Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Beautiful Ruby

Ruby Beagle is the canine love of my life. It’s true, even Dog Rock Gods have a weakness, and Ruby Beagle is mine. Which is not to say that I don’t absolutely adore our other puppies, Bubble and Gizmo, I do. And I’ve loved other dogs in my visit to this earth, Misty, Cooper, Ziggy, even Sparky who hated me because he previously held the position of my mother’s baby. And of course I love (most of) the dogs we walk. But Ruby is it for me.

After 10 years of a previous relationship, I finally talked my way into a dog – clearly a career as a salesperson would have been a mistake. Much better Dog Rock God.

OK. So having received permission, what sort of dog? Beagles have always looked cute. Get the Trading Post. There’s one just near where I work. Pop out and get her at lunchtime. Two to choose from. I pick the shy one and instantly know that her name is Ruby. Because, of course, no-one has ever named their dog, Ruby.

I show her off to everyone, cuddle her to bits and pieces, get her home and discover the poor little bugger has fleas and ear mites and I hadn’t even noticed the bent over tail which snooty beagle breeders later frowned on as a gay tail. Any being who is frowned on for anything gay immediately rockets in my estimation.

But back to the early days, She was as cute as cute could be. I’d take her on her walks and, after a short time she’d just flop down on the pavement, apparently exhausted. After a minute or so, she’d build up a big batch of energy and take off like a crazy thing, pulling and pulling on the lead until she tired again and did her puppy flop. During one such a pause, a well meaning women with a genuinely sympathetic tone enquired, “Is that your first beagle?”

Soon her meaning became apparent, but as we’re here to hail Ruby, I will just tell you that in her early years she ate a whole couch and caused the entire Balmain first grade rugby league team to mock me as I did laps of Rozelle hospital grounds, trying to cojole her to come back to me. Every time I passed them, they echoed me in a girly voice calling “Ruby, Ruby”. Schmucks.

We survived these early adventures and our bond grew to titanium strength when the ex walked out on us. Us! One day, said ex came to have a pretend civil discussion and proceeded to coo over now one year old Ruby who quickly turned on her paws, jumped on my lap, and stared down the infidel, not a smile in sight. That’s my girl!

Surviving that little episode, us single girls met the new, and improved, love of our life and a meeting was proposed between my Ruby and Meredith’s Great Danes, Ziggy and Cooper. Never one to be intimidated, the gorgeous Ruby raced straight into the house of this woman I was desperate to impress, and I mean raced, and pooed on Cooper’s bed. And I mean pooed.

Somehow Meredith’s eyes were still full of love goo and she overlooked our little indiscretion. The early days were a little rocky between my dog love and my human love. At one point I clearly remember one of them saying, no, make that shouting, “It’s either you or me Ruby”. From another room I do recall thinking that might not be a threat I can accommodate. I think the said threatener may have realised too, because things calmed down markedly after that. From then on she became our Ruby.

Fast forward to now. Ruby is 12 and a half – born July 24, 1997, possibly in a puppy brothel, certainly in Taree. She has been having a few neck problems, bit of a creaky back, and a lovely vet named Richard has been looking after her. On her second last visit Meredith requested that her anal glands be squeezed – super ick – because she’d been licking the area recently. Lots of stuff came out and he suggested she might have a bit of an infection. Routine follow up on Thursday, his jolly conversation suddenly gets a little serious as he has his finger up her bum. I know he does this sort of thing for a living so I know it isn’t a sudden distaste for his chosen career. No. Ruby seems to have a lump. Should I bring her back in a couple of weeks to see if it goes down? No. Get her straight to a specialist.

Next day, lovely Dr Katya Voss – how are these specialists so young? – confirms, very gently, that in all likelihood this is a cancer. My world is spinning now as I seem to understand that I need to hope that it hasn’t spread to the lymphs but if it has it can stay there for a long time before it inevitably goes to her – my beautiful Ruby’s beautiful lungs. No.

Just no.

The life expectancy of a beagle is 12 to 15 years. I want 15. Hell, I want 30!

We go back to Sydney Uni vet hospital tomorrow, me and my gorgeous Ruby who doesn’t seem sick at all, and she has a day of tests.

They’ve given me a long document to sign that tells me basically that I must cough up the dough before they will lay a finger on her and, if I don’t, they really don’t want to know about her. Also. In another really long passage, any mistakes they might accidentally commit upon this absolute dog love of my life, you guessed it …. not liable. I don’t want liable. I want mistake free, I want my 15 years. Let me be clear though, the vets have been wonderful, caring people. I'm merely protesting at the role the lawyers and the dodgy people of this world have played in throwing trust out the window.

Having said that, perhaps they will sign something to say they will do everything in their power to make her well. I know Dr Katya will, but why am I the only one who has to sign? It would also say that they will cuddle her all the time while she’s there, unless of course, she doesn’t want them to, and then they’ll stop. Additionally, they should handle her very gently, not put their fingers near her mouth because she doesn’t like that, make sure she gets neither too hot nor too cold, reassure her regularly that I will be back to pick her up as soon as they call me, give her as many treats as she wants when the procedures are through, make sure she gets taken for wees and poos so she doesn’t get uncomfortable, and grant her the last three years of her life. Please.

Having sought a million reassurances that they would give her plenty of love, I sent Ruby off for her tests and, guess what? Clear lungs, clear lymphs, and a most excellent chance that the big lump is nothing but a big lump of fat in a very odd place. I have those!!! Yay. Yay. Yay. Going for 15 years and beyond ... thanks Dr Katya!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Add Water

Dogs and Water. Water and Dogs.

On a scorching summer’s day, it is vital to ensure that the dogs in our pack have plenty of water available. There’s a tap and a bowl on our walking route – that should take care of any thirst, right? Sure unless you’re Dixie and Babooti, who can’t possibly drink out of any bowl another dog may have used. Heavens no. Doesn’t matter how hot it is, we need to make sure we have an alternate method of getting them to drink. Babooti requires her own portable bowl while Dixie, strangely enough, is happy to drink from any water laying around on the ground.

Even in the driest of weather, Centennial Park has water laying about, primarily in the form of a swamp, right smack bang in the middle of where we walk. Most dogs have no interest it unless it’s very hot. The athletes (ball dogs) however, need to run to the swamp in between throws to replenish their fluids and cool their undercarriages. No amount of stern “NO!” will dissuade them. We’ve tried. So on a perfectly fine day there is the odd dog who may well go home muddy. Some people see this as a sign that their dog had a great time. This we encourage. Some don’t. And that’s unfortunate.

Golden and Labrador retrievers will always lie in any puddle of water they can find. It’s in their blood, which incidentally must be like ice, given that they will indulge this passion even in the dead of winter.

Which brings us to the recent torrential rains. Aaah the glamour of dogwalking. When it’s outrageously heavy, most dogs bound out of the car, get struck by the fact that it’s pelting down in the park just like it was in their backyard – who knew? – and quickly turn around and head straight back for the comparative luxury of the dog bus. Most dogs that is. But when it’s bucketing down like that and the majority have quickly come to their senses, you can always guarantee there’ll be at least one waterbaby, standing there in the downpour, tapping their feet, and giving you the “I’ve paid for this” look. A quick negotiation will usually have them back in the vehicle waiting for it to clear with the rest of us.

For the most part though, dogs like a bit of a play in light rain or, even better, immediately after. The smells that come out of the ground seem to be something particularly fascinationg immediately after rain. And the fresh water is such fun to splash through and flop in. After the weekend rains everybody had the best time. Even 10 year old Gordon Setter, Monty, danced like a two year old.

Unfortunately, the biggest fans of pelting through the water and mud at speed are our white fluffies: Jemima, Buttons, and Josie. Design fault. Josie outdid herself on Monday (see pic above) and was forced to suffer the indignity of being publicly bathed under the aforementioned tap. Next we ran her through the long grass to dry her off – theory being it’s a little like those carwash thingies. She returned home looking almost freshly washed. Almost.

All great fun but spare a thought for Dixie and Ruby Watson who both really can’t cope with the rain and its’ after effects. A lady should never have to get her paws wet. Never.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Wish

Before we took over this business, someone we privately considered quite bonkers said to us: “Be careful. Every dog walker I know is totally mad”. Unsure whether this was the pot calling the kettle black or simply the pot assuming everyone was a kettle, we ploughed ahead. After six and a half years of walking dogs, I have to note that I am no more insane than I was teaching high school but I do consider dogs to be some of the best beings around. Further, and this is where it gets a little scary, if granted one wish (OK, and all the nice poor people and sick people were already healthy and rich), I would choose to spend a day as a dog.


When you spend so much time with a different being, a whole bunch of questions start nagging away. And assumptions of so called experts really start to get up your nose. There seems to be an understanding that dogs are somehow less than us, that they are roughly the equivalent of a two year old child and no more. Rubbish. Why can’t humans think that maybe there are different kinds of intelligences and capabilities that may far exceed our own.

Simple case in point: I could find a whole bunch of dogs who could run the 100 metres faster than that Bolt guy. Yet the Olympic champion is feted for not being able to run as fast as many a dog.

This is just one experience I’d love to have during my day as a dog. I’d run fast and play lots and jump many times my own height, just to know what that feels like. I’d also cleverly navigate the world without hands and wag my tail furiously.

Then I’d check out what my vision of the world would be if I was less than, say, 30 centimetres tall. Would I just see a less than stunning array of knees? And I’d get to know if my eyesight really is my least adequate sense and if I see in colour and what that spectrum is like. I’d get to know what I actually see and think as I watch my people incessantly for cues that I can figure out.

And here’s the real kicker, the thing I’d really love to know: if I don’t have words, how do I think? If I think: “ooh it’s about dinner time” and I don’t have the words, “ooh it’s about dinner time”, then what do I think?

Which brings me to the next fascination, how do I know what time it is and what day? Because dogs do know these things. Dogs we walk will wait at the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays if they’re the only days they come out with us. On the other days they don’t wait. How does that work?

How will I know when my person is five minutes away in the car? Is it my amazing sense of smell? And what is it like to have a sense of smell like that? When my person comes home and I sniff them all over, what am I smelling? Is it like a story of the day? Does the ground have a history of every dog that has been past and can I recognise whether or not I would like each dog just from this scent.

Here comes the difficult bit. Some humans who proclaim to know about these things say that when a dog sniffs the bum of another that they get all manner of information, ranging from age and sex to understanding of their position in the hierarchy. OK, so as a human I don’t ever want to sniff a dog’s, or any other creatures’, bum, but dogs don’t seem to mind and I would really like to understand how this information is conveyed. And again, how do they register it without words?

And then, when my day is over, I’d want to be sure to remember it all so I could retain a better understanding of these gorgeous creatures.

But then again, I imagine the experience of their purity of emotion, simplicity of existence, and enduring curiosity, may not so easily be left behind.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Politics of the Front Seat

The true joy of dogwalking is the dogs. The ick of dogwalking is the driving to pick up said dogs. Sydney traffic, aaaaaaargh. Other Sydney drivers, double aaaaaaaaaaargh.

Sometimes, when we’re running through the process of the walks as mindless conversation with, say, an osteopath who must have studied at least something a little bit difficult to qualify to have you semi-naked face down, cracking that most vulnerable of body parts, your spine, sometimes they say “Oh, do you pick the dogs up?”

At this we pause. Wait for the penny to drop. It doesn’t so, aware of the power of the questioner, we ever so gently say, “We do. We’ve tried suggesting that they all catch a bus to the park but the idea has failed to gain traction.”

So yes. We drive. A lot. But there is one fascinating aspect that all but relieves the tedium of the drive and that is the race to get the best spot in the car. Or, as we like to call it, the politics of the front seat.

For some Critter Clubbers, there is no more desireable place than the front passenger seat. Harbourfront real estate. On the early run, it is owned by Buttons. Occasionally he allows Ruby Watson to share but he lets her know when she’s not welcome and, head down, she slumps to the back to see if anyone will talk to her there. One day each week Buttons goes on the second walk because the cleaners are scared of him – check his picture out on our Dogs page. On this day Buttons faces stiff opposition for his customary position. The second walk provides the fiercest competition of all. It is not pretty, not a place for wimps. His solution is not to compete but to sit on the brake lever between the seats and cuddle up under my arm. Never beaten.

First walk on Fridays and Otto has the seat all to himself. Don’t tell the others.

The reigning champ of the second session is the adorable Jemima. What is it with these little white fluffies? Her nearest competition is the seriously cuddleable Josie. They do, of course, both fit on the seat, but next to the backrest gazing lovingly at the driver is the prime spot. Yep, it’s a tough gig.

Josie accepts that Jemima gets the best spot because she was there first, but not all dogs get it so easily. Enter Babooti, Twiggy, Sadie, Bello, and Rex. Each of them tries to cling to the remaining area of the seat. Bello manages it with grace. Sadie growls at Babooti who growls back, all tough but not an ounce of fight in them. Now Twiggy notices that if she pokes Sadie with her nose she will growl. When she stops poking, the growling stops. So she does it again. Just like playing with a toy. At this Rex feels very uncomfortable, makes his excuses, and departs for the back.

If they all get a little squishy for Jemima she explodes (and clearly means it) and Sadie flies onto the floor, only to land on her sister Dixie, who lets fly with so many dog expletives that even the driver’s face turns a shade of tomato.

Make no mistake, the top of the pile has been won fairly and squarely by munchkin Jemima. New dogs Daisy and Indie have both tried their luck and been sent packing to the back, where interdog diplomacy is a much more relaxed affair.

Once Jemima has left the Critter Club to rule her home for the rest of the day, Ruby and Roger make their way from the back, very politely, to have a turn.

The only other given is the dog who would never fight for the front seat but who waits patiently for her opportunity to play driver. Olympic equivalent athlete Bebe just loves to sit in the driver’s seat when dogs are being escorted into their homes. Anyone going past sees a giant black groodle sitting proudly behind the wheel of the parked car, looking straight ahead determinedly, waiting for her opportunity to finally drive. What they don’t see or know is that the high level of ball activity in which she has just partaken has caused her to go and lie in the swamp to cool down. As the driver returns to the vehicle, Bebe returns to the back, the driver sits down and aaaaaaaaaaargh. Wet bum. Delightful. So yes, we do drive them to the park.