Friday, March 31, 2006

The Dog Blanket

By the time his ashes and collar came unceremoniously in a box most of the crying was done. All that was felt was the hole that he left behind. The vet came by to drop them off. I thanked the Vet for all of her care and concern. Placing his ashes and collar on the mantle had just ended a 10-year friendship. Though he is gone I still think about him everyday.

My dog didn't shed, he’d molt. His fur came out in small feather like tufts.
My father was always against having pets and much like the father in the original story " Cheaper by the Dozen" my father thought that pets were useless because they did not produce eggs, milk or meat.

I have heard of people vacuuming their dogs. I have one of those stand-up one-piece vacuums with the rotating brush action on the bottom. My dog would see the beast and always keeps a weary eye on it. While lying on the carpet he’d try to maintain his composure as the Hoover whirred its way back and forth in front of him. As soon as he saw it changing course in the slightest degree toward him he would move out quickly at a brisk pace looking indignant.

I had pretty much given up on trying to keep up with the mess. I would pull out the vacuum right at the point where I couldn’t stand it any more and the house looked like a poultry facility with minions of Sterling's tufts of fur looking like chicken feathers coating the carpet.

I wished that the molt would happen all at once. Sterling would shed in phases. First his back, then his rear haunches, then his chest and tail, until finally his sides slowly began to yield.
The dog shedded twice a year. The first "coat blow" was slow and insidious. His straw-like guard hairs were the first to go. Shortly after his undercoat began to become unglued. This would usually happen just after we gave him a bath. I guess that the dog shampoo washes away the dog hair glue that kept him all together
You can tell where he has walked before because you'll find chunks of dog hair stuck in bushes, lawns & shrubs like breadcrumbs that lead to a gingerbread house in the Bavarian forest. One time we took him to a groomer. While he was being blow-dried so much fur was flying off of him that the groomer had to take him out to the back alley to finish drying him. It was a surreal site to see the voluminous amount of fur flying around. He looked like one of those snowmaking machines coating all of the streets of Burbank.
Sterling’s fur would get everywhere. On a windy day about a mile away from the house a bird’s nest was blowing down the street. I decided to pick it up and show it to my daughter. When I did I discovered that the nest was made from grass, twigs and Sterling’s fur. A few years back I had to rebuild our deck out back. We had lived in the house for five years and I was making some repairs in preparation to sell it. Upon taking apart the deck I had found that dog’s fir was entangled in between the deck planks and serews.

Charlene LaBelle, Malamute breeder and author brought it to our attention that Malamute fur can be collected and that it can be spun into yarn. She pulled off the stocking cap that she was wearing. The cap was soft and pliable. Softer than lambs wool not scratchy like the sweaters that your mom made you wear to school. Malamute undercoat is white or more of a cream color. Sometimes it can be sable or gray in color.
Sterling would know when it was time to be harvested. The brush and zip-lock bag were kept in the same drawer as the dog walking paraphernalia. The drawer pull would make a familiar ka-clink whenever the drawer was opened. For Sterling that either meant a walk or a brushing, and he would scurry over to see. When he saw the brush he’d snap his teeth like an alligator. Sometimes he’d try to nibble on the brush. Jill would sit and brush him for as long as he allowed her to.

If she was wearing a black pair of pants when she was done her pants (and everything else for that matter) would be coated in dog fur. When she stood up she would look like she was wearing a pair of those furry chaps from the black & white cowboy movies. She would stiffly make her way to the trashcan looking like something out of a Tom Nix movie.
My mother-in-law who is an avid knitter knew and recommended a friend of hers from the Coast Guard Auxiliary who spun her own yarn from the traditional sort of beasts like sheep and rabbit. She had never spun dog before and took to the challenge with out hesitation.
I think that she was a bit surprised when she was given 9 bags of dog fur that were bursting at the seams. Over the first two years my wife and I collected and turned in at least 20 bags worth of fur. She called us to tell us to stop collecting.
It didn't take long for all of the fur to get spun. Just like lambs wool Sterling's fur had to be washed and dried. She would put the freshly washed hair into a salad spinner and spin the fur until most of the water was removed. I always wondered if she used her salad spinner to make salad afterwards.

I am a napper from way back. As an infantry solider the military taught me to get sleep whenever and where ever I could. Back then I would sleep lightly like a treed caveman constantly being jostled awake by the slightest crackle of leaves fearing for my life reaching out for my rifle. Now that I am a civilian I have take the art of napping to a new height. I sleep just as deeply during the day as I do at night, no fear or guilt involved. Upon returning to school during the day and working full time at night and after the birth of my daughter, napping had become a survival tactic. I have since gravitated from using a camouflaged poncho liner to a any small soft comfortable blanket I can get my hands on.
Over the years my mother in law has knitted a couple of different throws for me. The first was plain and simple. Blue, with a simple repetitive pattern. The second was a rust colored calico design and the third was made with what ever left over yarn that she had. Each time I reminded her that I already have an afghan that she had made for me. Each time she claims that she does not remember ever making anything for me. Since my marriage to my wife for the last fourteen years I have received three Afghans or .21 per year.

With no fanfare or announcement the dog blanket came in the mail in a simple white box with no note. It was a quiet surprise. My wife and I looked at it with a silent awe. Not only at the color and texture of it but at the intricacy that Louise had put into knitting it. I had seen many an afghan knitted by her, but this by far was the best. Sterling took an immediate curiosity to it. He nosed and sniffed and sneezed at it, then retuned to his eight-hour nap.
The dog blanket sits prominently at the end of our bed. We recently purchased a large Mission style bed. Sterling's blanket hangs over the side much like a tapestry or a coat of arms. Every once and awhile my daughter will take a nap on the bed. I like to cover her with the blanket. Inside I feel as if Sterling is watching over her, protecting her.

The blanket is a sort of connection with my dog, a physical momento of my friend of ten years and the skill, craftsmanship and care of my mother in law.

It’s been three years since he has left us . His departure was a long and difficult one. But occasionally I see the blanket and I am caught off guard and I stare deeply into it and remember.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The John Bingham Arizona Distance Classic

I performed almost exactly the same as the P.F. Chang’s marathon and in this case that is not bad. This was a VERY hilly ½ marathon. I didn’t prepare for the hills but I did continue to train right up until the time I caught the flu.

I really wanted to run this marathon, more than the Phoenix ½ marathon. I am a big fan of John Bingham. Reading his books helped me get back into running. The great thing about this race is that it is so small, less than 1000 runners over all (and of course I was almost dead to last). When I picked up my race number on Friday I was fortunate enough to meet John Bingham. We talked for a bit and he gave me some advice on what to do with my particular situation. He’s a very down to earth and genuine person who really cares about others.

It was a cold and beautiful day. The night before it poured rain and had begun to snow. Despite the cold it was a clear and crisp day with the snow-capped Catalina mountains behind us.

On the race I did the best I could, ran on the downhill and sped-walked on the uphill. From mile 10 to almost the finish I ran all the way. Then I hit the wall. My left hamstring seized, totally. I was stuck in absolute pain. It was really bad. One of the runners shouted that he was getting the medic. I shouted back that I was going to make it even if I had to crawl. I stretched for a minute or so and was able to limp and run the last ½ mile in.

Because this is such a small race it is very personalized. All of the race numbers are personalized. All of the volunteers address you by name. As I ran toward the finish line they must have looked up my number because they announced my full name and that this was my second ½ marathon.

At the finish line John was there and gave me a high-five just as I crossed the finish line. Just after running past him and hunched over in pain and exhaustion John came over to me and said. “Good job, you did it, you set out to do something and you made your goal.” To have an author and Runner’s World columnist congratulate me after coming in 66th out of 67 in a race was a big deal to me. I was awestruck.

Here are the particulars:

NO 505
LN Flores
DIVPL 66/67
SEXPL 391/407
TIME 3:05:22
PACE 14:09
5K 41:05

Special Thanks To:
All of the supervisors, managers and employees at 2Wire
Alice Pike
Tim Williams
Chris Dorn
Roger McDorman
Kyle Scofield
And of course my daughter and my wife who were there to support me the entire way.

The ritual post-race ice bath

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dog Poop

If you told a person who was looking to get a dog that for the next 12 to 16 years they would be picking up feces one to four times daily, most people would not get one. Most children are potty trained by three. That means that by the time your child is in high school you will still be bending over with a plastic shopping bag to pick up your dog’s poop. Even with a conservative estimate of two doggie bowel movements per day you are looking at bending at the waist to pick up dog waste around 8700 times over the course of the next decade or so. Too bad the dog was not a goose and those 8700 canine bowel movements weren’t golden eggs. As it stands the stuff is not even recyclable by weight, even by this measurement a dog owner might break even over the costs incurred during the animal’s lifetime.

No matter how you look at the task it is not a very welcome idea. The thought of a massive pile of dog excreta warming your hands through a thin plastic shopping bag on a cold winter day as you watch the steam rise from the hot overflowing mass in the early morning sunlight is not as welcoming per-se as, say a good steaming cup of coffee.

It is a disgusting thought knowing that a part of dog ownership is about feces. Dog owners are not preoccupied with the fact, but is does actually occupy a position of notable importance in their relationships.

Most dog owners are keen to changes in their dog’s excreta. Changes in consistency, color and smell are important seeing as it can be a direct indication of the dog’s immediate well being. Many a dog owner has spent their evenings over a stove, cooking rice and turkey meat so their dog can recover from diarrhea. Others can find items that were once thought as missing such as crayons, chalk, plastic and a host of other interesting things that make their way around the second time.

If the stomach pumping imagery of a pile of soupy dog feces creates in your mind is not vile enough, smell adds an incredibly wondrous dimension to it. Depending on the diet of the dog, the waste can be repugnant and rank, full bodied with a hint of meaty effervescence.

Tales form the Dung Zone - The Four Horrors
You see a person coming towards you as you travel with bag in hand down the street. Despite a slick effort to hide the treasure in your bag from view, you still manage to offend as its contents waft invisibly and penetrate the nostrils of passersby who wince at the rankness as if exposed to a smelling salt.

You wrap your hands around a wet gigantor of a dog log only to discover that there are multiple holes in the bag. You must now walk home or to the car with your hand coated in poop juice. Despite the distance whether short or long this quite possibly is the longest walk of your life.

You are mortified to discover that you left your house without any dog bags as your dog is squatting on the sidewalk in front of a high-class eatery with many onlookers.

You come home after work to discover that your dog has giardiasis after you slip and fall in one of the 27 puddles of dog diarrhea that are on the walls, furniture and floors.

Let he who has not sinned throw the first pile
On high average, dog owners are responsible, caring people. They care about their neighborhoods, the areas that they travel with their pets, and just as importantly, how they are perceived buy the non-dog owning public.

Dog scat is a major point of contention amongst non-dog owners and the dog-phobics in general. It seems as if, in their minds, dogs should not relieve themselves in public.

It is this general consensus that has manifested into some of the strongest anti-dog legislature on the books in California. In the city of Santa Monica for example you can be cited for walking your dog if your dog bags are not openly visible. Even if you had several thousand bags stuffed on various places on your body and you looked like Bibendum, the Michelin Man, you would still be imposed a fine of no less than $50 for not having 1 plastic baggie visibly flapping in the wind.

The deed itself carries a deep social stigma in the public eye, even if a dog owner follows the rules of good courtesy and the city laws. The dog is not allowed to go on a lawn if the owner is watching. God forbid that a dog were to crap on a lawn even if the dog owner picks it up. A dog owner can have a bag in hand and appear to be as vigilant as a Yankee catcher on a pop foul ball in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. Even then, it is a losing situation. As the dog is relieving himself, the owner will bolt come out of his doorway screaming as if someone were about to set fire to his house.
Another obstacle is where to discard the indiscretion. Despite litter laws and high fines, public trash cans are hard to come by. In most parks trashcans are placed close to the picnic tables. If the picnic table is being used a look of horror can be seen on the picnicers faces as a dog owner approaches the can with a plastic baggie of odiferous brown mushy waste.

Even in residential areas, owners find it difficult to find a place to discard the refuse. You would think that on trash day, when the street is filled with cans that have been emptied earlier that morning, it would be easy to toss out your treasure. But this is not so. If you attempt to throw away rovers gift in one of them you’ll have to make sure that the owner is not around. If they are out picking up the morning paper or getting into their car for their morning commute, you’ll often hear a very adamant, “Not in my trash can, take that someplace else.”

One dog’s pile is another man’s poison
It is an amazing thought to see that dogs and their owners in this society are ostracized despite their earnest efforts to clean up after their dogs and keep their neighborhoods clean. Your dog defecating outside is equal to smoking in public, even though the scientific community has never proven that cancer can be caused through breathing second hand dog poop.

Because we consider ourselves a modern society we have managed to separate ourselves from the natural world. Our transportation has evolved from animal to soulless machine whose insidious invisible waste ruins our lives and quite possibly our future. As we “evolve” we try to distance ourselves from nature. The dog is perhaps one of the last connections that we have with nature and our primitive past. Now that we can start fire without flint, have food without hunting, and try to distance ourselves from the cave are we trying to separate from one of the best symbiotic relationships in our existence? Dog owners realize that the fleas come with the dog, and so does his dung.