather model by Ideal Pet Products. 

Campers with cargo trailers have an advantage in installing a doggie door. But most campers have wives, who wouldn't be caught dead (oops) in such an unfashionable rig. But most conventional camper-trailers have flat surfaces, at least on the sides. All but the largest doggie doors would fit between the 16 inch studs of any conventional camper trailer, if you could find the studs. 

Rigs such as vans or Airstreams have curved surfaces that would complicate the installation of a doggie door. Perhaps thick enough weather stripping or even a curved board would accommodate the curve.

But does my Coffee Girl appreciate this improvement?  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Decorated Grave in the Forest

So close to Memorial Day, it was strange to stumble onto a well-marked grave for a dog, in the forest. It had a large blue Christian cross with some nice words about the dog, "Jack". A plastic doggie water bowl was in front of the cross. Did the owners come out every year and replace the bowl, or symbolically pour water in the bowl? I found myself quite affected by this, especially considering how difficult it is to dig a grave a couple feet deep in rock.

I know one man who would not have been impressed: the fellow who camped nearby last winter. He once told me, with some disgust in his voice, "You treat her like a person!", referring to my dog of course. (In fairness, I try to repress baby talk and other behavior that is obnoxious to other people.) 
Treat her like a human, do I? This was the groomer's idea. She got her summer clip today and loves it.
That's one of those phrases you hear every now and then. There are several others.
  • Dogs offer unconditional love.
  • Dogs are loyal.
  • I like dogs better than people.
All of these phrases seem to miss the mark. I have only had two dogs, but neither one was the least bit loyal. Whatever human walked up to them was their new best friend.

Unconditional love? A dog would only put up with so much abuse from a human. Dogs also show noticeable preferences for some people over others. If there were no conditions, how could there be preferences?

Nor will I confess to liking dogs better than people. I will admit to preferring the behavior of the average dog to that of the average person. Dogs are friendlier and more enthusiastic than the average person. Why should that be so?

And then there is the cuteness factor. Adult dogs, let alone puppies, seem much cuter than little humans. How does evolution explain that?

Why is the behavior of the average dog so preferable to the average human? My best guess is that humans have more powerful imaginations than dogs, and yet our imaginations are so undisciplined that we would almost be better without any imagination.

I don't want to try to answer these questions. It would take too much mental effort, and I'm getting ready to lie down for a siesta, after a morning mountain bike ride with my dog. Now it is a warm summer mid-day. It would be so nice to feel a touch of breeze and get another drink of water. "Jack" would have understood. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sometimes, Only a Pretty Girl Will Do

Early summer seems to be the time of year to notice butterflies on my mountain bike rides. So often, they seem to tag along, as if they are requesting membership in our bicycle club. It is physically challenging to focus on them as they flutter along, a step or two from the bike, and at the same speed as the bike. Whenever my eyes manage to freeze them in motion, they seem transformed, somehow.

The other day a large yellow butterfly fluttered in from the side, perpendicular to the direction of the bike and my dog. In fact, the butterfly collided with the head of my dog. But she didn't react snappishly, as she would to a normal insect nuisance, such as a fly or a sweat bee. She playfully -- and yet, gently--pushed the butterfly away from her head, and La Mariposa flew off, uninjured.

What is it with dogs and butterflies?

A strange rapport between dog and butterfly
Seen close up, they seem cartoonish and Disney-like.
We are having great luck in northern New Mexico, right now, finding high, semi-flat land to dispersed-camp on and mountain bike on. The other day I stopped in the middle of a thinned pondersosa forest just to let it soak in: 8000 feet, cool, open enough to see sky and mountains in the background, and smooth and flat enough to enjoy pedalling in a variety of gears. It has taken me so long to liberate myself from the childishness of tourist-thinking, but the rewards are certainly there. 

Yesterday we did a long climb up a forest service road: smooth, relentlessly upward, and without a single motor vehicle on the road. There was a nice view at the turnaround spot. My dog and I needed a cool rest and a drink of water. Perhaps she was feeling appreciative and sentimental about nature. At any rate she surprised me by walking over to some delicious shade and laying down in a bed of wildflowers. Did she make the flowers and shade more beautiful, or did they add to her?

Monday, December 29, 2014


One of the uses of old age is to develop the "muscles" that can actually improve with age. By that I mean developing the capabilities and habits of Appreciation, Gratitude, and Admiration. Today's focus is on Admiration.

I once used an inspiring speech by an anti-hero, "The Hustler," in the 1962 black-and-white film noir movie starring Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason. But before re-quoting it, let's first ask why it inspired at all. Art, according to Tolstoy's "What is Art", is not really about "beauty," as most people mistakenly suppose; rather, Art is the infecting of the viewer/reader with the emotional experience of the artist, by words, pictures, or sounds. And the makers of "The Hustler" certainly did that to me. 

Maybe their trick was to exploit the inherent advantages of an anti-hero. (Does that trick also apply in the blogosphere?) If a goodie-two-shoes, follow-the-rules, smiley-face had made the same speech, I would have merely discounted it as a routine pep-talk, better off inside a Hallmark card or stuck to somebody's bumper.

Most of the scenes were dark and grim and interior, except one: the Hustler (Newman) and his girlfriend leave the urban grit of New York City and head off for a picnic on a slope above a lake. They relaxed on a blanket and took in the view.
The Hustler to his girlfriend: Do you think I'm a loser?
He had been told that he was by the Gambler (George C. Scott), who recognized the young man's talent at pool, but also saw his character flaws. The Hustler started to wonder if it might be true, as he recounted a string of recent mistakes.

Girlfriend: Does it bother you what he said? Hustler: Yea. Yea, it bothers me a lot.
One of his mistakes was showing how good he was and winning a lot of money from some second-rate players, instead of disguising his ability, as a good hustler should. It got him beaten up.

Hustler: I could have beaten those creeps and punks cold, and they never would have known. I just had to show 'em what the game is like when it's really great. Anything can be great. Bricklaying can be great, as long as the guy knows what he's doing, and why, and if he can make it come off.

And when I'm going, when I'm really goin', I feel like a jockey must feel. He's sittin' on his horse, he's got all that speed and power underneath him, and he's coming into the stretch and the pressure's on him. He just knows when to let it go and by how much, because he's got everything working for him, timing, touch... that's a great feeling.

It's like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. The pool cue is part of me. It's a piece of wood, with nerves in it. You can feel the roll of those balls. You don't have to look -- you just know. You make shots that nobody's ever made before. Ya play that game like nobody's ever played it before.

Girlfriend: You're not a loser, you're a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything.
I then ended my sermon with a rhetorical question: why don't travelers seem to care whether they are good at travel? Why don't they 'raise the high jump bar,' instead of settling for imitating other losers?

Well, there is at least a partial answer to that. But let's ignore it today and focus on the rare winners that can be found from time to time.

Recall, last episode, I was romanticizing the Eurasian steppe and its way of life, and promising to find a bicycle touring blog that went through the steppe. As it turned out, this was pretty easy. Consider this post and photo, by Terry Ward, on :

Click here for a larger version of the picture
(Eyelashes fluttering...swoon.)

This photo by Mr. Ward shows how I would like to live, if transported by some magic carpet or time machine. The Lone Rider of the Eurasian steppe. Off-the-leash. Rampaging and marauding for thousands of miles, sacking the cities of decadent civilizations, with his loyal War Dog at his side. (Of course, I would be on a mountain bike instead of a horse. But the principle is the same.)

In this post, Mr. Ward showed what a great traveler is capable of:

The herds were always carefully watched by herders who were mounted on magnificent large horses. The horses are a wonderful feature of this region as everyone, including men, women and children ride easily on the tallest of horses. I saw a father lift a tiny girl who was possibly as young as three years old onto the back of a long-legged horse and then he smacked the horse on the rump. The girl sat easily in the saddle and held the reins expertly in her tiny hands. When they arrived at her yurt the horse stopped next to a tall pile of dirt, at which place the toddler slid off the saddle onto the top of the mound of dirt and then hopped down its side and entered her home.

I stopped breathing when I read that paragraph.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Travel in Utah's High Country

On a recent mountain bike ride near Richfield UT, they caught me sleeping. I was focusing on choosing a path between the rocks, when my herding group dog, Coffee Girl, took after a herd of sheep that we had almost stumbled into. But she was eventually scolded into returning to me, and the sheep weren't too rattled.

Hey wait a minute, weren't we only a couple seconds from an ambush by giant white dogs, screaming out of the sagebrush to protect their herd?

But none came. As we sidled up the ridge, the size of the herd became more apparent.

Where were the dogs and the human shepherd? Eventually we spotted him. But he seemed to only have a couple border collies to help him.

I waved at him so he'd notice that my dog was now on a leash, but he didn't respond. Maybe he didn't speak English, or even Spanish. Maybe he was a Vasco, that is, a Euskal from the Basque country. I'm a bit skeptical about Great Pyrenees dogs being hostile to humans, but I wasn't so sure what they would think of my "coyote," Coffee Girl, even on her leash. So we kept our distance from the shepherd, and he was spared a dozen questions from me.

We kept climbing on this rocky ATV trail. Half the time I had to dismount and push the mountain bike. You don't want to be naive about ridges. Why are they ridges in the first place? Because they are erosion-resistant volcanic rock, surrounded by easier-eroding sedimentary layers.

I was feeling inspired by the romance of the Basque High Country, and made a rare decision: to go for a loop route instead of the more typical out-and-back. Yes, loop routes are 10 times more likely to get you into trouble, especially since I don't bring a GPS or maps, or even study maps at home all that much.

We were helped by being on the Paiute ATV trail of central Utah. And I did find a loop back home, although it took 5 hours. But along the way there were those moments of Doubt and Foreboding Doom that make an outing interesting. I'm not being facetious. False summit after false summit. I yearned to hear a noisy ATV or to see the dusty contrail of a pickup truck, because that would signify that we had finally succeeded at finding the quick road back home!

Back at camp around sunset, my dog and I heard the tinkling of a single bell. Sure enough, out on the road in front of camp, the herd of sheep was moving along, and rather briskly at that. I thought there were about 300 sheep in the herd, but was later to learn it was 1200! The herd moved almost noise-lessly as a dense pack, with barely a baah out of them. 

Was the bell on an "alpha" sheep? Was it meant to help the herd, shepherd, or the dogs follow the herd? Or was it meant to help on foggy nights?

Once again we saw the shepherd. Instead of only two border collies he had a small herd of border collies and blue heelers. Is that a walking stick in his hand? He certainly needs one. I guess they don't use those long shepherd's staffs with the rounded crook at the end, anymore.

And yes, three Great Pyrenees. How noble of Purpose they are!

This pastoral experience enriched a wonderful and difficult day of mountain biking. It made it about more than just eye-candy and aerobic exercise. It helped me appreciate, what?, 8000 years of anthropological changes: our development from hunter/gatherers to a pastoral phase with domesticated herds, to agriculture and settlements, then to cities and long-distance sea trade, to industry, and finally to our current phase, such as it is.  


Let's do a movie quote from Sydney Pollack's 1994 remake of Bill Wilder's "Sabrina": the money-man, Linus (Harrison Ford), has taken Sabrina (Julia Ormond) to his "cottage" on Martha's Vineyard. They take in the view from the oceanside window. Sabrina hands Linus her camera:

Sabrina: "Don't take a picture. Just look."

Linus looks through the view finder and describes what he sees, "Ocean (yawn), ocean, ocean, quaint little fishing village...lighthouse. A guy is going into a lighthouse. There's a job for you. What must that be like? What kind of guy takes a job keeping a lighthouse?"

What kind of man, indeed. And what kind of man becomes a shepherd in the modern age? Is our shepherd (in the photo) out there all night? In the past they must have been. Imagine how cold it must have been, and how solitary. It is easy to see why there was a link between the religious and the poetical imaginations.

After a night of shivering, the shepherd awoke in the mountain fog upon hearing the tinkling of a single sheep's bell. He knew the herd was close and safe.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recidivism on a Pit Bull's Rap Sheet

The weekend finally over, the animal shelter opened up today.  I dreaded taking "Tipper", our self-invited weekend guest, to the shelter. I imagined the volunteer taking one look at Tipper and saying, "Oh that's just great, just what we need, another uncastrated pit bull! And this one requiring veterinary expenses on top of that!" Oh geez, would that mean 'the back room' for this sweet monster?

I had to lift Tipper into the van because of his sore foot. He was lighter than I thought. He just sat there. Not a squirm out of him. I rubbed his head all the way to the shelter. There was a stoic resignation that was disturbing. Did he know something that I didn't?

It was the opening of the work week at the animal shelter, and the dogs were acting out their anarcho-libertarian political leanings. They were running loose and barking their heads off. The place stunk. Apparently they don't like being ignored all weekend.

The volunteer opened the door of my van and immediately said, "I know this dog. He's been here before." The volunteer looped a leash over Tipper's head and led him through "processing." In fact, there was even a grim humor to ol' Tipper's behavior. He seemed to know the route.

Perhaps the reader remembers the Coen Brothers' classic hit movie from the 1980s, "Raising Arizona". Recall Nicholas Cage's low-key, routine response to being re-processed and re-incarcerated in the same ol' prison for his same ol' crime of knocking off convenience stores.

Remember him appearing one more time in front of the committee for his parole review. "There's a name for people like you: recidivism. REEpeat OAF-fender."

The volunteer gave me Tipper's rap sheet. But it was good news actually. He was born across the street from the animal shelter. These days he was owned by a guy with an actual job, which is no small luxury in this impoverished part of Colorado. The owner was prone to hiking in my camping area. In fact he worked for the forest service. So why had Tipper run away? The volunteer suggested thunder. Also there is some gun fire up there.

The volunteer said that they would get the bad boy over to the vet, who was right next door to the animal shelter. I gave a small donation. The volunteer mentioned that the law had recently been changed in Colorado so that animal abuse was now a felony. That didn't really have anything to do with the case in question, it was just an aside.

Or maybe it did. I learned that Tipper's real name was "Sponge Bob." Good grief. 


The animal shelter took my name and phone number. I'm not asking to be fawned over, like I'm some mighty hero or something. But it would be nice to get a simple 'Thank you' call from the pit bull's owner. But past experience has shown me that the System does not work like that. 

Since I was in the animal shelter why not have the fun of checking out their "inventory?" Along the way I stopped back at "Sponge Bob's" cage and put my fingers through the chain link fence. That mighty maw was waiting just on the other side. He gave my fingers a soft lick. 

What is that famous quote by Mark Twain that ends in the punchline 'and that is the difference between a man and a dog?' 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Returning the Favor of Dog Rescue

(Dispersed camping near Little Texas #3, CO.) Coffee Girl, my Australian kelpie, did not like the intruder, an uncastrated pit bull. In fact I've never heard her growl at another dog before. Initially I thought of getting my foot all the way back, and then kicking its brains in. Like most people, I despise pit bulls.

But wait a minute. It was acting so friendly. The colors were "friendly" too. It had a sore foot. After watering and feeding it, I set up a doggie luxury lounge underneath my trailer.

Why don't people put tags on their dog with their phone number so that somebody in my position would know what to do?

This dog responds so enthusiastically to attention by beating its white-tipped tail that I have started calling it "Tipper." I wish it were putting a little more weight on its sore foot. On Monday I'll take it to the animal shelter. Too bad.

Anyway this is such a sweet dog that it is a pleasure to return the favor to some stranger that Will F. did for another stranger -- me -- several years ago when he rescued my little poodle after he had run off; he had freaked out because of the echo of gunfire by target practicers, when we were getting ready to camp at the foot of Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO.

The heroic elk hunter from Idaho, who rescued my Little Poodle several years ago.
Let's just hope that the owner wants their dog back. This affable monster sure eats a lot of food!

Monday, November 18, 2013

'Best in Show:' Wild Canids in the Canyon

The reader might be familiar with the semi-recent movie, "Best in Show." The spine of the plot is a dog show, but it is not really a 'dog movie.' Rather, it's a comedic mockumentary about their neurotic human owners.

Today's hike in Zion country (southwestern Utah) turned out the opposite: it was the humans who were acting sensibly, and the dogs who were nuts. We had five dogs in our party, eight humanoid-companion-units, and a neighborhood dawg, Blue, who tends to join any frolic taking place on her BLM land.

As we drove up, I thought my kelpie, Coffee Girl, was going to crash through the windshield with excitement when she saw all these playmates. All of the dogs, no two alike and weighing from 10 to 80 pounds, got along beautifully. I get really charged up by the frantic synergy of dogs. You could think of this walk as a linear-BLM-version of a dog park.

Vertical wall of a red sandstone arroyo. What could cause such a weird bend in the whitish layer?

Up we all went, up the arroyo towards one of the famous mesas of the area. I was surprised to see puddles and mud on the arroyo floor. After about a half mile, we saw a tiny spring fast-dripping water down into the arroyo. Upstream, the floor was completely dry. I've never actually caught a desert spring "in the act" before!

Ahh dear, if only we had had a geologist along. (And you know who you are.) We saw the remains of interesting and scary collapses of sedimentary rocks into the arroyo. How can you know how close you were to being a victim of one of these events?

Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup and fibrosis) on the walls of the red sandstone canyon?

Our little tribe of RV-outdoorsmen put a couple more clicks on the ratchet wrench today, as John and Susan (and Carli and Jake, their canine companions) joined in their first outdoor frolic with the rest of the tribe. I thought of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Remember the "Borgs", who were always trying to swallow up (assimilate) human populations? "Resistance is FYOO-tile."

Looking from the inside of a void (in a red sandstone canyon wall) to the outside.

Then the dogs started acting like aliens from outer space. Debbie's dog, Rupert (half miniature poodle/half wire-haired Jack Russell Terrier), tried serial suicide attempts. His best one was getting on top of a 20 foot high embankment that was too steep to come down, especially the last 6 feet of vertical drop. He slid down to John or my outstretched arms several times, but he just wouldn't trust us and come into our hands.

Just then, Blue, the neighborhood loaner dog, climbed up to Rupert from an easier direction. She went right to him, turned around, and made an easy descent back down to the floor, as Rupert followed her. Say what you want about goofy dog-people anthropomorphizing their dogs, Blue deliberately rescued Rupert.

I braced myself as we approached what looked like a raven resting on a wooden post, and studying all of us. We were no doubt putting on quite a show. We decided that it was a mostly black red-tailed hawk. Most unusual. My dog, Coffee Girl goes nuts over ravens and sometimes, hawks. The next time we looked in that direction, she was on top of a 15 foot high vertical bank. She leaped off, onto a steep lower bank. She made quite a kerplunk when she landed but she was not injured, probably for the same reason a ski jumper survives as he lands onto a steep slope. But my goodness, how does a dog practice a stunt like that? What gave her the idea to be so reckless. (Rupert, probably.)

Break in the morning clouds just catches the topographic curvature.

On the way out we found a weird slot canyon through some grey sedimentary layer. Mark is threatening to go back there and ride down the dry waterfall and then down the slot canyon. Once again, the Rupert-effect is twisting one of the tribal members.

Friday, August 30, 2013

William Blake Paddles Down a Dry Granite River

The word 'flow' in the title of the last post and a comment by uber-commenter, George, reminded me of something. Gee, if only the search box in blogger worked right. After some brute-force-searching I finally found that other post. 

This blog isn't a travelogue of Breaking News of the day. There is too much of that approach on the internet. The more minute-by-minute writing becomes, the more trivial it gets. So I rewrote this other experience, hoping that a couple "moments of truth" will come across more clearly to the reader.

The Little Poodle and I "paddled" upstream -- on the mountain bike -- along the popular Arkansas River, near "Byoona" Vista, CO. We saw one river rafting company after another. As luck would have it, we made it in time for their mass "descension" of the Arkansas River. (If balloonists at the Albuquerque festival can have a mass ascension, then rafters in Colorado can have a mass descension.)

It seemed like a documentary about the D-Day invasion of World War II. Actually it all happened quickly and smoothly.

It has always been a poignant experience to watch people enjoying any water sport. I have tried to connect with the water over the years, and nothing really worked. So I surrendered to my fate as a land mammal.

The little poodle, not being a Labrador retriever, felt the same way. So we turned away from the river and biked into an area dominated by foothills of spheroidally-weathered granite. The road was actually just a dry wash of decomposed granite: small, clean, bright, and loose. It is tiring to bike uphill through loose gravel. A rocky path is actually easier.

We plodded onward, uphill -- or rather, upstream--and into the hot morning sun. Along one section there was a rivulet of clean water that the parched poodle desperately wanted a drink from. He needed some help because the rivulet was only a half inch deep. 

So I scooped the loose granitic gravel into a hole, making it easier for him to drink. It was strange how this didn't muddy-up the water. Here I was, surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks (all Fourteeners) and the marvelous Arkansas River. But the mere sight of such things had little effect on me.

It was only when I scooped out a drinking hole for my little poodle, and felt the desperate lapping of his little tongue against the palm of my hand, that I was strongly affected by what was around me. I guess William Blake really was right. ("To hold infinity in the palm of your hand...")

I pushed the bike uphill for a long way, knowing that when we turned around, it might be easy to bike down the dry wash. (A more prudent approach would have been to test that theory closer to the start.) Indeed, it worked out just as hoped. It's one of the advantages of mountain biking.

Descending the dry wash on the bike was a strange experience because I couldn't really steer the bike, properly speaking. I could only react to the changes in the looseness of the granitic gravel. The path was troughed and concave, and I could only try to keep the wheel straight. 

Looking at my front wheel, it appeared as though it were stationary and the gravel was flowing by, like water flowing by the bow of a sailboat. I could only help the gravel steer me back to the center. With each minute, this unusual mountain bike ride seemed more like kayaking down the Arkansas River. It gave me the unusual satisfaction of actually connecting with a water sport for perhaps the first time in my life. And I was on dry land.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults.

We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game.

But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss.

On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this:

But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but the pleasure was coming mainly from the exercise, not from the scenery.

Something about that interaction between dog and butterfly was magical, as if they were in an old fairy tale; the butterfly was a forest nymph or wood sprite in disguise; she whispered some secret suggestion to my unsuspecting dog; and it turned out to be a mischievous trick.

Whatever the explanation is, a year from now I won't remember the San Juan scenery and the perfect weather. But I will remember that serendipitous dalliance of dog and butterfly for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Dog That Should Take Over the World

...and wouldn't you know that I didn't get a photo of her. My next camera is going to be smaller. Maybe high-resolution cameras on smartphones is the way to go. Anyway, her name is Emma, and she is a half-grown miniature labra-doodle, sired by a miniature poodle, and brought into this world by a Labrador Retriever mother. A good guess is that she will top out at 25-30 pounds.

A person can be a professional dog-lover and still have only weak respect for many dog-owners. For all I can see, most dog owners have little practical common sense about their dogs; they selected the dog based on its physical appearance more than anything.

How did the average metropolitan Indoorsman/couch-potato/cubicle rat ever get it into their head that they need an 80 pound Lab or an energetic hunting breed? Why do so few owners try to socialize their dogs, such as taking it to the dog park and getting it used to having fun with other dogs? Where did they get the idea that dogs are better than an electronic security alarm, and end up choosing a Rottweiler or German Shepherd? And when the hell is the world going to ban pit bulls!?

In the real world of the suburb (let alone the world of RVing) a small/medium, non-shedding, companion pooch is what most people should have. But husbands refuse to be seen walking a small dog because they don't think it looks manly enough -- they want a dog that would look good on the front cover of the Cabela's catalog. Apparently the husband can't admit that he only goes hunting with the boys two weekends per year, and last year he didn't even go once.

Emma has a poodle-coat that doesn't shed, but she doesn't get a La Cage aux Folles-looking haircut at the groomer; nor does she get her toe nails painted or pink ribbons tied around her ears; nor does she have a cropped tail -- why wouldn't anyone want to see a natural tail wagging away? She is the perfect dog for the vast majority of metropolitanized dog owners, and if there is any rationality in the world of dogs, she will become the Mother of what takes over the dog world.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nostalgia on a Shore Line

It seemed like a pretty hopeless place to enjoy water sports: a New Mexico state park. (Heron Lake.) The lake looked like somebody pulled the cork out of the bottom. And yet, the 6 or 8 paddlers, sailors, and fishermen seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I personally never had great success with water sports, despite a fair bit of effort. But the two sailboaters here were putting the New Mexican wind to good use.  Overnight they camped right down by the water, in their small rigs. Even after a night of relative aeolian quiescence, the waves were still making a pleasant music against the shoreline at sunrise.

Isn't that great!? State park bureaucrats actually allow people the freedom to have fun, here. Don't ask me how they reconcile such behavior with Patriotism and America's security needs. 

And speaking of fun. The next morning Kurumi Ted took Chaco, the Labrador retriever, and my kelpie, Coffee Girl, down to a stream that actually had flowing water in it. The lab gave his imitation of a Cabela's catalog cover boy...

But why wasn't his comfortable enthusiasm with the water rubbing off on my herding dog? Granted, she had never been in deep water before. Finally my friend E, Chaco's mommie, coaxed my dog out a little deeper.

Look Pops! My belly is wet, so it counts as "Swimming."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Lion Hunters

We were taking a hike on the Continental Divide this morning when a couple super-athletes came by. Both dogs made Tour de France cyclists look like pudgy marshmallows. They had enormously long legs, exposed ribs, and tortilla-sized floppie ears. They had no interest in being petted or drinking water. They were not unfriendly to me or my kelpie, Coffee Girl.

All legs and lungs -- and ribs!

But there was an indifference that I'm not used to seeing in a dog. I don't like it. A dog should be your friend and come back to you when called. The "generalist" makes a better pet than an obsessive-compulsive specialist, like these two workaholic hounds.

Still, you have to admire a critter that is good at what it does, and does exactly what it was "meant" to do. That certainly describes these two. They were serious professionals on the job, hunting for something. Their earnestness was accentuated by the GPS collars and foot-long antennas, which gave them a bionic-super-dog look.

Since my own little poodle was rescued by an elk hunter a few years back (click on the blue tabbed "Disney Movie..." at the top of the page), I've felt a desire to return the favor. So I started walking back to the trailer, with these two hunters casually following me. I called the phone number on the collar at the high spot on the trail. The hunter met me back at the trailer 20 minutes later. 

He explained a little about the GPS collars, but what really interested me was what they were hunting for. Mountain lions! Gee that's the second time that subject has come up, recently. The other day my dental technician treated me to a good story about seeing a mountain lion in these very mountains, southwest of Silver City, NM. Her silly dogs didn't even sense the cat, but she did. She scared the cat off just before the dogs practically walked over the cat! (In case you're wondering, I hike and mountain bike with a hunting knife and pepper spray on my belt, and an ear-splitting whistle around my neck.)

As always I am delighted with the friendly encounters I have with outdoorsmen of just about any stripe -- even motorized ones! I ask specific questions about how their sport works, and they seem to enjoy an "outsider" being interested. My own sports are pretty much limited to mountain biking and hiking, with an interest in birds, photography, and geology. But whenever I cross paths with another mountain biker -- or even worse, a hiker -- there is usually a troubling coldness between us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Livestock Security Services in New Mexico's "Basque" Country

Abiquiu, NM. On a day of ooze and muck, it is time that I came clean. Much as I love to debunk four-wheel-drive vehicles and brag about how well my rear-wheel-drive van pulls the trailer through the mountains, I sing a different tune when the dirt roads become wet. When I learn there is clay in the road, the tune stops altogether. Fortunately a Forest Service guy gave me fair warning.

He also explained why these high ridges north of Abiquiu are so attractive: they burned 100 years ago and the trees haven't been able to get reestablished, resulting in a balanced combination of pastures and forests. It never gets better than this.

I was experiencing a great success primarily due to telling the internet where to go. This allowed me to expand, almost euphorically, into new ground. Nothing makes western North America get BIGGER than kissing off the internet. So I'm exploring the northern counties of New Mexico contained in the highway loops formed by US-285 on the east, US-84 on the west, and Abiquiu/Espanola on the south. Actually it's not really internet-free, but it's almost Verizon-free. Fortunately Verizon allows roaming here (the so-called Global Access network), which is working quite well along the highways.

On the mountain bike ride I saw and heard the largest and noisiest herd of ovine-Americans that I've ever seen. Perhaps 200. I was surprised at how rampaging and "army-like" a large herd of sheep can seem, and how quickly they move along the pastoral ridgelines at 9500 feet. 

On the return trip they waylaid me right on the dirt road. Hey wait a minute. What about that warning about the "livestock protection dogs" of a couple posts ago? I stopped and watched the sheep herd for ten minutes, but saw no giant man-eating sheepdogs. How disappointing!

The next morning the herd was right outside my front door. Coffee Girl was excited. She has learned not to harass cattle; maybe it's time to do the same with sheep. But just in case, I left her inside the van and went to check for giant sheep dogs.

There were two of them, a matched pair. They saw me before I saw them. They don't really stand out since they're the same color and size as the sheep.

They walked toward me, but then stopped. They wouldn't leave the herd. They didn't look so scary. I didn't want to push my luck but government agencies love to, uhh, cry wolf; that is, they give exaggerated warnings to citizens who they see as their dumb sheep.

In fact the two sheep dogs seemed amazingly professional. I watched them for a few minutes to see if they would stay in the center of the herd, try to lead it, or go back to round up stragglers. I swear that somebody had a bell around their neck. 

Which breed do you think they belong to? (As usual, click to enlarge.)

For such a reputed curmudgeon and cynic I find the romance of high pastures, Basque shepherds, sheep dogs, and cougars to be irresistible. Guess which DVD movie I'll fall asleep to tonight? Hint: made in Australia in the 1990's, and features a lot of talking animals.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building an RV Community of Outdoorsmen-Boondockers

Long-suffering readers know that I'm not naive about utopian, pie-in-the-sky dreams about some vaunted community, especially one tainted with Age of Aquarius culture. But that's not the point.

A better RV lifestyle needs to be constructed, and the term "community" expresses that goal as well as any other single word. Before theorizing and polemicizing about this project, let's keep our feet on the ground by observing some very tribal animals: our dogs.

My fellow camper has two Corgis, a grandmother and her grand-daughter. Notice the moral support Grannie gives to the Pupster as she engages in community recreational activities with my dog, Coffee Girl (the larger, black dog at the bottom of the pile):

Initially Coffee Girl was afraid of the Pupster. But soon she learned how to play with her with just the right amount of roughness. Clearly it has become fun for both of them.

Normally their play begins with the Pupster trying to bring it on. The caption here might be, "Coffee Girl, your momma wears army boots!":

Soon the spirited Pupster has Coffee Girl on her back, and when her shoulder blades hit the ashy forest soil the ten-count starts:

...8, 9, and 10! Hooray the Pupster is victorious again! After this rough-housing, regardless of who won, the two dogs are good sports about it, and express their mutual satisfaction:

Somehow I think there's more to learn from watching a pack of rowdy dogs disport at a dog park than in all the social schemes and buzzwords offered in this month's edition of "Social Engineering Today" or "Utopian World" glossy magazines.

Those who are suspicious of the aspirations of "visionaries" -- and history has shown that you should be -- might be put at ease by experiencing another concrete embodiment of a chemical laboratory based on conflicting personalities, all stirred up by mobility and serendipity. Consider watching the movie, Bagdad Cafe. I rewatched it recently, courtesy of the ever-so-hospitable public library of Glenwood NM. I liked it better this time, in part because it brought the Mobile Kodger's platitudes down from the clouds.

Blogosphere update: other bloggers have commented on the idea of RVers caravanning together and melding into a little tribe. For instance Kurumi Ted has commented favorably on the idea. He has his own contribution to the design of a better RV lifestyle: carrying a small motorcycle on the back of his small class C motorhome.

Oddly enough, even Wandrin' Lloyd sort of liked the idea, despite his unregenerate loyalty to unaffiliated wandering.

Earlier Mark at Box Canyon Blog assayed the idea. This brought on an avalanche of comments to his post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Free Therapy in Dog Parks

Since I normally pound away at government and politicians on this blog, it is a refreshing change to praise one of the rare success stories of local governments, the dog park. Whose idea was it originally, where did it get started, and how did it achieve critical mass?

Dog parks are almost as big a success for people as they are for dogs. How much friendly interaction (between strangers) is there in the average public setting, such as the city park, festivals, restaurants and bars, etc.? Even "fellow" hikers on a hiking trail can be neutral or icy to each other. In a dog park the human owners trust each other and give compliments to the other owners for the appearance and comportment of their dogs.

Coffee Girl just finished up a workout at a dog park south of Tucson. This is the third time we've been there, so it almost saddens me to leave the area. It is the best dog park I have seen yet; I'm not referring to the physical facility. It's the critical mass of participants that matters. Perhaps this results from the sheer number of snowbirds in the area. Once I stayed there most of the day because it was such a good time. 

But it's more serious than just having fun. Modern life for dogs can be very stressful with the shots and inoculations, confinement behind chain link fences, leash laws, etc. They are adaptable animals, but still...

They get all bottled up with tensions that climb to toxic levels. They need an internal cleansing, a catharsis, which Aristotle defined as a violent expurgation of the soul. A catharsis for canines means getting in touch with their Inner Wolf...

 ...and what an aura a dog comes away with, after a session at the dog park! As a rule dogs don't exude relaxation the way that cats do; but their behavior after a workout at the dog park might be the exception.

During her workout I kept giggling at a ridiculous image that perhaps somebody should make a cartoon or comedy skit out of: the dogs and their owners come through the gate into the dog park; the dogs stand around sedately while the humans immediately pounce on the fresh meat -- the other human -- who comes in. They wrestle and thrash each other with complete abandon. One man is brave enough to mount an especially saucy wench, who breaks free and starts biting him in the throat.

A frequent visitor might start to categorize the humans. (Please, no sermons against stereotyping. If dogs come in distinct breeds, why shouldn't humans?) For example there is the over-protective mommy type. Or consider the control freak: this is typically the owner of a serious hunting dog. The poor dog has no fun at all in the park; he either doesn't know how to play or isn't allowed to. But there are individual hunting dogs that can put work aside and act like one of the pack.

Not surprisingly, I am one of the lax owner types who allows his dog to misbehave as long as she's having fun and isn't doing (serious) harm to another dog, other than gnawing on its shoulder as it tries to escape. More times than not, Coffee Girl is the agent provocateur for interaction that turns to mayhem. Other owners are grateful to her for making "it" happen.

Is there anything about these wonderful experiences at the dog park that can be generalized or adapted to human-human interaction?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Cliff-Hanging Tail

The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type. 

It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ...

Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days.

It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in place, perhaps because he thought it was too steep or because his hiking boots were curtailing him a bit. Since I didn't want to baby him, Coffee Girl (the younger and larger dog) and I kept going to the hole in the cliff to see what it actually was. The walk was cold and dark in the shadow of the cliff. 

But where was the little poodle? He was only a hundred yards away, so I wasn't too worried. But maybe I should find an easier way down for him. As we descended there was still no sign of him, despite my calling. Then I started blowing the whistle, which also failed.

By now I was getting worried. I shifted horizontally, back to his last location at the foot of cliff. Anxiety boiled into anger and panic by now. He was so close -- why didn't he just bark to help out! (And everybody thinks that a quiet dog is the ideal dog!) At least he could only go in one direction, since the cliff was vertical. 

Something caught my peripheral view. It was on a small saddle of a rocky ridge: oh no, ghastly teddy bear chollas!

Then I saw a half dozen...what? Coffee Girl saw them at the same time. Off she ran, downhill at full speed, right through those horrible teddy bear cholla. She reached a saddle about 100 feet lower where five desert bighorn sheep huddled in a dense pack, apparently paralyzed as to what to do.

You seldom get a chance to see Ovis Canadensis nelsoni this close, so I fumbled with the camera while she did her puppyish best to harry them. They were not frightened by my voice since they were focused entirely on her. Apparently they were practiced in the art of defense against coyotes. Then they walked towards me with a close-packed, military precision. I couldn't believe they didn't see me!  

Coffee Girl was so interested in the sheep that she forgot about the teddy bear cholla. Finally her luck ran out. Then she dutifully limped up the ridge to me, like a brave warrior, wounded in action. She had segments on all legs, which were easy to flick off with a comb. Her mouth was in pretty good shape, showing once again what a few minutes of dog saliva can do to cholla spines.

At any other time this would have been an interesting experience, but I wasn't in the mood. Where is that damned little fool of a poodle!? The worst thing about losing a dog is not knowing how to proceed. I decided to try to return to the exact spot where I last saw him. And there he was, at the foot of the cliff. He was motionless, except for the shivering. Had he even moved for the last thirty minutes? Once he got going he actually enjoyed glissading down the volcanic talus with me and Coffee Girl, who was enjoying the romp of her young life today.

I was furious with him for not barking to help me locate him long ago; but then we would have missed the desert bighorn sheep.