Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ottomans, Take Heed!

Once upon a time I had an ugly old couch. I was moving to a new apartment and I didn't want to take it with me. My apartment complex had strict rules about disposing of furniture in their dumpsters, and I didn't think the Salvation Army would want the dilapidated teal monstrosity that probably contained enough dog hair (and dog vomit & urine, thanks to Ilsa) to make the CSI guys think multiple murders had been committed on those cushions.

Steve was not concerned. Steve had a plan.

I came home from class to find my then-fiance Steve destroying the sofa with a hammer and hacksaw. He had stripped the fabric and foam from the frame, stuffing it all into trash bags and making regular trips to the dumpster. Next went the wood framework, and then the metal pieces. It took fourteen black plastic trash bags to dispose of that godawful couch, but in the end we got the entire thing into the dumpster and the apartment complex was none the wiser.

See? I told you it was an ugly couch!

This appears to be Steve's solution for disposing of any large piece of furniture. Last summer I figured out where he learned this method.

Iowa has been plagued with horrible floods, and our house was not spared - we had more than two feet of murky, greenish water in our basement for several days. As a result, several large pieces of furniture had to be thrown out. There had been one piece of furniture in particular that I was worried about - a wooden cabinet that had to have weighed about 500lbs. It was roughly 8' long, 4' wide and 4' deep - and old enough that it was constructed from real, solid, heavy wood. I had no idea how we were even going to lift it, let alone get it up a flight of stairs and to the curb to be hauled away.

The next day, I got home from work and there was Steve's mom - looking like Rosie the Riveter - smashing the hell out of that cabinet with only a hammer. I was gobsmacked.

It made it to the curb in less than an hour - and in small, distressed, frazzled little pieces. The Petesch blood-feud against unwanted furniture had reared its ugly head yet again.

And it was awesome.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

52 Weeks of Dogs: 13/52, Playtime

"Red Dobes... they come with Wings!"

I tried very hard to get a decent play-shot of multiple dogs, but in the end this photo stood out from the rest.

This is Jayne being himself - he spends a lot of his time airborne, just like his brother Rocket. I think Breaker gives a jet-pack to each of his sons, because every single one of them seems to enjoy flying more than walking.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

52 Weeks of Dogs: 12/52, Spring Has Sprung

"Mud Monsters"

Springtime in Iowa should be called The Season of Mud. It's everywhere. It's slimy, it's nasty, it's stinky... and the dogs just love tracking it into the house! This is the quintessential Iowa springtime photograph - eager dogs trained to wait at the door for me to wipe the icky mud off their paws!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Assault and Battery

It occurs to me that I've been a bit negative as of late. Complaining and ranting have been my modus operandi for weeks. No more! It's Friday, it's sunny, it's warmish and it's time for some levity! This actually happened last year but it's been a favorite "laugh out loud" memory ever since, so I don't see any harm in re-telling it now.

It was a dark and stormy night...

It has been raining hard that night, and I was trying to sleep. Apparently we have vents on our roof, and whenever it rains super hard in a certain direction, water leaks into the attic. My husband Steve was very concerned, so he kept pulling down the ladder to the attic to check the status of any leakage. Every hour he did this, and not once did he make an effort to be quiet about it. It was an annoying, infuriating sound journey. So every hour, on the hour, I was woken up to this:

creeeaaakkk.... squeeeeeaaaakkk! (the door to the "nerd cave" being opened)

(the attic ladder being pulled down)

Thump thump thump thump thump... (Steve climbing the ladder to get to the attic)

Thunk... bonk... swish swish... thud... (Steve crawling around in the attic)

Thump thump thump thump thump... (Steve climbing down the ladder)

SPROING-OING-OING! (the attic ladder being out back up)

creeeaaakkk.... squeeeeeaaaakkk! (the door to the "nerd cave" being closed)

This happened four times. 10pm... 11pm... 12am... 1am... but at the 2am check, the sound journey changed course.

creeeaaakkk.... squeeeeeaaaakkk! (the door to the "nerd cave" being opened)

(the attic ladder being pulled down)

Thump thump thump thump thump... (Steve climbing the ladder to get to the attic)

Thunk... bonk... swish swish... thud... (Steve crawling around in the attic)

*** At this point, I hear what can only be described as a cross between a strangled cry, a scream, a yelp and a shout. ***

THUMPTHUMPCRASH! (Steve frantically running down the attic stairs, tripping, then falling the rest of the way down)

"GOD DAMN IT!" - Steve

SPROING! (the attic ladder being violently put back up)

THUD THUD THUD BOOM THUD THUD! (Steve running up the hall)

CREAK.... SQUEAK! (the door to the "nerd cave" being flung open, then slammed shut)

I got out of bed, tore open the door to the nerd cave and asked what the hell was going on. Steve was huddled up on the far end of the sofa, covered in a blanket with only his eyes exposed. He shot me a panicked look - still hiding under the comforter - and exclaimed:

"There's a fucking BAT in the attic!"

At this point I could not contain myself - I was tired, grumpy and in pain from surgery, but I couldn't stop myself from pointing and laughing at my wimpy 6'4" husband.

"Don't laugh at me! It.... it... it flew at me!"

Still laughing, I walked back to the bedroom and got back in bed. I did not hear any more "leak checks" for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

52 Weeks of Dogs: 11/52, Big Smiles


It's not a huge grin, but given his history it's good enough for me.

This is Ned, and he's our temporary foster until after Spring Break. Ned was adopted through IDR+ awhile back, but was recently turned into a shelter by one of the previous adopter's family members because poor Ned wasn't being fed or even being given water! Even with the best screening practices, things like this can happen. We're just happy that he's safely back with IDR+.

Fleeting Days

You been east side, west side up and down, all around the town
Stomped through your old stomping grounds, cracked open your old crown
You say the sidewalks are made of concrete, instead of Mountain Dew
You say the city has changed, well maybe it's you.

Dan Bern, what the hell happened?

I was introduced to the music of Dan Bern when I was in middle school. Dan Bern was a local legends, a talented musician who grew up near my hometown. He still had ties to the community, which made him even more awesome. Some of my older friends took me to my first Dan Bern concert at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, right around the time he released his New American Language album - which to this day is probably one of his best works.

That concert was phenomenal. The auditorium was packed with hundreds of his local fans, many of whom had watched Dan grow up. He must have been on stage for three hours - including coming back for two encores for the deliriously happy, roaring crowd. He took requests, performed several sing-alongs (which if you've ever been to a good Dan Bern concert you'd know are tons of fun) and even did a Talkin' Blues piece. It was on terrorists, if I recall correctly. It was, in a word, amazing. I dont' think I've ever been to a concert so full of life and joy - it was a concert that left a warm, happy feeling in my guy for days afterwards. Even thinking about it now, more than a decade later, I can't help but grin.

Dan Bern seemed genuinely happy to be singing for us that night. So... what happened Dan? What changed?

My friend Jess and her guy-thing Scott invited me along to a Dan Bern show in Iowa City this past Sunday. It was sort of a belated birthday gift, since Jess paid for my ticket and had neglected to get me anything for my birthday last year. (Psst - I forgot her birthday too, so don't think badly of her. It happens.)

I was really excited. Due to college and a distinct lack of money over the past few years, I hadn't gotten out to see Dan Bern for awhile. Hearing that unique sound (I call it midwestern heartland folk-rock) was going to be the high point of my weekend - perhaps even the entire month. Instead, we got forty-five minutes of "twangy country stuff," one song that he had to end halfway through because he forgot the words and one halfhearted sing-along that less than half the audience knew.. He sang two classics - just two. No Talkin' Blues, no requests and the wimpiest encore I've seen from any musician. Come on, one song? That's not an encore, that's a placation!

It almost seemed as if he didn't want to be there, in a cozy establishment with his local fans. Again I ask - Dan Bern, what the hell happened?

Jess told me that the past few local Dan Bern shows she'd been to (and she's been to tons of his concerts) had been similar to last Sunday's disaster - short, rushed, with little love for the fans and an air of "half-assery." And each time, it seemed as if Dan just didn't want to be there.

I don't know what changed. Is it because he lives in Los Angeles now? Is it because he got a big break writing songs for a major motion picture? Is it because he'd been living in a can for the past week? Or was he always like this, and I was too young and naive to see it?

Regardless of the reason... I miss you, Dan. I had to listen to my copy of Smartie Mine on my two-hour drive home, just to cheer myself up. You probably don't know how much happiness you brought my friends and me back in high school. Some of my best moments growing up had your music in the background. Like driving down 5th Avenue in Jess's old red Ford Temo (Vishaka!) at midnight, windows down, singing Black Tornado as loud as we could and not caring who heard. Or the time we all piled into the cars and drove up to Minneapolis, with Chelsea Hotel and Alaska Highway blaring through the speakers. Or the time one of our drunk friends tried to cover Chick Singers and failed miserably... on camera. Or the time I sang the entire Fifty Eggs album to a skinny, terrified foster dog in the back of my car.

Where has the sweetness gone
Where is the loving song

Where oh where in the world.

Where, indeed.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why are you still here?

I never dreamed we'd still have Allicyn, but she's been here nearly three months. She's a great dog... I know there has to be someone out there looking for a dog like Alli.

But she's still here.

Alli is a great fit for our household. I know we're not the only home on the planet that can handle Alli. I know there's someone out there that needs this dog just as much as she needs them. Unfortunately she's a bit "rough around the edges" and that seems to scare people off. Since her bio on the rescue's website is a bit short, I'll do an extended biography here. Maybe this will help Alli's person discover her.

Reason #1 to Love Alli: She's a lovebug.
If you want a dog that will greet you enthusiastically when you come home home (or just come out of the bathroom!) then Alli is your gal. When she hasn't seen you for awhile, she will gambol around you, smiling and making happy little whining sounds. She'll follow you around like a shadow. When you're on the sofa she'll jump up and try to burrow under the blankets - which is great in the wintertime because she's like a mini-furnace! And kisses.... if you ask for kisses, she's got plenty to share.

Reason #2 to Love Alli: She's a great house dog.
Some dogs can't be trusted to behave in the house... Alli is not one of those dogs. She doesn't explore coat pockets or countertops, she doesn't chew shoes or furniture, she doesn't knock items off the table. When left to her own devices in the house she just curls up on the sofa and goes to sleep. I have left her loose when I've had to make short trips to the grocery store and I've always come home to everything in its place. She's also quiet - she barks occasionally but she never makes a nuisance of herself and isn't a whiner.

Reason #3 to Love Alli: She's clean.
Alli doesn't have accidents in the house or in her crate. She's one of the cleanest dogs I've ever met, and she can "hold it" for a full workday. Some female dogs have problems with urinary incontinence... Alli does not.

Reason #4 to Love Alli: She is drop-dead gorgeous.
All dogs are beautiful, but Alli is truly breathtaking... especially for a rescue. Her color is rich and dark, her markings are nice, her eyes are dark and her ears are about as correct and beautiful as you could ever ask for. She has a nice straight topline and decent enough angles. Her head is pretty and her expression is extremely pleasing. Her beauty holds its own against my own show dogs!

Reason #5 to Love Alli: She's great with other dogs.
Alli plays rough, but she gets along with dogs of all different sizes, ages and breeds. She has a great time with the 25lb Corgis and has a blast with the 65-90lb Dobermans. She'll play hard outside, then come inside and relax on the sofa in a big pile of her canine friends.

I know, I know - she sounds like the perfect dog. However, there are some things you should know about our little red Alli-gator before you decide to break into my home and doggy-nap her. These shouldn't be dealbreakers, but so often a rescue dog's "rough edges" are seen as permanent, unconquerable obstacles that immediately knock a dog out of the running for a new home.

Pause for Thought #1: She doesn't like everyone she meets.
Some dogs have never met a stranger... Alli is not one of those dogs. It takes her awhile to warm up to people - usually overnight for women, but up to three weeks for men. She has to get to know you first before she decides to share her love. Rest assured, she will come around eventually - but it'll take time.

Pause for Thought #2: She does not like cats. AT ALL.
Don't assume you'll be able to make it work with Alli and cats. I know several dogs that aren't cat-safe, and Alli is worse around cats than any of those other dogs. We have two cats, and before I get Alli out I make sure they're locked in another room - it's the only way for them to all coexist.

Pause for Thought #3: She has extremely high prey drive.
Cats, squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks... none are safe around the Alli-gator. On walks, she will bark at little fuzzies and attempt to give chase. (This negative could also be a positive though - she'd be a great coursing dog, and the AKC now offers a coursing instinct title! UKC offers coursing titles to all breeds.)

Pause for Thought #4: She requires obedience training.
Not really a negative, since obedience is fun - but I suppose this could be a drawback for some people. She's not 100% trained, she still needs work.

I made a point of having less cons than pros. Because when you adopt a rescue dog, the good always outweighs the bad. Give Alli a chance and you'll learn this firsthand.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

52 Weeks of Dogs: 10/52, Oh the Woe!

"The Canine Blimp"

Who else but Kaylee? Normally she's not sad, but now that she's the size of the Hindenburg she's been wandering around the house in PermaMope mode. I don't think the 26th can come fast enough!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Come on... it's just a dog.

There are more than 77 million pet dogs in the United States.

For many people, dogs are just part of what makes a "family" - Mommy, Daddy, two kids and a dog. Dog is loved by the family, but suffers what I like to call benevolent neglect. Dog has minimal training - a puppy course at the local big-box pet supply store is considered sufficient. Dog never misses a meal, but his kibble is whatever Daddy picks up at the grocery store on the way home from work. Dog is sometimes stinky, so he is shooed out of the children's rooms to sleep in the laundry room until someone finds the time to bathe him (usually with a chemical-laden grocery store shampoo or baby shampoo.) Dog wanders the house aimlessly while the family plays board games at the kitchen table or watches movies in the den. Dog is an extra, an accessory, a living peninsula to the continent of Family.

I'm glad my dogs know a different life.

Now don't think I'm advocating that dogs be treated like people - I don't anthropomorphize my pets. In fact, doing so is actually detrimental to a dog's psyche. My dogs are not children - they are powerful, domesticated predators that miraculously look to me for leadership and direction.

But that is not to say they are somehow "less" than me. On the contrary - spending most of my adult life in the company of dogs has opened my eyes to how flawed and how broken the human race really is. Shock! Horror! I can imagine some of you are recoiling away from your computer screens, aghast at what I'm saying. But that's okay - I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, and I'm not criticizing anyone for finding other things to be passionate about. I'm fully aware that most people don't share my beliefs.


I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist. One of the major principles of Unitarian Universalism is being allowed to embark on a 'free and responsible search for truth and meaning.' This meant that the congregation didn't tell me what to believe - they simply taught me all they could and gave me the tools to pursue my own spiritual growth. I visited the Mother Mosque, I attended Hindu festivals, I went to Christian Youth Camps, I participated in Wiccan ceremonies - all with an open mind. I enjoyed every minute of it. I was blessed to experience such a wide variety of human religious culture during my formative years... but still I felt an emptiness that I couldn't understand. Something was missing.

I was sixteen years old when I got my first dog. I'm sure my high school friends can attest that I became a different person after Ilsa came home. For the first time in my life, I felt complete. All this time I had been searching for spiritual fulfillment in and with other people, but with the help of one red puppy with pointy ears I discovered my truth.

Perhaps this is why all the other established faiths left me wanting something more. Most organized religion has that "human element" - a humanlike deity, a reverence for human interests, a preference placed on the human race. My life experiences had taught me that humans lie, humans scheme, humans deceive, humans cheat, humans abandon. Dogs are incapable of that.

The happiest moment of my life was spent with my dogs.
It was summer. We spent the entire day out at Peterson Pits, one of our favorite nature parks. We'd started on the horse trails, then circled over to the small lake so the dogs could barrel down the shoreline and crash into the water... scare the fish. Then we went west, thick into the woods, until the trail became so tangled with tree roots that we could go no further. The dogs had run running up and down the shaded ravines, their muscular bodies zipping through the shadows with silent grace. We turned back, and took the left fork to the creek so the dogs could chase sticks thrown into the gentle current. After shaking the sand from our shoes, we traveled north in search of the pioneer cemetery. The dogs took a detour so they could hunt mice in an ancient pile of discarded railroad ties, and play hide 'n' seek in the sand dunes. After finding the cemetery, we headed even further north, into the prairie. At this rate, it was doubtful we'd make it back to the car before dark. As the sun set, we watched the dogs trot through the grass about 20 yards ahead of us. There was a slight breeze, and it was quiet - save for the sounds of the wildlife settling in for the evening. And it was perfect.

The saddest moment of my life was spent with my dogs.
It was winter. February 6th, to be precise - the day before Ilsa's 7th birthday. And we were letting her go. She had osteosarcoma in her jaw, and it had spread to her chest... there was no way we could save her. Our vet let us come in after hours so we wouldn't have to see any other clients. It was a blur, but I remember the vet and the tech were crying too. Ilsa was uncomfortable, she didn't want to lie down. Forcing her down would stress her even more, so the vet gave her a fast-acting sedative that brought her down fast - right in my lap. I held her, hugging her and crying into her neck until she was gone. I took her collar off and we left. I learned a valuable lesson that evening - take the collar off before they're gone.

Every momentous and meaningful event in my adult life has been with - or because of - a dog. Every profound life lesson I've learned has come from a dog.

So the next time you're sitting down with the family to watch a movie, curl up with your dog. Feel how he leans into you, happy and content. The next time you go to the park, bring your dog along. Listen to her strong paws thud against the ground as she runs, tongue hanging out from a smiling mouth and a happy twinkle in her eyes.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll see a glimpse of what makes "just a Dog" so incredibly special.