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Match Made in Heaven

>> Friday, June 24, 2011

Our newest addition has been rechristened "Phoebe".  And she is an absolute delight.

My two dogs are getting along like a house afire.  The house and yard are a racetrack and playground, and they happily pounce and gnaw and wrestle and play.  At first, Simon would start playing by doing his usual frapping around the house - meaning he'd pounce at her then ricochet off the walls and furniture, covering at least 2 floors in frantic happy flapping laps.  After each pounce in her direction, Phoebe would reciprocate with a pounce of her own, then watch bewilderedly while he ripped around, looking at me with a quizzical expression.  Seth and I could only laugh and tell her, "Phoebs, we have no idea what he's doing either!"

But by now she's caught onto his spirited games of tag, and in true Austin household style, she allows Pippin to join in.  My house is a free-for-all.

The other cats are less enthusiastic about her, but all are tolerating her remarkably well.  She's sweet and gentle with them, and they recognize that.  Grouchy old Tucker actually likes her.  I've caught him rubbing up against her.  Rocky's the one who likes Phoebe the least, but he's getting more tolerant.  They're all allowing sniffing (within respectful limits), and no one has stopped speaking to me.  When we acquired Wednesday as a kitten, she was such an enormous pain in the ass that Sneakers stopped speaking to me... for an entire year.  No one can hold a grudge like a cat!

I honestly think the best part, though, may be that Simon is like a different dog.  He's always been terrified of strangers, yet on one of our lengthy lets-wear-out-the-puppy walks this week he walked up to a complete stranger to say hello, and allowed said stranger to pat his head.  I have never ever ever seen him do anything like it.  He's no longer at all anxious in the car (although Phoebe is still barfing any time she's in a moving vehicle for more than 10 minutes).  He's no longer whining in his crate.  His appetite has returned.  He's happily trotting along next to Phoebe on walks with the double leash, and no longer jumping at every sound.  It's like someone flipped a "neuroses off" switch in the dim recesses of his fuzzy little brain.  I so desperately hope it lasts!

Phoebe is a bundle of enthusiastic energy.  She is definitely a puppy, chewing things she's not supposed to and being generally over-zealous about a lot of things.  She tends to get so involved in licking me that she starts to nibble and then gnaw.  Um, ow.  She jumps up on me a lot and by so doing has already shredded one of my favorite summer sweaters with her claws.  She gets so excited when I come home from work that she's wiggling and bouncing so hard she's impossible to put the leash on.  We've certainly got some work to do.

Shake that stuffed giraffe!  Kill it!  (Sorry about the crappiness of the photos - they're all off my Blackberry rather than the camera.  I've been too busy playing with puppy to get out the real camera all week!)

But she's bright and learning fast, and best of all, is trying sooo darn hard to be good.  She's already learned her new name, and is doing amazingly well on a leash and learning "come", "sit", "leave it", and "heel".  She tends to counter surf by putting her paws up on the counter's edge, and has been told "no" and had her feet set back on the floor several times.  Then yesterday, she started to put her paws up to sniff what I was making for dinner, caught herself mid-jump, and her feet never touched the edge of the counter.  Ah, how refreshing it is to teach a dog who's a) bright enough to learn and b) actually wants to please her humans!  I'd forgotten how much fun training a dog can be when that's the case.

Snoozing while stuffed between Mom and the back of the futon:

As is typically the case in our house, she's already collected a bunch of nicknames, including "Phoebles", "Miss Enthusiasm", and "The Little Wrinkle".

I think it is completely safe to say that, insane though it sounds, adding pet #7 was absolutely the perfect decision for us.  And too, Phoebe is going to be a totally completely utterly awesome dog.

Think we should try her first canoe trip this weekend?  Hm.  Given how exuberant she is, I'm thinking doggie and human life vests and swim suits and nothing else in the canoe aside from humans, dogs and paddles might be the way to start.  Maybe she'll teach Simon not to be afraid of water.  The good news is that I have a waterproof disposable camera somewhere...


Puppy Love

>> Saturday, June 18, 2011

Introducing:  the newest member of our family!

I've been searching off and on for another dog since Lucy died, but mostly rather half-heartedly.  Partly I just wanted Lucy back.  Partly I liked having only one dog in the house in the sense that one dog is easier than two in a house of 6 pets.  But, our poor Simon is not meant to be an only dog.  Shy and neurotic as he is, he's been backsliding.  Suddenly he's afraid of people he used to be fine with.  He's turned into a whiny mess when we put him into his crate, which he used to love.  And he's suddenly become terrified of riding in the car - shaking and whining.  Being about as omega as a dog can get, personality-wise, Simon just plain does better when there's another dog around to tell him what to do.

So, a couple of weeks ago I started looking in earnest.  It's so hard to find the right dog!  Most shelter dogs are hyper, fearful, not great with cats, not great with other dogs, shouldn't be around kids, or have some other issue that would be a major challenge to work with.

It's not that I'm not willing to have challenges with dogs - after all, it took us an entire year to house train Lucy, and Simon's still neurotic as all get-out - but I confess I am not feeling up for quite such major challenge again right now.  I still shudder to think of those first few months when Simon and Lucy were chasing the cats ceaselessly, peeing and pooping everywhere, eating shoes and furniture, ignoring us completely, and spectacularly flunking their first time through basic obedience classes.  Oh yes, God love them, but I think we paid some dues when we adopted that duo, and we're entitled to find a dog who will adjust to our home a little more smoothly this time around.

We did a lot of looking.  We introduced Simon to a lot of dogs, all of whom instantly tried to hump him (aside from the one who wanted to eat him for a snack).  Poor Simon.  He just exudes "hump me" to other dogs.  And for his part, he essentially ignored every other dog we introduced him to.  I admit Simon did want to play with a massive, hyper and unruly American bulldog that we met, but while sweet, that bulldog was definitely going to destroy my entire house.  So we kept looking.

We wanted someone young enough to be able to hike with us.  Someone mellow enough not to totally destroy the house.  And someone who wouldn't eat the cats.

Last week, I spotted her on-line.  Funny how sometimes you can tell, even from a photo.  "April" is a 9 months old who-knows-what, Heintz 57, true shelter special.  The shelter had guessed that she's a shar pei/boxer mix, but at best I'd call that combo only part of the formula.  In certain photos she looks a lot like she's got some pit bull in her, and given how many pits and pit mixes there are out there, I'd say there's a fairly high likelihood of that.  Her fur is a curious mix of brown and black strands, almost but not quite brindle.  Very soft.  She's about 40 lbs right now, and will get a little bigger, but probably not a whole lot.  She does have enough forehead wrinkles to suggest shar pei.  But as for the rest?  Who knows?!

I happen to think mutts are the absolute best, anyway.  I am, however, totally tempted to get one of those genetic test kits that would tell us exactly what she's got in her.  Her foster mom told us about a dog she had who turned out to be Rottweiler and Papillon.  Just try to imagine the mechanics of that!

She's adorable, still a little bit puppy floppy, and incredibly sweet.  Easy-going, gentle, sensitive, and playful.  She's spent almost her whole life in a wonderful foster home, so for a "shelter" dog, she's unbelievably well adjusted.  She's already house trained, listens well, knows some basic commands.  She's been very polite and respectful in greeting the cats. It just about broke her foster mom's heart to give her up.  

And while she and Simon didn't pretend to be instant best friends, they seem amiable enough together.  I do have to note that, for the first time in months, Simon was quiet as a lamb on the car ride home.  No shaking, no whining.  It's like having his new canine friend in the back seat with him just flipped a switch for him.  As for her, though, she gets car sick.  Very car sick.  Poor baby - I hate that feeling, so felt sooo bad for how woozy she was.  Even with a half-hour stop for some time in a park mid-way home, the fact that I hadn't yet changed out the winter floormats turned out to be a good thing.

The duo snoozing, pre-barf:

As for me, she's taken to me thus far.  I have a little shadow who won't leave my side.  And she's given me so many kisses that my nose is getting chapped.

I'm simply over the moon about her.  I had a very, very special bond with our first dog, Clancy, and while I certainly love Simon and loved our Lucy, neither of them bonded with me the way Clancy did.  Simon is really more my husband's dog.  Things just kind of work that way - most of the cats seem to favor one of us over the other, too.  I would love it if she were to be my little side kick.  I guess time will tell.  She's impossible not to love, that's for sure.

Now I'm having a name crisis.  She's been an April for the first 9 months of her life, but she doesn't seem like an April to me.  Add to that the problem that my husband and I have each known one human April, and we disliked each of them rather strongly.  She's not really answering to April, either, probably because everything is so new.  But what else would we call her???

I like Roxie, but it's too close to Rocky
I like Poppy, but it's too close to Pippin

Heavens, I just don't know!  If I take too long picking a new name, she'll probably just remain April.  I guess we shall see!


Filtered Flowers

>> Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I have been so absurdly busy, that I've fallen behind in posts.  These photos are from June 5th - I've been meaning to post them ever since.  We participated in a walk to raise money for childhood cancer, sponsored by the Camillus Optimists Club, and organized by good friends of ours.  The walk was right nearby, on a section of the Erie Canal that I used to walk very often when I was a kid, but seldom traverse now.  I prefer less popular walk spots most of the time these days.

It was a lovely warm day, full of sunshine.  The trails were bustling with all sorts of walkers and joggers and cyclists and canine companions.  And both sides of the trail were laden with flowers.

With all the bright sun, I decided to experiment with my polarized filter.  This camera continues to do a wonderful job for me - I'm still extremely happy with it.  And the polarized filter?  An awesome toy!

A couple of comparison shots, to show the difference the filter makes.  These are all unedited, aside from a little cropping.  The filter is on in all these shots.  However, because polarization is actually parallel lines running across the glass, how you turn the filter makes all the difference in the world.

 Compare without polarization:

And with the filter rotated 90 degrees so the polarization is maximized.  A much sharper picture, right?  Suddenly the white of those flowers practically leaps off the screen.

One of the great advantages of polarized filters (or sunglasses) is that they cut out most of the reflections on the water, allowing you to see right into the water.  Here is a great illustration of that effect.  Without polarization:
Handy for spotting fish and turtles.

You can then take advantage of that feature, to set up the background for shots.  You can see that in the first pair of photos, but I think it's illustrated better in this pair.  Without the filter, the reflection on the water is light, not allowing you to see the delicate light lines on the spider web very well:

But with polarized filter, voila!  We have a web in all its details:

So, I love my polarized filter, and believe it was worth every penny.  And believe me, it was quite a lot of pennies.  I have lots more to learn about it, but am certainly enjoying the process.

And below are just some other shots I took throughout the day that I liked.


Believe it or not, I didn't even turn up the saturation on this.  Check out the fluorescent green!


First Flight

>> Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It seems this happens once a year in our house.  Or, I should say, at least once a year.  This is the problem with having cats who go outside.  If I leave them inside they drive us all to the brink of insanity.  But letting them out has consequences because, well, they're hunters.  They hunt things I think are cute, but apparently they just believe are either tasty or entertaining.

I was cooking dinner and heard a ruckus through the open back window.  Pippin (a.k.a. "Sir Killer Fluffypants") was being dive bombed aggressively by a pair of blue jays, which could only mean one thing.

Rescue time.

Thankfully my husband and I both shot directly out of the house, and we got there in time.  Bitty Baby Blue Jay was unharmed, though not happy.  I scooped him up, and he and I stared eyeball to eyeball with one another for a moment while I considered what to do with him and felt his tiny heartbeat fluttering against my fingers.  No blood, no obvious wounds, alert.  But, tail feathers too short for real flight for a few more days.  In fact, no tail to speak of.  Just a stump he can waggle like a duck.

Given the ruckus over our heads, clearly mom and dad were around and looking out for him.  So into some shrubbery he went, hopefully high enough to avoid being eaten by anybody else overnight.  As I walked him over to the nearest shrub, my husband exclaimed and pointed to another Bitty Baby Blue Jay, hopping frantically through the yard and futilely flapping his stumpy wings.  So into a shrub he went, too.

Death grip on the branch:

A little conversation among friends:

Why do baby birds all look so frowny?

My guess, though I have no way to substantiate it, is that something disturbed these fellows in their nest, and caused them to take flight before they were quite ready.  I know approximately where their nest is, and it's high above cat level in our giant spruce tree.  But perhaps a crow or other predator came too close?  Regardless, as you can see from the pictures, they don't have a whole lot of wing or tail feathers to speak of, and despite valiant efforts, cannot become airborne.  They're definitely not quite as old as the blue jays in our yard usually are when we get to witness their first flights.  But, birds growing as fast as they do, it won't be long before they can fly... if they live that long in the great wilderness of my back yard.

Hiding in the quiet dark depths:

And THAT means my devilish cats, including Killer Fluffypants (Pippin) and Fatty Lightning-Fast McGee (Rocky), and even Grouchy Old Man Bird Eater (Tucker) are all relegated to the indoor domain for the next few days to give those poor blue jays a fighting chance.  God help us all.  Pippin already swept all the photo albums off the shelf behind me in a fit of pique.  Now he and the fatty are wrestling around my ankles as I type, which is pretty much what they spend their time outside doing anyway.

Pippin has angry ears.  First he lost out on his birdie snack, and now he's losing this wrestling match to Rocky.  It's so good for his ego.


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