Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Well, the time has finally come that I've dreaded. Shady is over 16 years old, blind, deaf and I doubt that she knows who I am. Shady is a 13" beagle that I brought home one Christmas 16 years ago. She was born in October, according to her papers, so I used to celebrate her birthday on Halloween by making a dog bone shaped cake. Being a Beagle, notorious for their inability to be trained, and their single-minded pursuit of food, she loved the cake.

My ex-husband and I lived in a condo, and if we wanted a dog, it had to be small, under 15 pounds. Shady was perfect. We went to pet shops and didn't find anything we felt that "spark" for, or could afford, for that matter. Besides, I didn't like the typical small dogs - I felt they were pseudo-dogs. I don't like little yappy terriers, or God forbid, Chihuahuas!! I wanted a small dog that felt like a big dog. We had decided this would be a neat Christmas gift for our daughter, Ashley. We would pick up the pup on Christmas Eve, sneak her in the house late, have her sleep with us, wake up early, pop her in a box loosely, call Ashley -and let the fun begin.

One day I saw an ad in the paper for Beagle pups, just brought down from the breeder in Georgia. They weren't quite 6 weeks old yet and they were under $200. Off we went to this messy looking house in Hollywood. We were ushered to a room, and then the owners let all the puppies in at once, from the same litter. There were little boy and girl beagles everywhere, squirming and yipping, licking and jumping. They had to be THE cutest puppies I had ever seen - the quintessential PUPPY. I didn't want a boy pup - I'd always had boy dogs growing up, and I knew they had a tendency to want to run off. Besides, I wanted to try a girl dog for a change. There was one little female that was not as rambunctious as her brother who was crawling all over me. She went into the people's bedroom who owned the house, and came out trailing somebody's underwear. That was it. I wanted her. I went to her and she was very wiggly and happy, her tail a little metronome.

We bought her and made a deal to pick her up Christmas Eve. I picked her up on December 24, bundled her over to another family member's house for a few hours until Ashley went to sleep. It was NOT easy waiting for THAT - especially on Christmas Eve. Finally, I brought little Shady home. She was very uncertain and I'm certain she missed her little brothers and sisters. In order to keep her from crying, she slept in between my husband and I, on some towels, "just in case"!!

Next morning, I popped her in the box we had for her, put on the lid loosely and called Ashley. Ashley heard the whining noises coming from under the tree and at first was frightened. We assured her Santa had brought her something wonderful - just open it!! Out popped little Shady. Of course, she wasn't named yet. Ashley chose that name from one of her favorite My Little Ponies. Shady spent that first day sleeping a lot on a heating pad, and needing to be petted a lot.

If I could post pictures on this stupid blog - I'll try again - I can post just what an adorable little puppy she was.

Over the years, she proved to be a true beagle, with that howl instead of a bark. One time, when we went on vacation, we put her in the kennel for over a week. When we got home, she had lost her howl from listening to all the other dogs barking. But she got it back within a few days. When I say she was a true Beagle, I mean she lived for food and she was virtually untrainable. No matter what we tried, she messed in the house AND in her own cage ("dogs will not mess in their own bed" - uhh.....guess what - beagles will). If Ashley had friends over and they were watching TV and eating snacks, Shady came over and their food was easy pickings. Their hands holding a cookie were tantalizingly easy to reach for a 13" beagle - next sound I would hear was someone wailing "Shady!!"

She was not a dumb dog by any means. She learned how to open a refrigerator with her teeth. Oh yes. I'm not kidding. This little dog could break into a fridge and then raid the food until she looked like a walking watermelon. That was always fun to come home to.......

Since she messed in the house, and I had carpet, I bought gates guaranteed to keep the dog in whatever room you decided. I wanted to keep her in the kitchen since it had linoleum. The first day I tried the gate, I came home and found her in the living room. The gate was no problem whatever. OK - so I bought two gates and put them one on top of the other.

I came home from work and STILL found her in the living room. She must have scaled the gates. My boyfriend at the time (and now my husband) used to call her "Houdini dog", as well as "McGuyver" - she could frustrate any attempts we made to keep her in or out of anything.

Since she broke into the fridge, we had to duct tape it shut every time we went in and out of it. And when I left for work in the morning, God help me if I forgot to tape the fridge. Doggy preparation for leaving the house was pretty time consuming!!

When she was still a young dog, Ashley and I liked to take her out by the canal we lived next to. She would be on her leash, otherwise she would run after all the ducks and we wouldn't be able to catch her. One thing she loved to do was run circles faster and faster around whoever was holding the leash, barking with excitement, her ears flapping. One of my favorite things was after she would have a bath. Of course, she hated baths, but once she was let out of the water, she would get positively crazy. As I towelled her, she'd growl and vibrate, dying to get away. Then, when I let her go, she would rip around the house crazily, slipping on the linoleum places, her little butt tucked under while she ran. Of course, I would egg her on, chasing her, flapping the towel at her. Finally, she would stop, look at me and just howl. She yelled at me a lot. If I didn't do what she wanted, she would sit in front of me and bark - it was a different bark than the "someone's at the door" bark.

Once I was divorced, Shady slept with me. I had a nice queen sized bed and Shady would alternate going under the covers when she was cold, and laying on top of the covers when she got too hot. She loved to be all the way down by my feet. I could never figure out how she could breathe, but she loved it. And she was a GREAT heater on cold nights, plus great company. It was always reassuring to wake up after a nightmare, and feel her next to me.

In the morning, I would wake up to a beagle literally 2 inches from my face, staring at me with extreme intensity, WILLING me to wake up, feed her and take her out.

Another thing she LOVED to do was go for a ride. If you asked her "Do you want to go for a ride?" she'd cock her head all the way over. She could keep her balance in any car and relished having her head out the window, ears flying.

The only good thing about her going deaf was that she wasn't petrified on July 4 or during thunderstorms anymore. She literally tried to claw her way UNDER the carpet from the noise.

I won't mention her last years. After all, we all have last years, and we want to be remembered in our vigor and strength, not at our end.

This morning, my husband got an appointment to take her in to be put to sleep. Today, at 4:30 PM, she will pass out of this life, laying down a much used little body. I went home at lunch to spend some last time with her. I fed her two small cans of food instead of just one, and sat with her out in the warm sun. I don't think she really knows who I am anymore. She doesn't wag her tail in recognition. So after a bit, I guided her back into the house, gave her some treats and put her on her blanket, making sure the heating pad is on for her old bones.

But I'll remember her in her better years.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Damn It

I've tried REPEATEDLY to get "Hello" from Picasa to publish my painted bunting photo. No go. I was in Mozilla Firefox, but I exited and re-opened in IE - it didn't help. So tomorrow is another day - meanwhile, any good bird id site will have a picture of one. Sheesh -this is frustrating!!

Painted Bunting!!

I did it!! I finally photographed a painted bunting!! After work today I decided I NEED to exercise. I'm so sedentary and FAT - so there's no time like the present. I stopped at home long enough to change clothes and put on sneakers - and I grabbed my digital camera and some binoculars. And off I went. It was a beautiful afternoon - not TOO hot and very sunny. I headed to Tree Tops Park, parked back by the park offices and walked toward Pine Island Ridge. Once through the gate, I turned left and walked down a horse path to a small lake. On the other side of the lake are houses, but on the park side are huge live oaks and lots of low bushy brush - just what painted buntings like. Last year, I saw one here, but couldn't photograph it in time. Sooooo - within 5 minutes of getting to the spot where I saw one last year, I "pished" - a term used by birders for the shushing noise that birds seem to want to investigate - so they come out and you get to see them briefly while they check YOU, the pisher, out. Almost as soon as I made my birder noise, there he was. The male is the spectacular one - blue, red, green and yellow. Their small size always surprises me, for some reason. I peered down through some brush and I could see him clearly through an opening in the branches - painted buntings are ground gleaners, and that's where he was. I couldn't believe it!! Last year, Dart and I went to tons of places where birders claimed to see TONS of painted buntings - and they were in hiding when we went to each place. I was SO frustrated. Especially when I would read the lists of the birders in the area - and they would invariably include "painted bunting" - and perhaps a number anywhere from 1 to 20+ - give me a BREAK already!!

But today was my blessed day - I'll post one of the best photos. Mr. Painted Bunting's wife was with him, too - the females are leaf green and very hard to discern among leafy bushes - they are the color green of parrots. But I couldn't get my camera to focus on her - besides, it was her mate I really wanted. I've photographed a female painted bunting before....

Here is my little friend - I bet he's the same one I saw last year in the same place. Birds frequent the same areas when they migrate....