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Crispin loves the kids’ old rope swing. It’s nothing fancy, just a sturdy length of rope tied to the branch of a huge maple tree so that its end hangs about 6 inches off the ground, with a number of large knots tied in it at various points up its length. He’s watched Second Child swing on it a number of times and loves to play with it himself.

Most of the time he simply grabs the lower end, pulling and tugging and growling at it, sometimes running in circles as if the rope were part of some demented canine May pole ritual. I’m convinced there’s a fair amount of make-believe going on in his hard little head when he plays with it–in his imagination I’m sure he’s the fierce wild dog and the rope is a coyote that’s unwisely strayed into our yard.

But his very favorite thing to do, when he can achieve it, is to leap as high as he can, sink his teeth into the rope 4 or 5 feet off the ground (he’s a formidable jumper), and swing there for a few minutes with his feet fully off the ground. Then he lets go, drops back to earth, and gives the rope a final furious tug, as if to say “And don’t let me catch you in my territory again!”

On Sunday afternoon, though, the rope got its own back. I had taken a book and a glass of wine to the small picnic table under the same tree, and Crispin, of course, trotted out to keep me company, or, more likely, to see whether I’d brought any interesting munchies with me. Disappointed that I had not, he went off to play and I sort of tuned him out while I read, vaguely aware of the jingling of his tags as he menaced the end of the rope.

Suddenly I realized he was whimpering instead of jingling or barking, and I turned around to see him hung up on the rope BY HIS TOOTH! His feet were dangling a good 2 feet off the ground, his front legs were waving in the air, and there he was, hanging by one scary canine tooth and looking absolutely frantic.

Fortunately I was just a few feet away–I ran over and grabbed him from behind around his middle, hoisted him up and unhooked his tooth, which was badly snagged on a frayed bit in the rope, and he ran off, none the worse for his close call. As for me, it took another glass of wine and a few hours to shake the “what if I hadn’t been out there with him” fears.

Having an airedale is a lot like having a toddler–hours and hours of pleasure interspersed with moments of sheer terror.

There’s a wonderful little dog animation by Jeff Scher on the New York Times’s web site that perfectly captures the feel of these dog days. Go see!

You know that kids’ book, Everyone Poops? Well, I’m not so sure Nemo got the message. Either that or the book’s author never met our cat.

Here’s a strange little thing we’ve just noticed. Spinner the cat died a bit over a week ago. Nemo and Spinner always shared a litter box.  Second Child recently mentioned (before Spinner died) that she had never seen Nemo use the box, even though we’ve had her (Nemo, not Second Child) for six years.  Our cats are strictly indoor critters, as we live on a busy secondary highway (don’t worry–the dogs, who have invisible fencing, have the run of the big back yard).

And yet . . . the litter box has apparently not been visited since Spinner died 10 days ago.

Now, if indeed we have the world’s first zero-output cat, I’m fine with that.  This seems somewhat unlikely, though, and there’s no sign of any displaced litter. You’d think we might have noticed six years of accumulated deposits if she were, say, sneaking off to the back of a closet or a cozy space under the eaves. So we’re faced with the interesting question . . . where is she putting it?

As for Nemo?  She’s not saying.

Breaking news on the brave dog front: dog saves woman from kangaroo attack.

Maybe it’s the recent death of Spinner the cat that’s gotten to me, and maybe it’s that my dratted dog person gene has recently become activated, but it’s getting so I can’t see anything to do with dogs without reaching for the kleenex.

Last night I wandered into the den while the kids were watching Futurama. Specifically, the Jurassic Bark episode, in which Fry attempts to clone his 20th century beloved dog Seymour after discovering that the petrified pup is on display in a museum as part of an exhibit of an “Old New York” pizza parlor. I was just fine until the ending, at which point (spoiler warning to the three of you out there who have never seen this episode) Fry shrugs and assumes that Seymour just forgot about him after Fry was accidentally frozen.

Ah, but no. Dogs don’t do this, now, do they? No, instead–as the show’s closing footage demonstrates, Seymour does wait, forever. Frame after frame of the brokenhearted critter soldiering bravely on, reliving his moments with Fry, training his sad puppy eyes on the places they went together, the people they knew, the pizza parlor where they had their good times. As if that’s not enough, the pathos is sharply underscored by the music–“I Will Wait for You.”*

I’m telling you, I’ve seen this show half a dozen times before, but that was when I was a cat person. Now all it takes is a cheesy cartoon dog, and, to quote Salinger, I’m a goddamn puddle of tears.

See? See?

Then this morning I find this story among the other cheerful morning news. For six weeks after its owner’s suicide out in the grasslands north of Denver, Cash, a loyal German Shepherd (actually, “loyal German Shepherd” may be redundant) stood guard over her master’s body, surviving, apparently, on mice and rabbits. You’ll be relieved to hear that she has been reunited with the man’s family, including a 2-year old who is devoted to the dog. But . . . oy. I love my cat truly madly deeply, but would Nemo do this for one of us? Huh. Maybe until dinnertime.

There are many tales like this one. Scotland has its revered Greyfriar’s Bobby, who spent 14 years sleeping, in all kinds of weather (which says a lot, given that this was Scotland), on the grave of his deceased owner in Greyfriar’s churchyard. Bobby not only has his own web site, but is also the subject of a 1961 film. More recently, but no less intrepidly, Heidi carried on her countrydogs’ tradition when her owner died after a fall during a hike.

Japan has its own loyal dog, Hachiko, an akita who turned up every evening outside of Shibuya station to meet his owner when he came home from work. The owner died in 1925, but Hachiko continued to show up at the station every night at precisely the same time until his own death in 1935. Here’s Hachiko (copyright, Wikimedia Commons):

And here’s a rather macabre memorial to him, the dog himself, stuffed and displayed at the National Museum of Nature and Science, in Ueno, Japan.

But here’s his most famous memorial, a statue erected in Shibuya as a tribute to the faithful dog.

I rather like the statue better, and I love that it’s now a famous landmark and gathering place for people who are meeting in the busy area. When I finally get to visit Japan (one of these days), I’ll make a pilgrimage to Hachiko’s statue.

And I’ll bring my kleenex.

*Note to the YouTube commenter who wondered whether the folks who make Futurama had written that great song just for this episode . . . um. No. Check out brilliant versions by Lena Horne and Astrud Gilberto. This guy (you may have heard of him?) also manages to muddle his way through it.

[cross-posted to my other blog, floatingink]

Both of my dogs are hams. They were born ready for their closeups, they live for the spotlight, and they crave attention. Nemo the cat, too, loves to be where the people are, and has been in more than her share of photos.

Not so Spinner, who shuffled off her (9th) mortal coil late this morning. Spins was a cat of great dignity, poise, and composure. Up until a few days ago, she enjoyed the company of 2-legged creatures, but she seldom actively courted attention,. Even so, we often found that she had crept quietly onto the lap of a family member distracted by what they were reading or watching on television, and long after arthritis had begun to compromise her mobility, she would periodically surprise us by jumping up onto a bed or the couch so she could sleep near her people.

A rusty cinnamon-colored young cat when we adopted her through extremely formal channels (i.e., pulling up to the home of someone displaying a “FREE KITTENS” sign and knocking on the door), Spinner displayed her true colors, a rich deep black (with a tiny patch of white hairs over her breastbone) soon after she came home with us and began eating cat food–it seems that her previous (vegetarian–not that there’s anything wrong with that) owners had been feeding her a meatless diet. Mostly oatmeal.

Spinner came home with us to help us celebrate First Child’s 2nd birthday, and though she has been loving with all of us, she was His Cat, and she (and he) knew it. She earned her name within moments of arriving at our house, by hopping onto the treadle of my spinning wheel and riding up and down for a few turns. Though she never did that again, she was instantly christened Spinner, and the name stuck.

I hadn’t realized until today that Spinner was far too civilized and self-contained to court or even tolerate the paparazzi. In my thousands of photos, there is not one good photo of Spinner. Perhaps it will do to post here three images of this lovely but disappearing cat that I painted last spring as an art assignment.

Spinner died this morning at the ripe old kitty age of 18, having lived her years fully and happily, being completely herself at every moment. In the words of the gatha, let me respectfully remind you that life and death are of supreme importance . . . do not squander your life.

A cat we had when I was a child had a serious theatrical streak, and would feign illness or injury to get attention. On one occasion, for instance, she accidentally (but genuinely) managed to get her paw caught in a suitcase as it was being closed. I’m sure it smarted. She limped around for quite some time, and we petted her and fussed over her.  Then we discovered through careful surveillance that she was only limping when she thought we were watching. If she didn’t think she was being observed, she was fine. Drama queen.

This week has brought more than our usual share of crises of various sorts, all survivable, but we’d be just as happy if everyone we loved were healthy and the plumber hadn’t been here this week as often as the mailman and the pump weren’t making that noise that guarantees that it’s going to quit giving us water on demand–really, it means it this time–as soon as it can catch one of us in the shower with a head full of shampoo.

And first child has sprained his ankle badly, and is hopping around on one foot, using a cane for support when he goes to work, and being spoiled with extravagant delicacies like ibuprofen and bags of crushed ice for the swelling.

So guess what Crispin’s doing. Yeah. Limping, favoring his left front paw. It’s actually quite pitiful, though it’s been impossible to get a photo of his three-leggedness.  This always raises the question, as my friend Sandi notes, of how many days to wait before taking a limping dog to the vet. Is it Lyme disease? A sprain? A foxtail caught between the paw pads? A laceration? Okay, the laceration one is easy, since there’s, you know, all that blood (we’ve been there, done that), but otherwise, it’s sort of a mystery.

We’ve examined the paw and found no cuts, tears, bruises, torn nails, hot spots or foxtails. So the rule around here is that as long as the critter in question doesn’t seem to be in serious pain and is still playing, eating, and appears otherwise healthy, we wait 3 days before going to the vet.  These things have been known to clear up spontaneously after 2 days and 23 hours.

I just hope it’s really the vet Crispin needs, and not the local paper’s drama critic.

He is so shaggy. People are amazed when he gets up and they suddenly realize they have been talking to the wrong end. --Elizabeth Jones
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Nancy Hall ©2009
August 2008