Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Merit Promotion

Warning: Photo of barn-cat animal casualty below. Non-gory, but not suitable for sensitive audiences.

Before taking on his secret identity as Suit Guy, with powers of professional salary and health insurance, Perfesser Chaos does the morning chores each day.  Waters everyone, feeds the poultry and rabbits, lets the chickens run free.

I hibernate under the eiderdown until he leaves, largely because I cannot predict when he might be occupying the lone bathroom.  As long as I can keep my bladder comatose, there's no need for the screaming.

He often gives a status report as he changes costume after the chores.  Even odds whether I'll remember later that we're low on rabbit pellets or the latch on the ducks' pop door needs a new screw.

Tuesday morning I'd commandeered the fancy shredded-foam pillow and was enjoying my last few minutes in the flannel sarcophagus when he ended his debriefing with the always attention-grabbing "And there was a dead ferret in the center barn stall this morning."

I'm not sure exactly what I said before achieving consciousness, though what I thought was something along the lines of "Do we raise ferrets? Have I forgotten that we raise ferrets?  I like ferrets, but wouldn't I remember that we had them? This seems very unlikely ..."

 "Wait, do you mean weasel?"

"Yes, weasel."

"In the center barn stall?"

"Yes. I thought you'd want a look at it, so it's in the barn freezer."

Of note:  There are currently two hens setting eggs in the center barn stall, in their broody trances and as vulnerable as a chicken can be. The stall is latched closed and inaccessible to the dogs, but the barn cats easily hop down into it.

When I got back from appointments in the afternoon, I remembered to check the freezer, and found this.

He's smaller than the picture makes him appear -- only 6.3 ounces.  Also far more beautiful.  I probably wouldn't think so if he hadn't been intercepted before savaging my broodies and then moving on to the leporarium and the coops.  Weasel predation is easy to determine; the weasels themselves are difficult to trap, and impossible, as a practical matter, to exclude.

It must take many hundreds of these tiny ermine (short-tailed weasel) to make one coat for Cruella de Ville.  The carnage does not bear contemplation.

The cats aren't saying which one of them just jumped about three varmint-control pay grades.  Smeagol was, as usual, AWOL at the dinner hour tonight, but was reported present and fine at breakfast.  Gollum didn't have a scratch on him, but appeared smugger than usual.

There's no sign of a struggle. One of the fiercest small predators among the mammals succumbed to a single neck bite from a moggie before he put a mark on any of our chickens and rabbits.

The dogs are going to have to work pretty hard to justify themselves at their next review.

If you know of an educational entity that would like a display specimen of a male ermine in summer pelage, for taxidermy and/or a skeleton mount -- he's beautiful, nearly undamaged, and an object-lesson in not screwing with the barn kittehs.

Monday, May 7, 2012


The little runt is not taking her puppy aptitude test seriously. We cannot impress on her that this is Going On Her Permanent Record. What she does during these fifteen minutes will decide her life: go home with Barbara, to become her first search partner; go to the nice family who want a pet English shepherd, or come live with us, me and Ken and Mel and Lilly, and work as a search dog and trainer's assistant.  She keeps finding responses not defined by the four or five check-off options.

She does like the prey-drive test, in which I drag a stuffed anthropomorphic bunny (wearing a calico dress) on a string.  Pounce, grab, shake, sproing, pounce pounce pounce.  She does not like it when I put the bunny away in my box and go on to the next exercises.

Ten minutes later, last test.  Barb holds the little shizznut while I squeal and whoop it up, run away from her and duck around the corner of the barn at her breeder's farm.  We test to see if the pup searches for the weird human when she disappears.

Released, Runty springs forward with such single-minded conviction that she fails to see the unfortunately-situated wire exercise pen between her and the corner of the barn.  Hits it full speed and bounces off.  Lands dazed.  Shakes.  Looks around.  Sees the cardboard box, runs to it, flips the lid off, pounces on the stuffed rabbit.  Mine!

This puppy cannot go to the pet home.  It Would Be Bad.

Pipistrellus subflavus
. The smallest and most delicate of our eastern troglophilic bats. They hang from the ceilings and passage walls, frosted with dew, sleeping the day away in subterranean safety. They have little pink lines on their dainty arms. We adore them. They do not care. Our pixie-faced little collie-dog is Pip.  Pipistrelle. A real pip.

Mel is a playmate and auntie; Lilly takes the new kid in hand.  Jaw.  Fifty times a day, young Pip's tiny domed head disappears entirely into her lupine maw.  So many lessons.  Only a few short years to train a worthy successor.  Pip worships her.  Prostrate, and with her entire being.

I tap the top of the stone wall.  Jump up.  Pip stares blankly for several seconds. No sign that she intends to do so.  No wind-up.  No takeoff, landing, or recovery.  Just, she is on the ground, on the ground, on the ground, and then she is on the wall.  You don't see it.  Is she having herself beamed?  I dub it kinetic latency.

The clients have called me because their young Rottweiler soils his crate and rolls in it.  Seems to prefer this to going outside. I leave eight-month-old Pip in the car, windows down, in the driveway. The pup is friendly -- pushy, but friendly -- with me inside the house. I notice that the two children in the family are afraid of him, and appear not to like him, and by now I've been training long enough to pay attention to such things.  I go over the new housebreaking/hygiene regimen, which will include leash walks.

Oh no, we can't walk him on a leash.  He won't stand for it.

I clip the leash on the Rottie and take him into the front yard.  He follows happily until he perceives the leash, then flops like a carp, frothing.  I step back and apply gentle, steady traction with the leash. Enraged, red-eyed, he flies straight up, comes up the leash at my head with psychotic intent.  Halfway there, a blur flies into frame, launched from the window ten feet away.  Shoulder-checks him in midair.  He rolls twice, and as he thinks about coming back up, finds thirty-five pounds of green-eyed I Don't Think So standing over him.  He stays down.

She likes Jerry, the herding instructor.  He knows dogs, gets her. And he's helping to introduce her to her genetics made manifest.  During the lunch break she schmoozes him.  As we start to clean up, the host's little girl jumps Jerry to initiate a roughhousing session.  There is swinging and tickling and squealing. Then a silent feint, a flash of black and white, and Jerry is facing a pair of firmly disapproving green eyes. She says nothing, just stands between the child and the man who is Not the Daddy. 

Jerry is neither alarmed nor offended.  He stops the game.  That's a good dog.  The Aussies and the border collies don't do that anymore.

Pinky is dropped off at Animal Friends while in active labor.  The next day she and her five kittens move into my home office for peace and quiet and a loving nursery.

A few weeks later I find no kittens in the office. Sometimes Pinky moves them.  Search.  Call Pip to help search, but she does not come.  She's on our bed, curled around five slightly damp kittens, in the classic nursing position. She has never had puppies, and has nothing to offer other than furry warmth.  Pinky is bemused. She eventually tucks herself into the curve of Pip's belly, and her kitties commence nursing.  All parties are perfectly satisfied with this arrangement.

SAR conferences still mean nights sitting around a campfire with seldom-seen friends, telling lies. Pip has chosen her toy for the evening.  After an hour, the young handler from New York briefly breaks into consciousness.  I … I can't stop petting Pip.  She's so soft.

His own German shepherd is moping on the other side of the fire.  Where Pip told him to stay.  No one else has noticed this.

Her green eyes catch mine and gleam. I don't see strangers fawning over you everywhere we go.  Just sayin'.

We've collectively invented a new search specialty -- the "wildaster search."  Debris and rubble as at any disaster site, over an area as large as a standard wilderness search task, and harder to reach.  This describes most of the coast of Hancock County, Mississippi.

"Morning" briefing, as, once again, the sun gets higher in the sky and the day wastes away.  Dog teams are needed to check a debris and boat-choked wooded area that can only be reached by airboat.

Three handlers demur.  Their dogs will be too scared to ride in the noisy swamp craft.  Really?

The boat operator hands shooting muffs to me and Bill.  I stuff some gauze into Pip's ears and tie a bandanna over her head, babushka-style.  It's still like riding inside a jet engine.  The boat shoots off through the 8' high reeds, dense as Iowa corn.  Fifty miles an hour? Eighty?  There is nothing between us and the reeds as we scream through.

I hold onto Pip's tail for dear life -- her life.  She is leaning into the prow of the boat, grinning maniacally, like a demented figurehead.  Faster!

The puppies are four days old.  I'm at my desk in my office, back to the door, when I feel someone trot past, purposefully, and then hear some disorderly excavations in the bedroom.

There's a puppy on the bedroom floor, and Pip is evicting all the shoes from the closet.

No, puppies have to stay in the whelping box.

Like Hell they do.

I close the gate to keep her in the family room, and she jumps it, carrying the same pup.  Pop in a pressure-gate above it, she knocks it down, jumps the gate, same pup.

After a couple hours of knocking heads, we agree to compromise.  I clean out the floor of the closet, wedge a board across the entrance, and move all the puppies.  Pip does exactly as she pleases.  Like I said, compromise.

Every night, November to March.  Pip crawls under the eiderdown between us, headfirst.

After half an hour or so, she begins hyperventilating.  I reach down and grab her collar, drag her head out into the air.

I keep telling people you're the smart one, and you keep doing this.  Do you expect it to turn out differently the next time?

She is already snoring.

It's not easy getting to the address where the woman had been talking to 911 when the storm surge hit.  Once we struggle through the mud wallows and past the downed wires, there's a new problem: are any of the partly intact structures deposited nearby the one that once occupied this concrete pad?

Pip scrambles up the half-standing house while Bill and the Atlanta task force guys spread around the perimeter.  Most of it; one side is blocked by the boat slip that made this neighborhood "waterfront."  When she dips below the peak of the roof, no one can see her.

No worries; if she finds anything, she'll tell me.

Creaking, crashing, splashing, silence.  No dog.  I call.  Nothing.  The captain sprints to the roof and begins hacking a hole, ready to drop into the rubble after her.  He'd met her for the first time that morning.

The spotter to my left yells.  She's in the water!  He is starting to pull off his boots.

Is she swimming?


Don't go in!

A moment later she pulls herself ashore. Shakes. Grins as she streaks past and back up on the roof. Examines the hole the captain has thoughtfully made. Crests the roof again and checks the place where the porch had pulled away -- the porch she rode down into the boat slip.  Nope, nobody in this one.  Gee Mommy, whatsamatter?

Eight puppies in that second litter.  Nine out of ten times, if a puppy is getting an ass-kicking from Momma, it's Rosie.  Her head is perpetually in Pip's maw.

Designating a Crown Princess and raising a worthy successor is weighty business.  You don't choose the most mild-mannered tyke for the responsibility, and you don't skimp on discipline.  You make sure the crabapple doesn't roll too far.

The foster duties increase when we all move to the farm.

Cole is number twenty-two, or thereabouts.  He is troubled. Uses the most intemperate language. And will follow through with his threats -- we've known that almost his whole life.  He's an asshole. Exactly the kind of dog who Pip hates.  She sizes him up from outside the kennel.

I like him. Let's fix him.

Months later: He's staying.  I've adopted him. He can take over my job. He's my son.

No, he's a foster.  He's leaving like all the others.  Besides, is that not the one thing of which you have enough?

We'll see about that.

Any given day over twelve years.

I am calling, and calling, and calling.  Piiiip!

Walk around, go to higher ground, call, and call and call.

Right behind me, almost touching my heel, she silently shadows me.  For as long as it takes.  Laughing.

She didn't eat something that is obstructing her. It's not an enlarged spleen. Not a benign tumor.

The doctor thinks she's been fighting the carcinoma for six years, since coming back from Mississippi, since before he took that little skin malignancy off her blaze, got all of that one, but it was not all there was, and she won the war inside for six years, handily,  and then started losing, fast, so fast.

It is suddenly hard to breathe, middle of the night.  I hold her up, find an angle that makes it easier, so she can sleep a little.

You can go now.  Stop fighting.  Nobody wins this one. You know this.

I don't know how. How can I do such a thing?
It is not in her nature.

Rosie stares out the window over my shoulder and growls at something only she sees.

Let it come Rosie.  It is not the enemy.  Not tonight.

It is not in her nature. That's not how her mother raised her. She continues growling at the silent darkness.