They’re Here

My Favorite Subjects

It is that time of year. There is a nip in the air, not uncomfortable yet but pregnant with promise.

And this is such a classic crane picture!

a.) It’s heavily cropped to make the central images larger because Cranes are born in the egg with an instinctive knowledge of how far away from a conventional camera lens they need to stay to appear as anything more than a blip in the photo. (I assume this is a genetic trait they share with Great Blue Herons.)

b.) They are walking AWAY from the camera, so even the most determined photographer gets a shot not of cranes, but of crane butts.

c.) They appear so stately and regal–even Egyptian, as in ‘walk like an Egyptian’–it’s hard to remember the entire bird, feathers and all, weigh 12 pounds.

I spent a little over an hour chasing cranes this morning. This mostly involves driving around slowly with a 500mm camera lens in your lap, squinting one-eyed at recently harvested corn fields.

I saw–rough estimate–500 cranes today. All of them standing in the middle or on the far end of 80 to 180-acre fields. Thumbing their beaks.

It was more fun when I could see.

The only sandhill crane I have ever seen up close was in an enclosure at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. S/he turned around and walked away from me.

I drove all the way to Wisconsin to get snubbed.

(Actually I drove all the way to Wisconsin to accompany a friend through a post-surgical examination for breast cancer at the Mayo Clinic, but since we were in the state…)

I am less than fully loved today. I had an appointment with my cardiologist this morning to renew meds and check on my general progress and it was in Kalamazoo at 9:30 this morning. This meant I was not available to hold Pugsy during his morning nap.

Traditionally Nancy gets up, feeds the dogs, makes the coffee, and then I get up, have the coffee and join her for a review of the online news. During this time I am usually sitting still in her spare office chair, which is an excellent place for someone to hold and cuddle a recently-fed and sleepy dog. As a matter of fact, I usually get up to the subtle snuffling and bed-pawing of the same small dog who, on his busy morning rounds, checks on my availability for small dog holding.

This morning I went to the doctor instead.

Pugsy is almost as fond of change and turmoil as the cat. We cleaned the carpet–threw him and Daisy into a tailspin. We moved the couch–tailspin. Recently Nancy has begun taking Pugsy for short car rides, reasoning that he needs to learn how to ride in the car if only to survive trips to the vet. Tailspin. Daisy tailspins also because although although we don’t make her ride (she rides better than he does anyway) he has to leave the house to do it, which means they are SEPARATED.

She ignores him most of the day, but God forbid we take him out of the house.

And how do you know these dogs are really that anxious and upset, you might well ask?.

Because the one secret code we have yet to crack–indeed, we are suspicious there may not be a code–is “I need to go Outside”. We have a regular schedule for Going Outside, but being outside does not necessarily mean anyone is required to do anything but sit on the back stoop and wait for the door to re-open. I have threatened to pick each one of them up and squeeze them, but Nancy won’t let me.

So in answer to the question; disrupt the teenie weenie schedule in any way, shape or form, and the teenie weenies miss the pee pads. I doubt intent has much to do with it. Daisy tries. She’s old, arthritic, has bad knees, and on a good day she walks slightly sideways. She’s our age. We understand bladder control issues. As Nancy says, ‘she was meant to live here with us.’

I think Pugsy does have a code, but only Riley understands it. And Riley is…well…a dog.

I am being petitioned.

Riley wants to go out.

Or. Well. Someone does.

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Dog Update, Three Months

When we brought the new dogs home in July the creature above was not pleased. She hissed. She spit. She batted with both paws at anything small and mobile and foolish enough to come near her.

She parked herself in the narrow hallway leading to the back door and made re-entry into the house a potentially hazardous option.

Daisy barked at her sharply, and it took the cat weeks to come back to bed with us at night.

She did the low crawl all over the house and she threw poisonous eye darts at anyone foolish enough to look at her.

All things considered, she took the teenie weenie’s invasion better than we thought she would.

Time passed.

She came back to bed.

She met us in the hallway as we came back inside but she did not audibly threaten anyone.

We thought peace had settled on the land.

This morning Pugsy wandered into the laundry room, where the cat tucks dog treats in her box, probably for the sole purpose of making Nancy gag at the thought of it, and Bennie strode purposefully into the laundry room–where he was cornered–and attacked Pugsy so bad and ran out of the room screaming.

Nancy scolded the cat and then had to call Pugsy over to inspect him for damages. (As usual, the reports somewhat exaggerated the actual evidence. He was fine.)

Not an hour later she went after him again.

This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. In my own personal experience once cats and dogs have established territorial rights the actual fight is over. Both of the teenie weenies ignore her, walk right past her like she isn’t there.

Daisy occasionally barks her away, but then, Daisy waffles between pure, blind adoration of Riley and barking him away, if Pugsy wanders too close to her food she gives him a piece of her mind and we’re not real sure she hasn’t warned Nancy of bad behavior. Daisy doesn’t take any shit from anybody, even if that shit exists mostly in her own mind.

She has recently begun to play, however. There is the nightly it’s-greenie-time dance of joy which is an impressive performance, given her age and the absence of dance in most of her other communications. Recently she had danced for other treats, and, in fact, appears to believe the Pom dance is in itself reason for a treat to be dispensed.

She informed Nancy a week or so ago that her normal place in the evening should be on the couch (although if you reach for her…too fast/expectedly/from the wrong angle/ when the wind is blowing from the West/before she is emotionally ready…she runs away.) Once she convinced us she does truly want to spend the evenings on the couch, she introduced Nancy (Nancy uses the couch, I have a recliner) to the Couch Game.

It is clear The Couch Game is a game.

It is somewhat murkier exactly how you play it.

So far it seems we play it wrong.

Much of our communication with Daisy is like that. We are clearly too stupid to understand a mind as complex as hers. Every now and again she is forced to retreat behind the guest recliner to ponder exactly how one would convey that idea to people as stupid as we are.

So now the cat is making a power play.

And after the cat attacked Pugsy twice in the same day, I back my chair over him. It is just not a good day for Pugsy.

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Why Great Blue Herons Are That Color

I was photographing a sea gull. Truly.

There was a sea gull sitting on the dam, which I thought was funny because it looked like s/he might soaking her/his feet, so I snapped a shot and as I did that, the sea gull flew up in the air, and as I was trailing the sea gull, this came into my lens.

One of the two birds I have been stalking all summer. (The other is the egret, which has not been common in this area except for fly-overs before, so I can’t tell if they’re Great Snowy Egrets or…Average Everyday Egrets…)

Okay. So I sat down with a magnifying glass because I could not figure this out. Today was a cloudy day, which is why the bird and the water are almost exactly the same color. The line that appears to be about an inch in front of his chest is nothing I added: he has a white, speckled area on his throat, and it’s part of the bird. The white feathery things on his chest are white feathers on his chest. The water looks like that because it is out of focus.

It would actually be a remarkable shot, if only we could see it.

Another great shot lost in the lighting. This is the sea gull taking off. I loaded it by accident and I don’t know how to remove it without starting the whole blog all over.

The shot I was looking for. Tiny, tiny sea gull in center of shot soaking his feet on the dam.

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With a Knick-knack, Paddy Whack…

So Covid-19 happened. Normal life chores, like going to the grocery store or shopping to kill time or getting your hair cut became complex. Potentially unsafe. We have our groceries delivered these days by people who park in the drive, load the groceries on our front porch, ring the doorbell and then scurry back to their cars like reverse thieves.

I think I have seen in person 7 people since March 12, which was over 200 days ago. I went to my doctor to renew my scripts.Rare, brave friends come over and socially distance on our front porch. I drive around the country, taking pictures, but I never see or talk to anyone. Even my writers’ group ‘meets’ by comparing our writings on google docs.

Oh, and yes, we drove over two hours to the middle of Indiana to adopt two dogs.

I needed a haircut and was about to go get one when the doors slammed shut. Yesterday Nancy fixed my hair in a bun on top of my head. (It’s hard to do one-handed, and my one shoulder won’t stretch that far.) For the first time in probably 25 years, I have ‘long’ hair. I have documented my hair growth via selfies on my cell phone. There is a recurring problem, however.

This old woman keeps getting in my pictures. An old, OLD woman, with wrinkles and thinning lips and a double and triple chin and moles and blemishes and a bad eye… So I take a selfie, and then I scowl and mutter, “What the hell…?”

I have no idea where she comes from.

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Mostly Notes on Recent Photographs

Small coming in for a visit

This is Small. (Large looked just like her, only she was bigger. Large died.) Small is our most sociable chicken. In this picture she is standing on the arm of Nancy’s lawn chair. We can pet her–she tolerates one hand stroke, but then she jumps down again.

I like Small. She is our Queen chicken; she orders the other hens around, and should they find anything of interest to a hen, Small will strut right up and demand first investigation rights. She is molting right now, which I suspect is a hard time to be a hen. She has lost all of her tail feathers, so just now she had a flat butt. Barred rock feathers float all over the back yard.

This is a headshot of Small. Such is the glory of a moderate telephoto lens.

This is Daisy looking winsome. I am tempted to trim the long hairs on her ears, but I haven’t so far.

And this is the unnamed dirt road I drive down now and then to find dragonflies. Why would dragonflies be in the woods, you might well ask, and the answer is, they aren’t. This road also leads to two meadows and four farmers’ fields before it reaches the lake and the boat landing.

For those who find things like this frustrating, the road turns a hard left just before the trees take over. On the right it opens into a small field.

The photograph is also misleading because if you were to stand where I was when I took it, it appears to run through a woods. There is a cornfield a few yards in on the right and a meadow of sorts on the left. Standing in place to compose the shot you could hear the traffic from US 131 on a clear day. The property around this road is posted as PUBLIC HUNTING AREA but there are cautionary warnings about the types of weapons allowed. I have seen men trudge into the woods carrying little rifles (this much information is already taxing my knowledge of weaponry–they are not AR 15s, but I have no idea what a ‘little’ rifle is.) The road empties into a boat landing site. There are cottages on the lake. There is a public park and swim area across the lake, which…I wouldn’t want to have to swim across, but at some point in my life I probably could have.

My point is I would be nervous about firing a firearm in the woods because there are a lot of things you cannot see, but which are not as far away as you might think. But then, I’m not a hunter, and while I have read the firearms warnings posted in the areas, I have no idea what they mean.

Beyond butterflies and dragonflies, the only wildlife I’ve ever seen in the area was a box turtle. I felt no overwhelming need to shoot it.

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I Am Not Well Handled

-As you can see, I was not in full favor at the moment this shot was taken. He’s a cute dog and I adore him, but much of his charm is buried in his snuggling skills and the rest would be best shown with a movie camera. When he is excited or he thinks something very good is going to happen, he walks just ahead of you and spins. The other morning I was doing his meds, which are served in a teaspoon of ground dog food (his regular food is kibble) and it was taking entirely too long for his taste. He spun so hard he smacked his nose on the cupboard door, the cabinet and the kitchen stool.

His skin infections have cleared up, he’s lost his scabs, and Nancy believes he is steadily re-growing his hair. I hope so. We had a dog who had to wear a winter coat to go outside. It gets old, dressing a wigglebutt.

Pugsy seems quite comfortable with us now, but like his sister he does not tolerate any dramatic change well. We cleaned the carpets and installed a new couch, a process which took about three days. We might just as well have knocked down the house, it was so traumatic. However, that was several days ago now, and today Nancy and I did the Most Wonderful Thing: we both sat on the couch (it’s a BIG couch) and watched Netflix all afternoon and evening.

We have suspected recently that this would be the preferred keeper behavior, if the teenie weenies had their say. Pugsy is almost always in the same room and one or the other of us and Daisy is ALWAYS where we are. This involves making long, complicated moves to a.) locate the travellers, and b.) find a comfortable place near them. And it happens over and over and over again!

Also we do not hand out treats for dogs who move around with us. We do not trade treats for kisses. We give a morning treat after breakfast (cleverly disguised as canned dog food); we dispense Greenies (Greenies are worth dancing for. The time of the day when we get Greenies is the Very Best Outside all day long.) And we also give out small squares of cheese just before bed.

Why? Because Greenies are supposed to be good for them, and the canned food and cheese squares disguise pills for skin infections and seizures. Since we ALWAYS dispense treats at these times, no small dogs look at these goodies with deep suspicion. (Riley, who has never been as easy to pill, is not so easily misled, although he had agreed to partake in the cheese bits, even while they’re suspect.)

Because Nancy and I spent the entire day in the same room, on the couch, Daisy was able to begin serious negotiations about where, exactly, she should be while we are watching television. She has some trust issues. She’ll come up to the couch and look at one of us intently. The hard stare. We lean over to pick her up, and she darts away. Over. And over. And over again. I want up there. I don’t want you to pick me up. I want to just BE there.

We have considered various method of self-elevation, but in truth Daisy can barely hobble over the back threshold, which is an inch and a half, if that. I have bad knees (as does she) so I understand, but not only can I not figure out how to get her up on the couch (unless I pick her up,) it scares me silly that she might jump down. Pugsy bails off head-first, but then, Pugsy is 7, not 11. (Nancy says she won’t just blindly jump off.)

But today she appeared in front of me and bounced, and I set her up on the couch beside me. This was wonderful. Clearly I should have done this a long time ago. We put her down and we went Outside, and she came back and requested my services again. The third time she made several requests, but when I leaned down to pick her up she lost her nerve and had to trot out of reach again. We’ve been doing this for 2 months now.

I’ve never had a Pom before. When Daisy gets excited, she bounces. Sometimes she jumps up and down on both front feet, and sometimes she alternates her front paws, but it’s cute. She does her best dancing and bouncing before meals but–most particularly–at Greenie time.She loves her Greenies.

The title for this I stole from The Tudors. Henry 8 complained to his staff that they were not meeting his needs, and his phraseology had become a part of our lexicon. It’s like, ”Doh!” from the Simpsons. I thought it just described Pugsy’s expression in the picture.

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Camera Shopping

Riley at peace in a hole

The teenie weenies and I went outside this morning. I was hoping, as I always hope, they would take the opportunity to relieve themselves outside. I, on the other hand, was lens-testing.

My Beloved loves economical shopping, and as a result, she discovered Goodwill.com. About a week ago she said, “Do you know they have camera lenses on Goodwill.com?”

I did not. I’d never been on Goodwill.com. I have had a few experiences on EBay, not all of which have gone the way I would have chosen. But I thought, ‘what the heck? I’ll look.’

I have a beautiful Nikon DX 18-200mm lens which will both autofocus or manually focus. I matured as a photographer when autofocus was relatively new and clumsy. And I am a snob, believing that if you can’t focus your own photograph, don’t take it. This was before an aneurysm wiped out my ‘good’ eye and left me with the wanderer that struggles with floaters. Also, autofocus technology has vastly improved. So, anyway, I have the perfect camera lens. It lives on the end of my camera, where it has been dropped, slammed into car doors, jostled… This spring I began to notice my lens did not manually focus quite as sharply as I would like. It doesn’t autofocus quite as sharply as I would like. In fact, with my vision right now, any picture I took was a crap shoot. I needed to send my perfect lens to the lens doctor. However, I’ve done this before and while the final effect is wonderful, there is a deeply annoying wait between the sending and the return, which is time I spent last time fiddling around with much more limited lenses.

I needed a back-up.

So I went on Goodwill.com, where I quickly discovered a.) Nikon makes an astonishing number of different camera bodies and lenses, all distinguished by meaningless numbers and letters sufficiently confusing that I had to do actual research.

(How did you buy camera equipment before, you might well ask. A.) I asked my friend Jonie what I wanted/needed, or B.) I walk into Norman’s camera store and say, ‘these are the kinds of photographs I love to take and this is the minimal knowledge I have about the equipment: what do I want?” So far it’s worked well for me.)

So I waded through pages and pages and pages of Nikon camera lenses. I brought with me my personal experience on EBay and so, in one day, I posted the maximum bid I would pay for three different lenses.

I now have three new lenses, which are variations of the most common Nikon zoom lens offered on Goodwill.com. AF Nikkor 70-300mm, 70-200mm and 70-210mm. So yes, in answer to your question, I have essentially 4 very similar lenses. The original will manually focus, which none of them 3 new ones will do; the original is 18-200mm, which means you can actually be closer to your subject and still take a picture. When you pick them up in rapid succession there is no challenge to picking out the DX lens, even blind–it’s heavier.

On the other hand, all three of the new ones work, and it is clear the DX really does need an overhaul. It has served me well. It owes me nothing. It has earned a little TLC.

Pugsy in Motion

On the other hand, the best photographic equipment in the world won’t compensate for slowing reflexes and extremely active subjects. I kind of like this shot, but he is a photographer’s challenge.

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Oops

I lost Daisy this morning.

Nancy was moving furniture and I was getting ready to venture out to take pictures and somewhere in all dogs and people moving around Daisy became lost.

I forget that she and Pugsy are a bonded pair. It’s just that obvious to me most of the time. Yes, they lived in the same home, yes, we got them at the same time… They’re dogs. They don’t often seem any fonder of each other than they do of Nancy or Riley or me.

So it was my job to put the teenie weenies out, and the weenie was out but I could not find the teenie. I walked all over the house, looking in all of her ‘being’ places including Riley’s bed in the bedroom because apparently that’s a little dog haven when Riley is outside… No Daisy.

I even looked the place where I most often find her: right behind me.

No Daisy.

So I’m looking and calling and I realize I heard something that sounded like the scratch of tiny paws on the kitchen floor and I look up and there she is.

And of course she was.

I called her, so she went immediately to the back door.

Pugsy was already outside.

Outside is where we go when I call her.

She gave me one of her, “Are you stupid?” looks, and went back to the door. “You have to open this,” she said, and then she went happily outside to join her brother.

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Why Can’t Everyone Just Stay Home?

Pugsy Wug

Beside me as I write this there is the rhythmic grinding of a small dog snoring. She has selected a space among my junk gathered around my desk where she is safe from rolling chair wheels, interruptions or unwelcome inspections from the cat, but she is still close to me. The teenie weenies both like being near either Nancy or me.

Yesterday Nancy went out in the front yard and spent some time edging the front sidewalk. Pugsy about lost his mind. He barked to order her back into the house, but she ignored him. He whined and fussed and carried on until I went out to the livingroom to try to figure out what was wrong with him. Nancy had strayed to the wrong side of the door and needed immediate rescue. I took the teenies Outside in the back yard, but he did not visibly relax until she joined us.

Before Covid 19 entered our lives (or at least our periphery) Nancy and I were apt to do things like just jump in the car and go for a drive. Sometimes Riley went with us. Sometimes he opted to stay home. He has always been a ‘go’ dog, but as he ages, getting into the Escape has damaged some of his dignity (he tends to start just fine, but can’t get the back end up enough, starts to slide, and one of us half-life, half-push to get him in; this is hard on his pride.) We have a ramp for him but he has been stubborn about using it and we are lazy about getting it out. He would rather catapult himself at the back end of the vehicle and slide down like melting ice cream than use the ramp. I have about the same relationship with my cane.

So we shopped and we shopped and we shopped and we found Pugsy and Daisy and we drove two hours and twenty minutes one way to pick them up, to discover fifty-seven feet into the drive home that Pugsy is not a ‘go’ dog. No, no, no. (Daisy actually does fairly well in the car.) I keep threatening to take him for rides around the block, just to get him used to it, and so far I haven’t done it.

He has another car ride coming up friday. We’re going back to the vet for further discussions about how to keep the hair on the dog.

In a completely unrelated thought, yesterday was an odd day. There were no obvious clouds in the sky, but the sky itself was an odd color. Flat. Dull. Kind of gray. I took some photographs and they were all…dull. It turns out the smoke from the California and Oregon fires reached Michigan skies yesterday. Apparently today it’s in New York City. That is a LOT of smoke! When we step outside it smells like a distant neighbor has a campfire going.

He has some interesting frosting in his coat. He’s seven, which is not all that old for a small dog. I suspect he has always been frosted, that it’s just the color pattern. He is a delightful little companion.

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Squirrel Hunting

We’re going in soon, right?

Well, our baby returned to school yesterday (except our ‘baby’ is an 11 year-old Pom who should be entering middle school, at this age, and she went to the groomer. Bath, comb out, nail trim.)

She was shaking in the car as I held her and Nancy drove (we live about 7 blocks from the groomer.) The young lady who came to collect her and asked what we wanted. I said, “Daisy is older and a bit snappy.”

The groomer said, “Oh, I get bitten everyday.”

I said, “She’s a Pom. We’ve never had one and we have no idea what she’s supposed to look like or what we should be doing.”

She said, “We have one at home.”

I said, “Also, she stinks.”

She said, “Oh, they all do.” (According to the internet because they have such thick, dense underfur, they are prone to microbial, bacterial and some-other-ial skin infections. Daisy, in full glory, smells like wet moss and sun-dried seaweed.)

At this point in the conversation I determined that I had told this young woman–who grooms other people’s dogs for a living–every she already knew and we surrendered the dog and drove away. (Because in the era of Covid-19, you park in front of your groomer and the Designated Fetcher comes out to collect your dog, you drive away because there is only one parking spot, the groomer calls you when you’re done and you come back and she shoves the dog back through the window at you.) I miss going inside, which is odd; I don’t think I ever thought of going to the groomer as the high point of my social life.

Two hours passed.

“They’ve sold her to a puppy mill,” I warned Nancy.

“Yes,” Nancy said, “an eleven year-old spayed nipper with a bad attitude.”

Daisy and Riley bond over her new brush-out

Eventually they called us, and we jumped in the car and rushed back to the groomer to get our little girl. Pugsy had gone in a deep depression, and I was gnawing my nails, even Nancy would wander into my office and ask, “Have they called yet?”

Daisy actually appeared fairly pleased with herself as she came back in through the window. “We put her down to play with the other dogs, and she just stayed in one general area,” our groomer reported. (Translation: she didn’t bite the other dogs.)

We came home, and I took the dogs Outside. Daisy and Pugsy launched a squirrel hunt. Our property is bounded on three sides by a squirrel farm, which is the only possible explanation for the number of chattering, furry-tailed rats that run around on the top of the fence and scold us for coming out of our own house. Riley caught one once, which surprised the squirrel AND Riley; he chose to deal with the situation by barking loudly until I came out to find out what the ruckus was, and then he and I both stood there and watched the squirrel, which was obviously broken, haul itself around the corner of the fence, into the no-man’s land between the fences.

“Good job,” I said to Riley, and he waved his tail and then looked around, pretending he had not called me because he had no idea what to do with it.

Neither Daisy nor Pugsy-Wug are a foot tall and the back fence is six, so while there was a lot of barking and warning and bouncing, no harm was done to the squirrel.

I believe today marks the two-month mark for the Teenie Weenie’s move into our home. At first Pugsy was a trifle skittish. I, for instance, have a habit of petting my dogs with my bare feet: he found this terrifying (or horrifying, I can’t tell.) He has gradually adapted. We are in a life-or-death struggle to keep the hair on the dog and he has yet another vet visit next week to determine why he digs and scratches and pulls out tufts of hair (clearly he’s allergic, but he’s on flea medication, the house is clear, we’ve put him on ingredient-free food and we give him benadryl. We’re still steadily losing hair. According to his vet records, this is not a new fight. Other than than, he seems perfectly happy with us.

Daisy adapted more slowly. Within in the past few weeks we’ve noticed a distinct increase in bouncing behavior. The last trip Outside in the evening, for instance, has become a true celebration, and as we walked back to the house, Daisy raises her tail over her back and dances into the house in anticipation of her Greenie. Greenies are wonderful, wonderful things. They smell like seaweed to me, but for dogs they are better than cheese. Lately she might break into a dance anytime we’re outside. And yesterday she chased a squirrel: she broke into a run and ran half-way across the yard! The squirrel was in no danger, but still.

I should note we brought two new dogs into what has been a one-dog home for almost two years. We drove away, were gone most of the afternoon, and came home with two of them. One growled at him every time he came near her.

“Fine,” he said, and retired to his bed.

“I can’t believe you did this,” he said to me, and with a flick of his tail he told Nancy ne wanted Outside. Now.

This treason was not well-timed. He was the middle of the high-shed. He proceeded to drop of small, pillowy clouds of second-hand dog hair as he moved through the house, but I would pick up his brush and he would look at me, look at the small chug in my lap and he would look away, as if to say, “You like him so much–brush him!”

I have been about three-quarters forgiven (Pudgy’s relentless hero worship has not hurt my cause) but Riley still limits brush periods (he always did; I would need a golf cart to follow him around during the number of times he announces, “Enough” and goes to lay in a hole. So I’m behind in his brushing and the bottom third of the dog (he dislikes having his panties brushed, and he’s protective of his tummy when tools are around) still looks a little rough. We’re working on it.

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