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Tag: ohmidog!

Johnny finds his harmonica

Sometimes, what sounds like noise is really music. Sometimes, what looks like trouble can be a joy.

I’d pulled into a trailer court to turn around after my visit to the Howdy Manor  when a voice called out: “Hey, bro!”

It being a neighborhood that’s even sketchier than it was 35  years ago, when I briefly lived in it, I was going to pull out when I heard it again. “Hey, bro!”

So I rolled to a stop there in the driveway next to the Bucking Bronc motel and trailer court, a couple of motels down from the Howdy Manor.

Four people — three men and a woman — were sitting in front of a trailer enjoying beverages that included beer and vodka. One of them approached my car, with something in his hand.

“I want you to have this,” he said.

Thinking he might have mistaken me for a drug buyer, I was ready to beg off when he passed it through my open window.

It was a children’s book — “Touch and Feel Wild Animals.”

I hesitated to open it, fearing some illicit narcotics might be hidden between its pages — that maybe children’s books were the drug dealer’s delivery method of choice in this particular neighborhood.

Seeing my skepticism, he grabbed it back and opened it himself, showing how, through the holes in the cardboard, you could touch the fake fur and fake skin and get an idea what each animal — tiger, lion, alligator, polar bear, chimpanzee — feels like.

“Tiger, tiger, running through the grass, your black-and-orange stripes go quickly past,” read the first page. “Tiger, tiger, I can hear you growl, as you get ready to go on the prowl.”

I wasn’t sure why I deserved the book, and told him he really should give to a child. He explained that he saw the ohmidog! magnet on my car door, and figured I liked animals. I should have it, he said.

I was waiting for him to quote a price, but he never did. Instead he asked about my dog. I got out and popped open the back door to let Ace out. He greeted the man with the book, then went over to see the rest of the gang.

He snuggled with Sherry, and knocked over her bottle of beer. She didn’t mind at all.

Then he met Johnny, who said he was a former Marine and Vietnam vet who now sells newspapers to get by.

There used to be two daily newspapers in town. He sells copies of the remaining one, the Arizona Daily Star, where 35 years ago, I used to work as a reporter. The newspaper costs 75 cents now, but Johnny sells them for less. My suspicion — and perhaps it’s just my cynicism again — is he pays for one paper, then pulls them all out of the vending machine and sells them on the street. Call him an entrepreneur.

He said he also plays the harmonica, and he asked if I’d like to hear a song. At that point, he grabbed his knapsack and began rooting through it. Ace helped.

Ten minutes later, he was still looking. When you carry your life in a knapsack, things can be hard to find.

I asked them if they lived in the trailer court, and they said they didn’t — that they just lived “around.”

After another five minutes, Johnny’s search paid off, and he pulled a slightly rusty  harmonica out of his bag.

Johnny sat on a plastic chair, Sherry on a cinderblock. I took a seat on the guest rock — actually a rock atop a cinderblock, which functioned kind of like a rocking chair. Everyone’s jackets hung on a nearby tree.

Johnny brought the harmonica to his mouth and started playing a happy but unidentifiable song. Everyone tapped their feet and hummed along, and one member of the group started howling like a dog, leading Ace to look at him with tilted head.

I love the tilted head — a dog’s transparent, non-judgmental way of expressing puzzlement when he hears or sees something different. It seems to say – and here I am wrongly interpreting dog behavior by human standards – ”I don’t get this … I will turn my head slightly to the side and focus even harder to understand.”

If only humans could do that. Instead, when we see something different, we far too often judge, frown and walk away. As adults, our childish curiosity gets crusted over with cynicism — to the point we can get fearful of something as innocuous as a “touch and feel” children’s book.

Johnny played for about five minutes, and the song never really came to a distinct ending; it just kind of tailed off, once Johnny switched from harmonica to the vodka bottle.

I thanked them for allowing us to hang out, wished them all the best and headed for my car – feeling I’d made some new fleeting friends, but still, being human, expecting to be asked for money. They had, after all provided me with a book and musical entertainment.

As I started the car, the man who’d given me the “touch and feel” book appeared at my window. But all he did was shake my hand one last time.

“Vaya con Dios,” he said.

Highway Haiku: Putting My Trust in You

  

“Putting My Trust in You”

 

Sexy voice … street smart

Kind, patient … You complete me,

GPS lady

 

(Highway Haiku is a collection of poetry, composed on the road, that appears semi-regularly in ”Travels with Ace. To see all of them, click here.)

We’ve got to stop linking like this

Finally, some good press.

Ace got a nice mention — and I didn’t fare too badly, either — in our friend Susan Adcock’s “Carny Dog” blog last week.

We had the pleasure of meeting Susan, a long-time ohmidog! reader, and her pit mix, Stella, when they came to Baltimore from Nashville last week — a pilgrimage prompted by the last request of a carnival worker named Barney, who Susan befriended as a photographer.

After Susan spread Barney’s ashes on the grave of his mother, we met up at Riverside Park, stopped to hydrate with the dogs at a neighborhood bar and went out to eat.

Among Susan’s kindly notations on my dog and me:  ”…It didn’t take long to realize that the two of them were as much a part of the neighborhood as the park itself. Everyone from homeless guys to moms pulling wagon-loads of kids knew them well enough to stop and talk, and they did. Humans called out to Ace from a distance.” Ace, she noted, was “one of the more well-adjusted dogs we’ve encountered.”

She was also impressed with our impromptu dessert. We stopped at the house of some friends on our way back for some leftover birthday cake. “It is a true friend who will let a man show up with a complete stranger, at nine-thirty at night for dessert,” Susan wrote.

On that point, I couldn’t agree more.

I think, for Susan, it was love at first sight — for the city, I mean. I think she saw in Baltimore what I see in it: its curiously appealing grittiness, its near total lack of pretentions, its quirkiness, its deeply etched character, and characters — some as shiny and polished as the Inner Harbor, some as rough-edged and splintered as a ratty working wharf.

Having just pulled out Friday, I miss it already.

I think Susan does too. “Seriously,” she wrote, “it made me want to move.”

(Photo: Ace, Stella and me, by Susan Adcock)

The best part of being a liveaboard

What I’ve liked most about being a liveaboard are the visitors — be they friends or fowl.

There’s a family of ducks that pops by regularly.

Egrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. Just one actually, who, while making croaky-clicky noises from somewhere in that long and winding throat, landed softly on the edge of my boat, then took off the second I started fumbling for my camera.

And then there was this guy (top) – you tell me what he is — who didn’t seem to mind being photographed at all. Perhaps he’s an egret, too, though he was much smaller than the giant croaking one.

They were all welcome on the ark, with the exception of members of the rodent and snake families who I’m happy to report we saw none of at all — for which I thank the feral cats.

In our week living aboard a friend’s 30-foot sailboat in Baltimore, we’ve had a few human visitors, too, and I’ve enjoyed sharing what’s not really mine — the river, the boat, the sunsets … pretty much everything I offered except for Ace’s company, my beer and my now empty box of Cheeze-Its.

While offering little, I received much and thanks go out to the friends we’ve tried, tested, sought favors from and shacked up with. Maybe it is home, after all.

I think I’m actually moved — and it wasn’t just the bobbing of the boat. My return visit and the kindness Ace and I were shown by the friends, former Baltimore Sun colleagues, new liveaboard acquaintances and the occasional sea bird has meant a lot.

Once again, it’s hard to leave. The urge to nest is growing stronger. I’m wondering, how can I go back to a lonely Motel 6 after all  this? Do I have another three months on the road in me? Does Ace?

I guess we’ll see. Because it’s time to go — gotta fly.

Nearly 200 pets seized from Arizona home

Pinal County Animal Care and Control officers seized 152 cats and 19 dogs from a home in Hidden Valley, Arizona, this week.

Seven officers arrived at the home to remove the animals, which took about eight hours. “It was shocking,” said Animal Care and Control Director Ruth Stalter. “This is the largest rescue from hoarding-type conditions in the history of Animal Care and Control.”

Six years ago, ABC15 reported, 98 animals were removed from the same home.

The animals that were removed will receive veterinary check-ups and put up for adoption. Residents interested in adopting animals can call the Citizen Contact Center at (520) 509-3555 or visit the shelter at 1150 S Eleven Mile Corner Road near the Pinal County Fairgrounds.

For love of food, or for love and food?

Ace remembers.

Ace remembers the park he used to play in, the places he liked to poop, the street he used to live on, the people who gave him treats. Ace remembers which rowhouse windows cats lived behind, which dogs once snapped at him, where his favorite bar is, who’s a friend, who’s a foe and, most of all, how to get a handout.

Ace remembers, maybe, even better than me.

Watching him back in the old neighborhood, after a three month absence, I was impressed with just how much he remembered — from the moment we returned to Riverside Park and he ran up to Stan, the biscuit man, recognizing him even though Stan was in a new motorized chair.

When he saw one morning, from across the street, his friend Lori in the park, walking her dogs Chi Chi, Lola and Vinnie Barbarino (a foster), he bolted. Of course, she, too, had been a frequent treat provider — so much so that Ace’s ears would always perk up when he heard Chi Chi barking in the distance.

Nearly all dogs remember where they’ve gotten handouts — that’s pretty much how dogs became dogs in the first place, scavenging the outskirts of villages as wolves, then befriending residents who would throw them some leftovers.

I don’t think a dog’s memory is entirely food-based, or even entirely scent-based. I think dogs tend to recognize a good, kind soul when they meet one, and that somehow they register that information in their memory banks. That said, I think that the largest part of it is food and scent-based, and is instinctual, which is maybe why they remember better than we do, or at least I do.

Pehaps if I ran into an old friend in the park, and was struggling to remember his or her name, I would be better able to do so if I knew a free dinner would be involved. When one’s survival depends on it, one is willing to put more energy into being sociable.

I know that has been the case with me, on this journey. One can’t be a guest in someone’s home and then keep to oneself. One can’t just eat and run. One can’t just sleep and blog. That just wouldn’t be right. As our travels continue later this week, and we start month four, on the road, on a shoestring, after our layover in Baltimore, I would be well-served to keep that in mind — to, once again, be a little more like Ace, who once wandered Baltimore’s streets as a stray.

It’s not feigning love to get a treat (or a meal, or a bed, or an RV); it’s not purely reward-based affection, it’s more a case of loving both the person and the treat. That’s how I like to see it: “I am so happy to see you again, and thrilled just to be petted by you, but if perchance you have a treat in your pocket, that’s good, too.”

Wolves could have gotten their leftovers and ran; instead, they ended up bonding with humans and becoming dogs — not purely because it would mean more treats, but because, I like to think, the two species saw something in each other.

Just as wolves would return to where they’d gotten handouts, Ace made his rounds last week in the old neighborhood. At the park, he’d run up to anyone who had ever given him a treat, poking his nose in their pocket or purse to remind them in case they’d forgotten. Ace paused for a longtime when we passed Bill’s Lighthouse, a restaurant near my former home where a man name Jack — once Ace poked  his head in the door and made his presence known — used to always come out and him bring a treat. Across the street, at Leon’s, Ace — as he only rarely does — went into overpower-the-master mode and dragged me inside.

He must have known that Donna, one of the bartenders, was there. Every day, before we left the neighborhood, she would see him coming, take a break and feed him a Slim Jim, unwrapping it, and breaking it into small pieces. I’m not saying eating Slim Jims improve memory, but they sure did in Ace’s case.

Another block down, on my old street, I let go of the leash and let Ace run up to the door of his old house. He stood there waiting to get in, and when that didn’t work he went and stood at the door of the neighbor’s — waiting, waiting and waiting.

He fully remembered which dogs in the park were his friends, and avoided the ones he had always avoided. He remember what games he played with whom — with Cooper, it was biting her back legs; with Darcy, it was biting her front paws and taking her entire head into his mouth.

Walking down the sidewalk, Ace remembered every rowhouse in whose front window he had ever seen a cat, and paused to look inside — again, not because he likes to eat cats, but because he loves them. He can stare at them for hours, he’ll play and cuddle with those who permit it, and just maybe, late at night, when nobody’s looking, he’ll go and eat their food.

We are scavengers at heart, my dog and me.

Dockside Encounters: Chopper

Name: Chopper

Age: About 5

Breed: Ummmmm, let’s just say a terrier mix

Encountered: On the docks at Nick’s Fish House and marina in Baltimore

Backstory: Chopper made the transition from desert dog to boat dog several years ago — relocating from Kingman, Arizona to Baltimore, Maryland, where he now  lives aboard a huge yacht (compared to mine, anyway), in the process of being restored by Travis Guthrie and Magdalena Sudnik.

Travis, a boat builder and yacht carpenter, and Maggie, an artist, are both living on the Lucy Maru — and, as of very recently,  in official wedlock, we can be among the first to report.

(They also do a blog called “Dog on Boat,” which tracks their lives on board, the progress of the two boats they’re restoring and the hijinks of Chopper and a cat named Billy.)

Maggie was painting a mural as part of an art project on on Route 66 when Chopper, as he would be named, came running up from out of nowhere. They’ve been together ever since.

Every day, Chopper – he’s one of at least half a dozen dogs living with liveaboards at Nick’s — runs off the boat, down the pier and into the parking lot at Nick’s where he’s happy diving into the water to chase his ball.

While doing so he, literally, becomes a different dog. When his fine white coat gets drenched, it all but disappears, revealing a dog with black spots. Once he dries off, he’s white again.

Travis and Maggie, who have been together about eight years, can be seen toiling on the Lucy Maru just about every day — though one gets the feeling it’s more than just toil.

Their plan is to finish the restoration and do what they’ve long been contemplating: Sail off into the sunset.

Rescue group calls shooting unwarranted

A D.C. police officer shot and killed what law enforcement authorities described as a pit bull during a festival in Adams Morgan on Sunday afternoon — an action the dog’s caretaker said was uncalled for.

Aaron Block, 25, of Dupont Circle, said he was walking 2-year-old “Parrot,” who he described as a Shar-Pei mix, up 18th Street when the dog suddenly turned around and bit a poodle that was passing by.

Block said he managed to separate the two dogs, and was subduing Parrot when police arrived. A police officer took over, putting his knee in the middle of Parrot’s back while the dog was on the ground.

According to Block, the officer then grabbed Parrot by his neck and threw him over a banister at the Brass Knob antique store. Block said the dog was getting up when the officer shot him.

“The officer drew his gun in an unnecessary act of cowboy gunslinging law enforcement and shot my dog amidst a crowd of thousands,” said Block, who was fostering Parrot while he was waiting to be adopted through Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. “The problems here are almost too numerous to count,” he told the Washington Post.

The Post, which ran this photograph of the incident, by Dylan Singleton, also published the full police report, which was obtained by Lucky Dog Animal Rescue.

The officer, 25-year-veteran Scott Fike, fired one shot, fatally wounding the dog.

Jacob Kishter, commander of the 3rd Police District, said that the dog was running at the officer, and called the shooting justified.

Tony De Pass, 67, a former D.C. police officer who lives in Northwest, said that the dog was charging directly at him when Fike drew his gun and fired and that “if the officer hadn’t shot the dog, the dog would have got one of us, either me or the officer…What he did, I would have done the same damn thing.”

Block said Parrot was a “very people-friendly dog, with absolutely no bite history.”

On it’s website, the rescue organization called Parrot’s death tragic and unwarranted: “We have received numerous questions about the incident, and, because news outlets have varied significantly in recounting what happened, we have spoken to as many eye witnesses as possible, and have requested and obtained the official police report.”

“According to multiple eye witnesses, Parrot had already been subdued and was being held securely by his foster, Aaron Block, when the police arrived on the scene.  Parrot was not ‘out of control.’

Lucky Dog also disputes that the dog was charging at the officer. “A witness who was standing on the Brass Doorknob’s porch saw what transpired in the stairwell.  He told us that Parrot was stunned from the fall and had only just gotten to his feet when the officer drew his gun and opened fire without provocation.”

Florida officer kills two dogs out for a walk

A St. Petersburg, Florida, police officer shot and killed two dogs Sunday night.

Chris Clark, 44, said he was walking his Rottweiler, Quincy, and his landlord’s Chesapeake Bay retriever, Missy, when he heard a police officer shouting at him — Officer Slobodan Juric, who was investigating a complaint about a suspicious person in the area.

When Clark stopped, a third dog, unleashed approached Missy and the two exchanged growls. Quincy’s leash got wrapped around him. Clark fell and the dogs started fighting.

Clark told the St. Petersburg Times that he was grabbing his dogs’ collars, trying to pull them away, when Juric yelled “mad dog” and pointed the gun at Missy.

Clark said Juric fired one shot into the dog, pointed the gun at Quincy and fired another round, then fired two more shots into Missy.

“We’ve begun an internal affairs investigation,” said St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman Mike Puetz. “There will be a statement taken from (Clark) and from everybody who was a witness in the case, to try and discern the totality of the events and the appropriateness of the (officer’s) action.”

Juric, 25, has been with the department for more than a year. He was formerly a freelance photographer for the St. Petersburg Times.

One-legged Ned and the feral cats

During my stay aboard a sailboat, docked at the marina at Nick’s Fish House in Baltimore, I expected to run into my old friends Ned and Kay Uhler, who used to drive down from their home everyday to feed the feral cats that call Nick’s parking lot home.

The cats, who I wrote about a few years ago, are still around — this black one tried to cross my path last night – but I’m not so sure about Ned and Kay. Somebody’s still feeding the cats though, and maybe it’s them. Perhaps I’m just not waking up early enough to catch them in the act.

Ace, when we get off the boat for walks, usually spots one or two, and seems eager to get closer and meet them, but I don’t let him. I doubt he’d get the same reception from them that Ned and Kay always did.

My story about Ned and Kay feeding the feral cats was the only one, during my newspaper career, that I wrote entirely in verse. This was well before I became a professional writer of “highway haiku,” which is much harder to write, especially for one who has been accused of being long-winded — at least on the written page.

Be that as it may, with thanks to the Baltimore Sun, in which it first appeared — and still appears, though interrupted by advertising — here, in a slightly edited, minorly rewritten version, is …

 ”A Feral Cat Carole”

The cats were quite hungry that cold winter day
But Edwin L. Uhler was well on his way.
Ned left Owings Mills, his wife, Kay, at the wheel
Driving 25 miles to deliver the meal.

They got to Nick’s Fish House, where Ned keeps his boat
And then something happened that’s worthy of note:
‘Twas a gaggle of cats – a feline regatta -
Appearing from nowhere upon hearing his auto.

One cat, then two cats, then three and then four
And then after that there came even more:
Black, tan and gray cats, they trotted and waddled
Some long-haired, some short, some solid, some mottled
.

From the rocks on the shore, from beneath a trailer
They crept and they scurried to greet the old sailor.
Ned wore a cap – a Greek sailor’s hat
And got out of his car with a big plastic vat.

With a wood-handled spoon, they laid food on the ground
Some here and some there in big heaping mounds.
And no sooner than that did the cats start to nibble
On Kay’s special mixture of canned food and kibble
.

Until he retired a few weeks ago
Ned, 80, came daily – rain, sleet or snow.
Kay joins him on weekends, and when the job’s done
They go out for breakfast and coffee, and fun.

Kay plays video slots, and Ned drinks a beer
Then they go home, all filled with good cheer.
They once sailed the bay, but those days are past
And their boat now sits empty, no sail on its mast.

Ned lost a leg about six years ago
A stroke left Kay’s right arm quite weak and quite slow.
But together, Kay said, they can meet most demands.
It’s a trade-off of sorts: “I’m his legs; he’s my hands.”

Ned ran a company that dispatched big trucks
Kay worked in the office – now how’s that for luck?
Kay liked him right off, partly based on this fact:
“He can’t be a bad guy, if he has a cat.”

They married, years passed and more pets they raised
But the last one that died had left them quite fazed.
The death of their cat had left them bereft
So the Uhlers decided they’d have no more pets.

But not long after that, at their front door one night
Two cats showed up, both of them white.
One they named Blanche, and one Crackerjack
But not long after that they were taken aback
To find Jack was a Jill — now what’s up with that?

Back at the marina, they tend even more
Though the days that they go there they’ve reduced to four.
It’s a long way to drive and they need to cut back
On the money they spend on big cat food sacks
.

Between canned food and dry, they’re paying high rates:
Forty-five dollars a week, or so Kay estimates.
“Forty-five dollars!” Ned says with a hiss
“Forty-five dollars? I did not know this.”

It all got started three years ago June
When the owners pulled out of the Dead Eye Saloon.
There were two cats they fed; one left there with them
But the one left behind faced quite a dilemma.

His name was ol’ Smokey, a friendly feline
With no rightful owner and no place to dine.
That’s where things stood when ol’ Ned stepped in
Not thinking that one cat would soon become ten.

Apparently Smokey had girlfriends, you see
And one became two, and two became three,
And three became four, and four became five
And the cat population continued to thrive.

As a marina, and a restaurant at that
Nick’s had some problems with occasional rats.
Now the rats are all gone, and some boaters like that
But still others complain about the number of cats.

Some even admit that the cats drive them bats
And soil their boats with nasty cat scat.
One boat owner said they look cuddly at first
“But when you put food out you’re making it worse.”

They leave paw prints on cars, and they stink up the joint
Leaving stains on boat cushions they choose to anoint.
One would be fine; maybe two would be cuter
But much more than that and it comes time to neuter.

And though it might make the soft-hearted pout
Some think the cats’ ranks need a good thinning out.
One-legged Ned doesn’t see it that way
And you can rest quite assured that neither does Kay.

Starving the cats is not a solution.
(And don’t even mention cat execution.)
Whatever their numbers, the cats need to eat,
And Ned will keep feeding come cold or come
heat.

Ned rose from his barstool after sitting a bit
He straightened his cap to secure a good fit.
He pondered a question: Why not just quit?
And he said only this: “They appreciate it.”

(“Dog’s Country: Travels with Ace” is a regular feature of ohmidog!, and is in the process of becoming its own website, focusing on dogs and travel. Feel free to keep up with our progress — on the trip, and on the website at travelswithace.com)

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