Calhouns Can(n)ons for November 19,2010
The mornings are chilly now. After a summer with no summer and a sudden, fierce heat wave, we had our first unseasonable rain of winter. And now chilly mornings, the sun low and pale. The dogs love it. Nippy. Crisp. It energizes them and they hop around on the end of their leashes, ready to go.
Dog walks have now turned into rather lengthy affairs since I’ve had to maneuver around a phenomenon familiar to old-time teachers; One bad apple can infect a whole classroom. And my bad apple is Archibald McDog, a greyhound/shepherd cross I adopted years ago. He’s my resident butt-head dog with the worst traits of both breeds: the laser-focused, locked-in sight hound “gaze” that, once engaged, obliterates any input from the outside world, combined with the Nazi authoritarian bully-boy attitude of the German shepherd. Add in a nervous system that ramps up into instant full alert for any reason -- FOOD! SQUIRREL! KITTY! DUST MOTE! NOTHING AT ALL! –and you can see the problem.
All of which makes him a problem child when taking a walk. Especially with the two other tall dogs since his hyper-reaction just infects them into mindless ramped-up over-reactions that turned our walks into ridiculous Chinese fire drills. So now Archie is demoted to the second shift with the lone Basenji, who pays no attention to his ADD behavior. But second-shifting did result in one added benefit. The ones left behind start up the canine version of The Anvil Chorus, an entertaining trill of mournful wails and wooooos that I can hear half-way down the block. It’s Good Morning America, with music.
So, the first out the door are the sight hounds, The Mighty Finn McCool, the greyhound, and Qarima Zuri Sana McGurk, the Sloughi. For dogs bred to react with their eyes – if it moves, they’re locked on it -- they are amazingly tied to their noses. But each has a different style. For Finn, it’s Ferdinand the Bull. He’s a dawdler. The long snooter goes into some pee-drenched weedy patch as if plunging into a huge bouquet of roses and he goes into a snuffling trance that can last for minutes. I can only imagine the complexity of olfactory information that must be rolling up that long nose to be savored and decoded.
Zuri, on the other hand, has become quite the tracker. Sloughi’s were bred as lethally fast hunters by the Berbers of North Africa, but it’s clear watching Zuri, that some of that hunting ability must have been tied to the nose. While randomly sniffing and following Finn, she will suddenly pick up on a scent. When that happens, down goes the nose and she’s off, straining against the leash, hot tracking some critter that had passed that way in the night like she’s a bloodhound looking for convicts in the swamps of Georgia.
But walking Zuri is not without . . . issues. Sloughi’s tend to be highly suspicious dogs; if it’s new, it bears avoiding or requires careful watching from a distance. And if it once involved small shrieking children, it will be avoided even when the children are no longer present. Which is how a certain house on my street became haunted and now when we pass it, her tail fearfully tucks under, her head drops, and she leans into the harness, scuttling forward for all she’s worth, hastening past a place where once, long ago, she encountered a small hideous jinn tooling around on a Big Wheelie.
Down the street, a cohort of crows are hanging around on the phone lines, muttering at us as we pass. This crowd is a different flock from the family of moochers that hangs out in my trees. A neighbor tosses out food for her bunch in a manner that attracts the gulls, which is never good. Gulls are the avian equivalent of bed bugs; once they show up, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. The gulls screech and wheel up from the ground as we pass, angrily protesting our rudeness at walking through the middle of their breakfast table.
The sun is higher now, its thin warmth welcome against my face. We turn for home, the dogs now falling into an easy gai, heads up, eyes focused ahead, their minds focused on breakfast and a nice nap in the sun that is now streaming through the windows and falling on the dog beds that are scattered around on the living room floor.
The smell of brewing coffee soon fills the room. Ah, home. Heaven. And another lovely day begins.