Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dog Philosophy

All well brought-up dogs (and I like to think that ours are so), know quite well that there are two classes of things in the world: things Dog is allowed to chew and things Dog is not allowed to chew. 

The first category is usually fairly limited and includes designated "chew toys," Nylar bones, tug-of-war ropes, some treats, etc. The second category of forbidden items includes all the rest of the world, but especially blankets, pillows, dog beds, shoes, clothing, TV remotes, glasses, and many truly fascinating things. Many are all the more desirable because they hold the scent of beloved Human. 

As indicated previously the well brought-up Dog knows that he is not suppose to chew these wonderful things. However,  dogs are very philosophical beings, and they have developed a marvelous philosophical concept of "attachment." The basic axiom of attachment philosophy is that any item that becomes attached to an allowed chew item, automatically may itself be chewed. 

Suppose for example, that Dog's favorite and well-chewed Nylar bone becomes entangled in the blanket on the bed. It is not Dog's fault that the blanket is attached, no indeed. What other choice does Dog have but to chew the blanket in order to exercise his legitimate right to chew bone? None of course. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Magic of Digital Books

I was a voracious reader as a child.  Mostly I read young people's "classics" (Alcott, Wilder, Sydney, Porter, Montgomery, Lovelace, etc.), science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, Norton), and British fantasy (Nesbit, Lewis, Arthur) but cared very little for the contemporary teen romances of the likes of Stoltz and Cleary. In other words, I was a fan of the past, the future and the imagined but not so much of contemporary reality. 

The San Mateo Public Library had rich resources for a child of my temperament. Every week we went to the public library and I came home with stacks of books, all of which would be completed and returned for a new stack the next week. The children's department in the old main library held full series many of the old books that I loved, such as all of Louisa May Alcott's young people's novels, and every one of Edith Nesbit's magical children's adventures. I could read not only The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but the Peppers "Midway" and "Grown Up" and the books for each of the five children. 

Times changed, demands of library space increased, and slowly all those old books disappeared. Libraries would keep The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, but none of the subsequent books; they'd keep Alcott's Little Women and possibly Little Men, but not Jo's Boys, or An Old Fashioned Girl, or Eight Cousins, etc. Most of Nesbit's books disappeared entirely. 

Early in the age of the World Wide Web and Amazon.com I began looking for my childhood favorites, but most were out of print, and unavailable even as used copies from second-hand bookstores. Until the digital book revolution of recent years. With the spread of e-readers, across the country groups of volunteers have begun digging through their stashes of old children and young people's books and painstakingly transforming them into digital content. Amazon makes these public domain books available free of charge to Kindle readers. 

Suddenly I am able to revisit Lucy Fitch Perkins'  The Scotch [sic] Twins and American Twins of the Revolution, and Alice Turner Curtis' delightful A Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony and A Little Maid of Ticonderoga, as well as Edith Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.  

The greatest delight, however, is that some older books that I searched in vain for in childhood, can be found digitally today. 

I loved movies as well as books as a child, and was an enormous fan of Haley Mills, making an effort to see all of her movies (not just those she did under the Disney franchise). One delightful concoction, released in the summer of 1963 was Summer Magic. I was 12 and I was enchanted. In the credits I saw that the movie was based on a book by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin called Mother Carey's Chickens (most people are more likely familiar with her popular Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm).  I looked for Mother Carey's Chickens for years, no, for decades, unsuccessfully. It had been out of print since the 1930's. 

Now, thanks to the hard work of dedicated volunteers who found and transcribed this classic work, I am presently reading Mother Carey's Chickens before bed at night, and thoroughly enjoying the adventures of Nancy, Gilley, Peter, Kitty, Mother, and Julia in the yellow house in Beulah. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Dog Ate Your Homework

For my two decades of teaching I thought that the apocryphal tale of "the dog ate my homework" was pure mythology. Then eight years ago, I found myself having to apologize to my students' for my dog eating THEIR homework!

I was forty-five years old before I had my first dog. In childhood I was for many years frightened of dogs. My great-uncle Tom took care of that by immersing me in the care of his lovable, boisterous kennel of hunting beagles, although I continued to be somewhat leery of large dogs for many more years. In college I had the opportunity to take care of a friend's dog for a month (his parents went to New Zealand and left the dog with him at college, but he was too busy with labs and research so I got to take care of most of Pokey's needs) and loved that experience.  

I wanted a dog for many years, but in my single academic existence of evening classes, trips to conferences, and long office hours I didn't feel like I was settled enough to care for a dog.  Instead I had a couple of much beloved cats. It wasn't until I married John in my forties that I had the privilege of having a dog as a companion. John's dog Missy was middle-aged when I met her, sweet, submissive, obedient, well trained,  and well-behaved dog in every way. She had been an adult and already trained when John rescued her some years before we met.  She lived to the ripe age of 19 years, quite ancient in doggie terms, and in her last years had cognitive difficulties that were endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. 

John didn't want to have another dog. He thought that there was only one dog for him and she was gone. But I knew we needed another dog. A year and a half after Missy's death, a young, large, female Shepard/Lab mix who was dumped in the neighborhood began to hang around our house and porch. Rosie the dog knew we needed a new dog and was persistent in her pursuit of the position. After a week we knew we had to take her in (or face the consequences of  a litter of pups a month or so down the road). 

We quickly learned that life with Missy had not  prepared us for life with a young, boisterous, dominant, untrained dog like Rosie. Rosie was a dog that was all heart, but she needed very strong "alpha" humans to take charge and give her not only love, but also discipline. Rosie chewed and ate things: sticks, socks, shoes, clothing, books, our students' homework (not ours), pillows, blankets, and one entire couch. Yes, Rosie ate and entire couch!

With the help of a wonderful trainer at PetSmart, we learned to gently help Rosie become a good companion and pack member.  But in the process we learned more than Rosie did, about the nature of dogs and the wonder of the bond between humans and dogs. Rosie remained a dominant personality, and we had to continual establish our leadership with Rosie. We had to learn how to be assertive, calm, in control pack leaders at all times. A lesson that was as beneficial to us as it was to Rosie. 

For six years we had the wonder of Rosie's company. Then tragically, all too soon we lost her to a devastating congenital illness two years ago. 

We still have dogs, Molly who joined us during the last year of Rosie's life, and blind Bob who was added to the family 18 months ago, and the lessons we learned from Rosie have made us better able to related to Molly and Bob who each have their own unique problems and issues.