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Tag: relationships

Another unlikely friendship: A dog and a fox

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We humans, with our vastly superior intellects, and being the far more evolved and civilized species, don’t need no stinkin’ animals to show us how to live life.

Do we?

You’d think not — especially with Christmas approaching. Between all the peace, good will and fellowship the season supposedly brings, and all the attention, with his death, on Nelson Mandela’s legacy of kindness and forgiveness, we shouldn’t be needing, right now, any furry creatures reminding us bigger-brained, two-legged types how to get along with each other.

Yet, in the past month, they seem to keep doing so — almost as if they think the message has failed to get through.

First, it’s a goose and a dog partnering up in the UK. Then it’s an elk and a dog becoming backyard playmates in Washington state. Both pairs were shown at play, raising the question, at least in some heads, if animals of different sizes and species — like elephants and dogs, or cats and crows – can get along with each other, why can’t we?

Now comes this latest pair, a fox and a dog in Norway who met in the woods last summer and became fast friends.

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Norwegian photographer Torgeir Berge was out for a walk with his four-year-old German shepherd, Tinni, when they encountered an abandoned baby fox. Since then the fox, which Berge named Sniffer, has regularly met up with them on their trips through the woods, and Berge has been taking pictures of the get-togethers.

Now he’s working on a book about the unlikely friendship with writer Berit Helberg, who told TODAY.com that the fox was probably an orphan whose mother had died, and was probably seeking food, help and company.

“Not many people are privileged to see and enjoy a friendship like this, but Torgeir Berge has both seen them in action and gotten the opportunity to catch this in images that don’t need words,” Helberg wrote in post. They hope the story will raise awareness for animal rights and the conditions that some animals are forced live in as a result of the fur trade, Helberg said.

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Yes, animals of different species far more often kill and eat each other to survive. And these unlikely interspecies friendships, seemingly choreographed from the grave (or wherever he is) of Walt Disney, are the exception. It’s not like animals got together and said ”Let’s rethink this whole survival of the fittest thing, and live together in harmony, eating wild berries.”

It was from animals, after all, that we most likely learned that mindset — that the world belongs to the fittest, richest or whoever roars the loudest.

Heartwarming as these unlikely friendship stories are, they’re not messages being sent to humans by animals.

But, particularly at Christmas, they are messages worth receiving, and learning from.

(Photos by Torgeir Berge, via Today.com)

Lion and dachshund: Who’s getting exactly what out of this relationship?

When it comes to animals, there are those softies among us who see nearly everything they do – especially dogs — as magical and motivated by love.

Then there are those – generally not ohmidog! readers — who see dogs as unfeeling beasts concerned only with their next meal and their own comfort.

When a dog does something that seems kind, noble or otherwise amazing, members of that first group will “ooh” and “ah,” while members of the second will say “so what?” Anything a dog does, in their view, is explainable solely by instincts, training and will to survive. That way dogs snuggle with you at night? They are just trying to keep warm. Those goo goo eyes adoringly staring at you? They’re just trying to manipulate you into providing a treat.

For sure, the first group may often read too much into the motivations behind a dog’s behavior. But, just as surely, the second group sometimes isn’t reading en0ugh.

I, being author of a blog on the amazing things dogs do, am clearly a member of the first group. But, also being a realist and even more of a cynic, I can sometimes – just sometimes – see the second group’s point. As soon as I watched this video, for instance — once my “awwwwwwww” came to the final “w” — I started wondering about the motivations of the lion and dachshund, and, realistically, who was getting exactly what out of this relationship.

Bonedigger, the lion, and Milo, the dachshund, live together at Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla. Milo was among a litter of puppies living a the park when Bonedigger, who suffers from a bone disease, arrived as 4-week-old cub. The pups and lion eat together every day.

After the meal, Milo licks Bonedigger’s teeth clean.

I’d venture Milo is not exhibiting love — or at least not love alone — when he sticks his head into the mouth of a lion. I’d submit, too, that Bonedigger’s dental hygiene is not Milo’s top concern. (Then again, you never know.)

More likely, Milo is after a few final morsels, and Bonedigger, for his part, cooperates because he appreciates the attention, or the gum massage, or having a wiener dog who serves as his own personal flossing aide.

Park president Joe Schreibvogel says the dogs and lion have eaten together since they were youngsters. They also cuddle with each other, and sometimes even mimic each other. It’s as if, species differences aside, they’ve become a pack.

“The dogs thought it was just a big puppy and have loved each other since,” Schreibvogel, who goes by the name “Joe Exotic,”  told Today. The video of the lion and the dog has brought some needed attention to the Oklahoma zoo, which suffered about $18,000 in damage during the recent tornadoes. A spokesperson for the zoo says they’ve taken in about 100 homeless animals — domestic and exotic — since then.

But back to Milo and Bonedigger, and the question at hand.

Who’s getting what from this unlikely inter-species relationship, and who is benefitting most – the tooth-sucking canine, or the massive feline, who, rather than roaring at the little dog, says “ahhh” (or is it awwwww?) and lets him have at it?

My guess, is it’s a third species, one whose members sometimes over-analyze, and sometimes under-analyze, but still haven’t loss the ability to be amazed; one whose members – just as Bonedigger seems to appreciate a good tooth-licking — like to have their hearts warmed now and then.

Judging from the half million views this video has gotten in the past month,  I’d say it ’s us.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch”

“My Dog Tulip” — J.R. Ackerley’s classic account of how a dog entered his life, stimulated his curiosity, broadened his horizons, and brightened his otherwise cranky golden years — is now out as an animated movie, and the book has been reissued in paperback.

“Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs,” the British writer wrote in what’s perhaps the most famous line of the 1956 book about the bond between dog and man.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch,” reads the tagline, updated for the times, of the new movie.

The movie came out late last summer, directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who are also responsible for the hand-drawn animations that, on screen, are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley, and also features the voice of Lynn Redgrave, who died in May and to whom the movie is dedicated. One review called it “the most sophisticated dog movie ever made.”

It tells the story of a lonely gay man who has all but given up on finding a longtime companion and “ideal friend” in the human world.

Enter Tulip, or, as was her name in real life, Queenie, a German shepherd Ackerley acquired from his neighbors when he was “quite over 50,” and with whom he would spend the next 15 years.

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.”

Ackerley died in 1967, and though the book is now 55 years old, it retains a sense of freshness attributable to the fact that Queenie was his first dog. His keen observation of inter-species interaction is that of someone who just landed on the planet, as opposed to being an old hand with dogs.

“It seemed to me both touching and strange,” he says at one point, “that she should find the world so wonderful.”

We long-time dog lovers know exactly what he means. It’s what makes dogs so lovable — they see the world as wonderful, and, no matter how curmudgeonly we may be, they help us see it that way too.

Done with Dundalk, the dog and I move on

Gotta love Dundalk.

It’s Baltimore at its blue collar, unpretentious best, and it’s where, as our wandering continues, we’ve hung our hat (and leash) for the past three days as we attempt to figure out what to do next.

Once again, we were in the home of an ex (no bridge-burner me) — a modest little house on a traffic circle, across the street from the Dog House, a  to-go restaurant painted highway stripe yellow that serves up hot dogs, burgers and greasy breakfast sandwiches that I eat on the front porch as Ace and his better-than-ever friend Fanny frolic in the front yard.

We sleep on the couch, wake up to the best kind of coffee (already made), take daily walks down to Bear Creek and spend most of the time on the front porch, writing.

Ace and Fanny alternately wrestle and rest in the shade, and Fanny always leaps up and runs along the fence when a motorcycle, boat on a trailer, or skateboarder passes by — those apparently being among her triggers.

We’ve gotten to know Brutus, a six-month old, but already huge, chocolate lab next door who likes to jump on (but not over, yet) the chain link fence, dangling his paws over the top rail and leaning as if to say, “C’mon over, let’s talk for a while.”

We’ve watched as the school buses roll by, and fresh-faced students head to bus stops, falling into the routine of another school year. One paused at the fence — a Mountain Dew in one hand, an open and half eaten plastic bowl of microwaveable macaroni and cheese in the other, her requisite blue uniform shirt open to display more cleavage than I would think her school would deem appropriate – and asked me for a cigarette.

“Fresh out,” I replied.

In Dundalk, people say what they mean, mean what they say, and wear what they want. If they’re feeling crabby, they show it (especially in the traffic circle), and if they’re feeling friendly, they show that, too.

Today, Ace and I bid farewell to Fanny and head back to the old ‘hood — South Baltimore, where I’ll stay again with my schoolteacher friends for a couple of days before heading to another friend’s home nearby for a few days more. She’s going to the beach, and her cat needs feeding. Even though her cat hissed at me the last time I fed it — and after I fed it, no less — I quickly volunteered for the job.

Our time in Dundalk has been peaceful, work-friendly and comfortable, but one shouldn’t overstay one’s welcome — especially with an ex, even if she is your dog’s number one fan and Godmother. For ex’s move on from the shared life and start their own and, painful as it might to no longer fit into it, that’s reality.

Like the signs say, one must yield to the traffic in the circle.

Did absence make his heart grow fonder?

He didn’t bring her flowers, but when Ace met up again this week with his old friend Fanny, he did tolerate her — and to a far greater extent than ever before.

The behavior he once found so annoying that he would go upstairs to avoid her — where Fanny feared to tread — Ace seems to now find mostly endearing.

Fanny was a rescue dog, fostered by my ex-girlfriend, adopted by a family, then returned for being overly rambunctious, at which point the ex-girlfriend became her forever mom. If you ever want to pry them apart, I suggest dynamite and bulldozers, but I’m pretty sure not even that would work.

Highly spirited, we’ll call her — the dog, I mean –  and Ace, back then, would only put up with her in small doses. He’d be excited when she visited, and they’d romp for 15 minutes or so, at which point he would want a rest. Fanny is not familiar with that notion.

So she’d stay in his face, and follow him wherever he went, even into his crate, and bark at him when he wouldn’t play, and Ace would eventually head for the second floor.

This time around — the ex is putting me up for a few days in her sunflower surrounded home in Dundalk — he just keeps playing, and he has even added a bark to his repertoire, something he never did before. He’d make growly lion-like noises, but never would he bark.

Now he barks right back at her, sometimes instigates the play, and doesn’t seem to quickly tire of it — at least not yet. He hasn’t been seeking refuge on the second floor, but then again the second floor isn’t air conditioned.

I’m not sure if he’s just happy to see her again, or if he realizes he’s a house guest and therefore shouldn’t be selfish or surly. He is being both more playfully assertive and more tolerant, and I can only conclude that absence — as it visibly does with dogs, sometimes less visibly so with humans — did indeed make his heart grow fonder.

Funny thing, relationships.

Galifianakis pays tribute to Zuzu

Nick Galifianakis the cartoonist — not to be confused with Nick Galifianakis, the congressman (his uncle); Zack Galifianakis, the comedian (his cousin); or Peter Galifianakis, the sculptor (his father) — paid a moving tribute to his dog Zuzu in Friday’s Washington Post:

“She was my best friend, my therapist, my tranquilizer, my daily affirmation that life is fundamentally good, and my muse,” he writes.

Zuzu, who was named after the character in ”It’s A Wonderful Life” (George Bailey’s daughter), died last week. Galifianakis frequently used Zuzu – a pit bull — in his illustrations.

Galifianakis worked as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator for USA Today and US News & World Report, and as a free-lance editorial cartoonist. He still illustrates the columns written by his ex-wife, Carolyn Hax, in the Post’s Style section.

Among the cartoonist’s memories of his dog:

“How she’d be in a park full of people and dogs, and look for me … How she rested her big, cartoonish head on my thigh … How she let me rest my feet on her as she slept under my drawing board … Her expressive eyebrows, particularly delightful to her cartoonist companion … Her weight when I carried her up and down the stairs, after her knees wore out.

“When I realized it was time, I held her for hours until the vet arrived at my home,” Galifianakis writes. “People keep saying I should feel good about the great life I gave her, but I know I was the lucky one, because she so effortlessly filled my world and unleashed in me a bottomless supply of love. If you had asked me the day before what my last words to Zuzu would be, I would have said, ‘I love you.’

“But when the moment came, the words I said, before I knew I was saying them, were ‘Thank you.’”

We all need somebody to lean on


Among the dogs we met in Charlotte during our visit to The Dog Bar, were Skyler and Pierce, two white Great Danes who — one being half blind, one being deaf, neither having the distinct black markings harlequin Great Danes are supposed to have — were headed to the kind of future “defective” dogs often face.

Namely, no future at all.

They were part of a larger litter that turned out to be unprofitable. All the pups were affected by a strain of distemper — but because of their additional handicaps, Skyler and Pierce, the breeder decided, couldn’t even be given away, and therefore should be put down.

That’s when Laura Moss and Fred Metzler stepped in. Laura was working at an animal emergency clinic at the time. The litter of Great Danes ended up there. She already had three dogs at home, so she asked Fred, her friend of several years, to adopt the two future-less siblings.

Fred, a sales manager for a company that makes automatic doors, agreed. But, because he traveled a lot, he often called upon Laura to pet sit the duo — Skyler, the deaf one, and Pierce, the blind one — when he was out of town.

At Fred’s house, Laura noticed, the two pups — as they did at the hospital — continued to stay at each others’ sides. When they went to sleep, Skyler would lay her head on top of Pierce.

“That way, if he hears something, he’ll react. Then she’ll be the police dog and go check it out. They’ve been that way since they were babies,” Laura said. “There’s no way we could separate them.”

Skyler, named for her sky blue eyes, is 106 pounds; Pierce, named, for his handsomeness, after actor Pierce Brosnan, is 175 pounds. Despite their handicaps, they manage, with help from each other, to do all that dogs do.

Fred and Laura have come up with a system of sign language to communicate with Skyler, including more than 20 commands. The two dogs have become a striking and familiar sight in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood. They even march in the local St. Patrick’s Day parade.

And they get along fine with Laura’s other dogs — a miniature pinscher named Jade, a Boston terrier named Halley and a dalmatian named Dax, who she also brought home from the animal hospital. His former owner dropped him off and, once learning he had heartworm, never picked him up.

Since she talked him into adopting the dogs, Laura and Fred have become a couple, and now share a residence with all five of their dogs.

Laura doesn’t give the Great Danes full credit for bringing two humans together — but maybe, on some level, the relationship between the two big white dogs represents a lesson to be learned: Having someone in your life you can turn to, and depend on, and whose strengths can compliment your weaknesses, has its advantages.

Or maybe that’s reading too much into it.

“The friendship is what brought us together,” Laura says, “but the Great Danes didn’t hurt.”

Dogs and the fine art of freeloading

It occurs to me – tooling down the highway tends to make things occur to me – that in my current journey, with my dog, across America, mooching off friends and family and, given the opportunity, complete strangers, I am, in ways, taking on the role of dog.

(When things occur to me, there are usually a lot of commas involved.)

Since Ace and I pulled out of Baltimore, two weeks ago, we’ve only spent two nights in motels – thanks to my mother putting me up two nights, and my ex-wife and her husband putting up with me for ten days, a most gracious gesture and an arrangement that barely felt weird at all.

More important, it allowed me to spend some time with my son in his last summer before college, get to know his family dogs, suck in plenty of air conditioning and take part in recreation real and virtual.

We played some Frisbee golf (Wii and real), tennis (real), ping pong (Wii), regular golf (real), made side trips to Memphis, Tupelo and Oxford, and over the weekend gave the dogs baths.

Ace has gotten along famously with both Molly, a two-year-old beagle mix, and Huey, a scruffy little terrier who’s 15, and, on walks, squirts his pee straight sideways, to amazing distances. One must always remember to walk behind Huey.

Ace immediately became part of the pack and adapted to our temporary quarters, but then that’s what dogs are best at, adjusting.  I’m not entirely sure he wants to leave. Nevertheless, the time has come to move on.

We’re thinking south, towards New Orleans, but we’re not sure.

In the days ahead we’ll probably be spending more nights in motels, and, once we get to cooler climes, camping – but we still plan to mooch when the offer is made, avoiding motels whenever possible.

(Two good things about friends: They don’t impose weight limits, or require non-refundable security deposits. At least none have yet.)

I’ve gotten a few lodging offers, even a couple from strangers. More often, they are from friends and family – some from people who want to see me so badly, they will tolerate my dog, more yet from people who want to see my dog so badly, they will tolerate me.

Traveling with dogs, though it can be restrictive and inconvenient, can also open doors. My ex and her husband, I’d guess, after 10 days of me sleeping in their den, won’t be too sad to see me go, but they’ll miss Ace. Although she informed me upon arrival that Ace is overweight (correctly, I realized), she then went on to treat him to, among other things, pancakes, bacon, cheesecake, hamburgers and hot dogs.

All of which, being a mooch himself — both when it comes to food and affection — he gobbled up.

I’m learning a thing or two from my dog about the fine art of freeloading — not surprising, given dogs are probably society’s ultimate freeloaders.

We feed them, shelter them, teach them, groom them, entertain them and sometimes go to far more ridiculous extremes. They get, pretty much, a free ride.

Unlike your average parasite, though, they give far more back in return — unwavering loyalty, unconditional love, companionship, affection, better health, smiles, laughs, serenity, comfort, exercise and, oh yeah, that sense of purpose and fulfillment that they add to our lives.

Since I’ve hit the road, I’ve been offered shelter, fed meals and found companionship (family variety) – everything a dog gets, except maybe a scratch behind the ears. I, in turn, try to be amusing, refrain from barking, not drool when dinner is served and avoid shedding on the couch.

In reality, I don’t uphold my side of the freeloading bargain as well as dogs do. I’m not quite as loyal and steadfast, as dependable or entertaining, as cute, soothing or stimulating. But I try.

Not wholeheartedly, like a dog – I won’t be licking any hands, for instance — but I try.

Dogs and parenthood do mix — quite nicely

You hear a lot these days about young couples foregoing parenthood and opting for a dog instead. You hear a lot, too, about young couples who take in a dog as practice for when a real baby comes along.

There’s  nothing wrong, in my view, with either.

What often gets ignored though — amid the kind of scoffing the dogless sometimes do at dog peoples’ commitment to their animals – is the fact that dogs, while not the equivalent of a child, do indeed prepare young couples for parenthood.

And that’s just the beginning.

After that, they go on to help those children grow up with a healthy respect for living things, teaching them about love and loyalty. And, after the kids depart, dogs help fill the void –  though usually not the same dog — of an empty nest.

They, like some brands of dog food, in fact, are there for all the cycles of our human lives — including the the onset of parenthood.

Rebecca Dube does beautiful job of describing how her dog helped prepare her for parenthood in this week’s Toronto’s Globe and Mail – in a piece whose writing was prompted, sadly, by death of the family’s beagle, Lily:

“My dog was my baby; and now that I have an actual baby, I see that my dog prepared me for motherhood far better than any of those What to Expect books.”

Rebecca and her husband adopted Lily from a rescue group, altering their lives in  numerous ways — from cleaning up shed hair to shifting their schedules, to dictating where to vacation and where to live — and once Lily got sick, affecting the budget as well.

Lily lived much longer with cancer than the three months her vet originally predicted, long enough to meet the newest addition to the family.

Rebecca writes that, once she became ill, they never questioned the time and money they were investing in her: “She was our baby … And then along came a real baby.

“Our son, Elijah, arrived 10 days early, and we brought him home on a Saturday night. All through my pregnancy, I’d hoped for the moment we finally got, when we introduced Elijah to Lily, and stroked his tiny baby hand against her soft fur. In my greedy heart I wanted them to have years together, for him to laugh at her wagging tail, for her to wait patiently for scraps beneath his high chair. But that tiny bit of grace would have to be enough. Lily died early Monday morning…

“My dog was my baby. She taught me that a slobbery, stinky creature could pee on my shoes, poop everywhere, complicate my life in a million aggravating ways – and at the same time inspire so much love that my heart felt like it would burst with happiness. She taught me and my husband how to go from two to three. She taught us how to be a family…

Rebecca writes that, when Elijah gets old enough to understand, she’ll show him the photos of him and Lily, “and tell him that for a few days he had the best dog a boy could ever want.”

(Photo: Elijah and Lily, Toronto Globe and Mail)

Company for Christmas: Three dog night

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Perhaps you’ve heard people say this: Two dogs are just as easy as one. Or, three dogs are just as easy as two.

It’s not so.

Bearing in mind that it depends in large extent on the individual dogs, and having a routine carved out for them, the amount of time and energy spent on caring for multiple dogs doesn’t just double with two dogs, or triple with three dogs. When it comes to multiple dogs, basic math goes out the window.

Among my observations so far — based on my hosting three guest canines for Christmas, two of which have arrived so far to join me and my own dog Ace:

– Three dogs, who you would think would drink three times the amount of water as one, actually drink eight times the amount.

– Three dogs who normally wouldn’t follow you from room to room, all follow you from room to room when they are together.

– Three dogs, as all three have to do whatever one does — be it drinking water, peeing, barking or jumping on the human –  actually engage in 18 times the amount of activity that they would on their own.

DSC07612My newest arrival is a young Boston terrier named Darcy, who possesses an energy level equivalent to a whole  litter of Energizer bunnies. She’s constantly on the go. She likes to get up on the couch or a chair, so she’s at eye level with Ace, and then slap her paws into his face. Ace responds by taking Darcy’s paw, leg, or entire head into his mouth, at which point Darcy freezes until Ace lets go. Then they do it all over again. Cheyenne, the visiting blind dog, stayed out of those frays.

Darcy’s humans brought plenty of toys, which everyone is sharing nicely. Cheyenne went nuts over Darcy’s tug toy, whipping it around and flinging it, trying to find where it went, then doing it all over again.

Darcy meanwhile took a strong liking to Cheyenne’s bed — pulling it out of the crate,  attempting to impregnate it (though she’s a female), nursing on its bulges, and finally trying to pull the stuffing out of it, at which point I had to separate her from her lover/mother/prey.

Somebody pooped in the house (I’m not pointing any fingers), a feat which, fortunately, the others — so far — haven’t felt the need to duplicate.

All three took turns resting on the couch, engaging in play and gnawing on one well-chewed marrow bone.

As evening fell I learned that walking three dogs is 8.7 times harder than walking one, 23.5 times harder when you thrown in the ice, and it left me 10.6 times more tired than I should have been.

Back from the park, after dinner and a few more spurts of play, the gang finally started settling down, and we all sacked out on the couch — except for Ace, who knew he wouldn’t fit. He settled for putting his head only on the couch for a few minutes, then sprawled out at the foot of it.

You know that feeling you get when the day is done, and your work is finished, and you look over at your peacefully sleeping, or even just resting dog — that soul-comforting, all-is-right-with-the-world flush of warm contentment, better even than a crackling fire, hot chocolate, or a steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese?

Turns out multiple dogs make that feeling rise exponentially, too.

On my three dog night, with the blind one curled up between my legs, her head resting on my feet; the big one on floor by the couch, reaching for me now and then with his paw; and the little Boston terrier resting, finally, on my belly, I realized I was feeling 9.9 times more peaceful and harmonious than usual.

(To read all of the “Company for Christmas” series, click here.)

A sample registry hive file, the circuit is rarely done.