That blur you see is a vintage puppy streaking through the house

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 21, 2011 10:41 PM

It happened so fast, we almost didn’t see it. A streak, a blur of fur that made loose papers fly, and the flower petals ruffle. It was Maguire, on fire, not literally of course. Faster than a speeding snail, more powerful than a king-size pillow, able to leap… well, not able to leap. But still, Super Puppy had made an appearance.

When you’re a vintage puppy, edging ever closer to 15 (that’s 105 in dog years), sometimes simply getting up off the floor without assistance can be a major source of celebration. Then there are days when there’s a whole new sense of purpose. He’s younger seemingly, his batteries have been recharged. He leaps in and out of the back door and fairly runs – runs! – toward the kitchen for a cookie. He’s a puppy on the move, ready to face the day, come what may. Which will undoubtedly be a nap, and soon.

This morning was such an episode. He woke up at 7, shook and waited for me to get up. Normally he starts toward the kitchen and I have to go after him, touch his back and then beckon for him to follow me so that I can let him out in the back yard. He’s still used to the front yard to pee; vintage habits diehard. But this morning, he was standing, facing the back door, ready. All I needed to do was slide open the door and out he bounced. I left it open so that he could return, which he did, continuing on his way to the kitchen for a bite to eat and a water slurp. I had drifted off to sleep again. It was Sunday morning, after all.

Next thing I knew, he was standing next to me as I slumbered peacefully. He moved his head up next to the bed, and sighed. I opened my eyes and smiled, there he was, my masked man. God, how I love that dog. I reached over and scratched his head and behind his ears. I pulled my hand back only to have his head move toward me again, nudging. More please. I scratched his chest, dared to pull my hand back and got the nudge again. This went on for at least five minutes, which, when you’re attempting to sleep in on a lazy Sunday, can be an awfully long time.

Finally, the need for him to nap won out.

But once we got up and it was cookie time, he was ready. The nap renewed his energy. He ran toward the back of the house as Kevin made his way from the kitchen to the slider with bait in hand, otherwise known as a milkbone. And then, when he came back in, leaping over the slip lip of the slider, he took off. Running! Running!

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His front paws were flapping and his front legs were pumping. The rear legs… not so much. But he managed a fast skip. He bounded into the kitchen, trotting, bouncing, enjoying his Sunday morning. He spun around, lapped up some water, and paced back and forth as I cooked breakfast, waiting patiently for his plate. Which he received. Scrambled eggs and a piece of turkey bacon, cooked crisp just like dad’s.

Then it was back to nap-ville. Sprawled on the floor, drooling and snoring, occasionally chasing butterflies or cats in his dreams, remembering what it was like to be a puppy on a mission, a dog on the move, a boy who’s got it going on. Ready to take on the world, ready to keep the world safe from absolutely nothing. Ready for anything that comes his way.

Especially another nap.

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Early morning in the OP

by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 4, 2011 10:54 PM

Our little corner of the world is pretty, and pretty small. We’re nestled snugly between three other townships: Agoura Hills and Westlake Village of Los Angeles County and Thousand Oaks in Ventura County. This is significant for tax reasons. LA County’s sales tax is currently 8.75% (9.25 in Santa Monica), Ventura’s is 7.25%. We’re in Ventura County. It helps when buying things. It also seems to help from a car insurance standpoint. It’s lower, though I’m fairly sure the sales tax has next to nothing to do with that. It’s still a nice perk.

But neither the sales tax nor the car insurance rates had any bearing on this morning. We woke up about 6:45, both of us shocked that Maguire was still asleep. After a stint of waking up consistently at around 3 am for weeks, and one week, rising before 2 to go out, he has been sleeping through the night again. Maybe he had a bladder infection; maybe it’s because I haven’t been allowing him to drink an entire bowl of water before settling down for a long mid-summer night’s dream. Bad mom. But he seems none the worse for it, and Kevin and I are getting a better night’s sleep, too. All the Michel’s are happy.

Back to today. We rolled out of bed and put the dog out in the back yard for a pee and a cookie – not together of course – while we got ourselves outfitted for a walk. Kevin sauntered, yawning, to the kitchen to get some coffee started. I brought the dog in, checked to make sure his water bowl was full (it was, since I’m an evil dog-mother who doesn’t allow her vintage puppy to drink at night), and out the front door we went.

It was cool, not much more than 60º and quiet. The kids aren’t in school so no houses were stirring. Mini vans and SUVs remained parked in the driveways. A dog barked in the distance, a few cars rolled down Pesaro carrying people on their way to work. Because the sun was still low in the sky, most of the neighborhood was bathed in shadow, making the light brightly gray and the air brisk. We walked out toward Lindero Canyon, passing several early walkers and runners, a man walking his full-size Doberman pinscher and a miniature version. I’ve seen him before walking the dogs, usually during the heat of the day. He’s often just in shorts, especially lately because it’s been hot. This morning he was in sweatpants and a t-shirt. We saw one of our neighbors from the next cul de sac over. We don’t know her name but she’s always very friendly. She walks every morning alone. I suspect it’s her “me time.”  She has at least two kids and during the day, watches a number of other children. Still, she smiles.

People are friendlier in the morning. It’s like the harsh reality of the day hasn’t yet set in. Maybe there’s still sleep in their eyes, but everyone smiles and waves, says “good morning,” and “have a great walk.” We responded accordingly.

I didn’t appreciate early mornings until I got a little older and until I moved out here. Closer to LA, it’s louder. There’s less peace. Here, the peace rises with the sun and only dissipates slightly at rush hour. Of course, rush hour consists of a few more cars on Lindero. It’s never really rushed, regardless of the hour.

As we walked, the cool air began to warm slightly, or maybe it was because we walked up one of the neighborhood hills. As we moved from the shade into the sun, we felt like we were recharging our batteries, feeding on the power of the universe, readying ourselves for the day to come. It felt good, positive and real.

Then the day began, and I had to go into the Valley for a meeting and traffic was bad and the smog had settled across the Valley basin and there were horns and there was noise. But for a little while, in the early of the morning, I was in the peace of the OP. It made the day perfect. 

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The night stalker: a vintage puppy story

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 12, 2011 10:32 PM

The night falls hard only hours before. He falls hard with it, hitting the carpeted floor with a thud and a sigh. The air, cool and calculating, drifts in like fog, covering his fur, tickling his paws, settling on his nose. He sniffs, once, then shifts his weight. His favorite toy, a ratty old plush named Chip is safely secured under one paw. Chip will chip no more, not today. Next to his head, his trusted rope, his warrior toy, ragged and frayed. In his bed, a cadre of others, compatriots who will come in handy should he need them to fight off what and who is coming.

At 1:48 am, he is startled awake. Perhaps by the quiet, or the loan cricket noising in the distance. The moon is nearly full, casting an eerie glow across the land. A tree rustles, an owl speaks: Rise, old man. It. Is. Your. New. Time. To. Hunt. And so he does.

In the bed above, his parental units stir and sigh. He wonders if they’ll be angry, you know, because of the hour, but then dismisses the thought almost as quickly as it entered his mind. They’re never angry at me, for I am the old dog, the vintage puppy, the one who has them so completely trained that they will help lift me from the floor should I decide I’m too “weak” to rise on my own. They are the ones who rush to the cookie door should I cast hardly a glance or a growl; the ones I have trained to ensure that my water bowl is always full and cool. The mother unit will even boil chicken and rice for me when I am sick. I like chicken. Correction: I love chicken. Chicken is my chocolate.

He goes first to the kitchen for a drink of that fresh, cool water to steady his nerves for he knows what is to come. He waits, apprehensive, the moonlight dancing through the uncovered windows. A car goes by. Is it …? No. It isn’t. I thought maybe Roy. If only because I haven’t seen Roy in a really, really, really  long time. These people think I don’t know my days but I do. I know how long it has been. One million zillion days. Too. Long.

Through the house he moves, stealthily. Or so he thinks, but his nails need trimmed so he clicks along the wooden floors. Click. Click. Click. Pause. Click. Click. Click. Paws. He stops at the doorway back into the bedroom. He can see the outline of him at the back door. Or maybe it’s her. Whatever. One of them is waiting. He steels himself and then moves like he was shot from a cannon in a movie filmed in slow motion. Toward the door he races, through molasses; through the spooky moonlight he moves. As he nears, the door slides open and he slides out into the inky air.

He has become Maguire, the Night Stalker.

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Post script: Maguire doesn’t know this but his parents devised this devious plan. Since he is now rising around 2 am, a full hour or more earlier than he was previously, it’s just too damned early to take him out front. So they have worked to teach a vintage puppy a new trick. That trick? Going out into the backyard to hunt and prowl and discover and eventually to pee. Under the moonlight, he stalks… well, nothing. Because all smart creatures are asleep. His parents would like to be asleep. But our little night stalker isn’t ready to sleep yet. He needs to howl at the moon.

In the summertime

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 8, 2011 7:09 PM

Summer has officially arrived here in Southern California. For the past few days, the temperature has been flirting with 100º with only the slightest of breezes. Even the wind is hot, like a gush pushed through a furnace or a heated oven. The palm trees sway lazily, and the flowers bloom boldly in the morning before closing back into themselves in the afternoon. In the evening, they peak back out, hesitantly at first as if trying to make sure the sun and its unrelenting rays have gone away. Then they breathe a sigh of relief. All is well; let’s have a drink. As if on cue, the sprinklers come on.

The dog lays in the entrance-way on the tile where it’s coolest. Actually it’s coolest in the bathroom but evidently he only likes the bathroom at 3 am. We put a fan on low just in front of him, and it seems to keep him comfortable. We’re very strange people and don’t particularly like air conditioning, not in the house, and not unless the heat is absolutely unbearable. Most days, it remains OK. Warm to be sure, but a nice ceiling fan does wonders. And once the sun dips behind the foothills and darkness descends, the air cools, and the house cools as well. We get a lovely cross breeze between the back of the house and front bay window in the kitchen. When we sleep, a top sheet is perfect. By the middle of the night, I’ve often pulled up the comforter.

As long as the dog isn’t in distress, we leave the AC in the off position. So far, with his tile and his fan, he sleeps through the worst heat of the day with nary a pant. All is well; he rises occasionally and saunters into the kitchen for a drink. We put ice in his water bowl.

According to meteorologists, summer extends from June, through July and the whole of August in the northern hemisphere where the country resides. The southern hemisphere is the polar opposite with their summer taking place in December, January and February. From an astronomical perspective, the summer days lengthen from the equinox to the solstice with the days beginning to shorten after the solstice. The solstice happened on June 21 but the days don’t seem any shorter to me. I doubt I’ll notice any changes until fall.

Much of the country experiences severe storms and even hurricanes in the summertime. In the desert southwest, we swelter in the dry heat. Though frankly, when it’s over 100º, it doesn’t matter what kind of heat it is. It’s just hot. We have fires and earthquakes. That’s part of our summer season. The ground needs a drink; it rarely gets one.

In the summer, people vacation, the kids go to camp, the studios release their summer blockbusters. There is much splashing in pools and the beaches over flow; sunscreen gets slathered on and the world smells like coconut and bananas. Bicycles make an appearance again after the drenching spring, and motorcycles roar along the roads. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops abound. Barbecues are the norm. Iced coffee temporarily takes over for hot coffee, at least after the morning’s first pot, and iced drinks from soda to frozen margaritas and daiquiris to good old-fashioned ice water refresh us. It’s a glorious time, one of my favorites. Maybe that’s why I live in the desert, where it’s summer most of the year, where the heat evaporates at night to leave us comfortable, joyous and celebrating the reprieve.

The day has begun to cool now, and the sun is drifting lazily toward the sea some 10 miles or so away. I’m sitting on the patio waiting on my husband. It’s just us tonight. Our friends cancelled and that’s OK. I’m still recovering from my whirlwind trip last weekend, still nursing a bit of a sore throat.

We’ll sit here and listen to the birds, to the music playing softly in the background, to the dog stirring from his position on the floor inside. It will be time for a walk soon. It’s July 8. Summertime. All is well.

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My trip, part three: For the birds edition

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 3, 2011 8:20 PM

It's my niece's birthday and we spent the day celebrating her twelve years on this earth.  I remember when she was born. It was Friday night and Kevin and I were having dinner at Ritrovo, a lovely Italian restaurant that is now Rustico, another even lovelier Italian restaurant. Khristan had been in labor all day, and obviously there was nothing I could do being all the way out in the California which is why we went to dinner. But I had my phone, a very old Nokia, next to me on the table. My dad had promised to call as soon as the baby was born.

Khris had a very tough pregnancy and had an equally tough delivery. I don't know how long she was in labor but by the time my phone rang, just as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, it had been at least a day or more. I'm sure it felt like months to my sister. Dad: "She's OK. We have a beautiful baby girl. 8 pounds 9 ounces. Your sister is fine." Thank god, and thank god for my Shawn Elise.

I haven't been here for most of her birthdays but I was here for this one. But because I'm not here for most of her birthdays, nor for anything else for that matter, I don't know what she likes. I know she's into dance, that she's dancing in tomorrow's 4th of July parade in Amherst. I know she runs track and holds the current record at the middle school for long jump (12' 9"). I know her best friend is Faith, and that she's an honors student, often a high honors student. She loves her family, idolizes her mother, wants to know what Auntie Lorin is writing these days, and loves animals. But I didn't know what to get her for her birthday.

Today we bought a bird. She decided she wanted a parakeet, and my sister also decided that she could have a parakeet. Getting the Mother's ok in a decision like this is key. Or keet, as this case may be. We went to Petco, where the pets go, and spent quite a bit of time with a girl named Julie. She was quite versed on birds, especially the baby parakeet variety which is what we were looking at.

Parakeets can live for 20+ years. You can tell if they're a boy or a girl by looking at their beak. If there's a blue band across the top, it's a boy; a pink band, she's a girl. Their toys need to be changed out frequently lest they get bored. Food should be changed daily even if there's left over bird-kibble in their bowl. Clean the cage once a week, using only warm water, no solvents. If they get a sniffle, they need antibiotics. Don't touch them for two days after purchase; prepare to be pecked after that as they get used to you. Keep their wings clipped so they can't fly away. Understand that they will get up with the sun and chirp.

We also bought a copy of Parakeets for Dummies.

Parakeets are delicate creatures. Blue with white tails, yellow from beak to butt, green with a dark blue tail. Shawn's parakeet is the latter. We think he's a boy – he has a light blue/purple band across his nose – but won't be entirely sure until his beak changes color. His name is Perry, and tonight he has a new home, complete with a (near) 6 year old brother named Caden and a 4 year old border collie-Australian shepherd mix named Lucky who was intrigued by the fluttering sounds coming from the Petco box.

I wish Perry dog-speed. Welcome to the family!

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Walkin' after midnight: A vintage puppy tale

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 20, 2011 10:35 PM

It happens nearly every night. As darkness descends and all the day creatures snuggle down into nests, dens and beds, the night warrior emerges. Fearless and possessed of a vision not known to mere mortals, this warrior roams the hallowed halls and walkways, searching for predators, searching for prey, searching for the meaning of it all. Searching for the perfect tail.

I speak of course, of the supreme vintage puppy, the commanding dog squire known as Maguire Michel.

Every night, as Kevin and I get into bed, Maguire rambles through the house into the kitchen were he has a little snack followed by much slurping of water, most of which is dispersed onto the tile floor. He then saunters back into the bedroom, rams his bed with his head a few times, wipes his whispers on the sides of said bed and settles down in front of the open window to feel the breeze and the night ruffle through his fur. He is content. For about three and a half hours.

At about 3 am, he begins making slurping and munching sounds in his sleep. This apparently wakes him – as well as his parents – up. He then rises, shakes everything back into place, including his dog tags which sound like the equivalent of a marching band at that hour, and proceeds to leave the bedroom on patrol. We have never quite been able to figure out what he’s looking for, if he’s in fact searching for anything. Kevin is convinced that Maguire is actually the reincarnation of my beloved Tori Lynn, my beautiful gray tortoise cat whom I lost to cancer in 1995 when she was just 10. She stayed with me through my divorce, and through my subsequent dating years before I met Kevin. I like to think that she stayed until she knew it was OK for her to go.

Kevin didn’t want to get another cat, and since we both loved dogs, we decided to get a slightly older female, adopted from the local animal shelter. We ended up with an eight-week-old male puppy. From the beginning he had nocturnal tendencies, cat-like grace and night vision. Hence the Maguire-as-Tori scenario.

Last night he rose just before 3, and with his nimble cat feet, he proceeded to prance about the house. He pranced to the kitchen for a bite and a slop, then back into the bedroom, then once again out into the living room where he began pacing back and forth, huffing and puffing. Eventually Kevin got up at around 3:10, thinking that maybe if he took Maguire outside, it would calm him down.

It didn’t.

He proceeded to prance and huff and grunt and puff. He came into the bedroom and started into the bathroom. He came back out, did a turn or two around the bedroom again, then went back into the bathroom before backing out one more time. Kevin and I were awake the whole time, waiting for him to settle down and go back to sleep. The minutes became a half hour. Maguire went into the bathroom again and stood there in the dark, in front of the mirror, something obviously on his mind.

Then, out of the night came my husband’s voice, speaking as Maguire: “Does this fur make me look fat?”

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I’m celebrating a rollicking laugh at 3:33 am, and the fact that, after being assured he was still his svelte self, Maguire finally settled down and went back to sleep. For another three hours anyway.

Dog is my shepherd; I shall not want

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:10 PM

Most days our lunchtime walk takes us past a house in Westlake that has two Australian Shepherds who come running to the fence as we approach. As soon as they get to the fence, they immediately sit down and move their heads in unison, watching us closely. There’s never a bark or a growl; just attention and fascination. We speak to them; they do not speak back. One is brown, black and white with expressive light brown eyes. The other is gray and black and white with icy blue eyes. It’s difficult for us to pull ourselves away but then we remember that a) we’re on a walk and b) we’re being disloyal to our own half Aussie back home.

When we adopted Maguire 14 and a half years ago, the shelter thought he had some German Shepherd in him. But it quickly became evident that he was probably more Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever with some other bits and pieces mixed in for flavor. He has the eyes of a shepherd, and the coloring; the temperament of a golden. He did some herding of Justin when both were younger, but he’s always been fairly mellow, easy, almost docile. He looks more like a shepherd though, and has the shorter legs and the movements of one.

Interestingly, the Australian Shepherd isn’t even from Australia but rather from the Western U.S. No wonder Maguire feels so at home out here. They got their name because of the imported Australian sheep they were so good at herding. They also quickly got a reputation for being extremely intelligent; another reason that we’re sure Maguire is part Aussie.

We’ve become very partial to the breed, especially the mutt versions, for obvious reasons. But when I come across stories like that of Shep, I know that these dogs are truly blessed creatures.

In 1936, a sheepherder near Fort Benton, Montana became ill while tending his flock and was brought to St. Clare Hospital. In those days, the west was still untamed with cowboys riding across the high plains and through the mountains and shepherds tending to many different herds. Shepherds lived on the prairies, moving from place to place with their sheep, traveling in wagons and sleeping in tents. They would go for weeks without seeing a single person, and their best friends and constant companions were their dogs. When they did need to travel, they did what others of the time did: they went by train. A train is how this one particular shepherd was brought into Fort Benton, along with his faithful dog, an Australia Shepherd, who waited, the legend says, by the hospital door. Three days later, the man died. His family in Ohio requested that his body be sent home to them via train.

Shep

The dog, who had become known as Shep, followed the casket to the train station and watched as it was loaded into the baggage car. He whined when the door was shut and as the train pulled away from the station, he ran after it until he could run no more. He watched until it was long gone, and then returned to the station. He dug a hole under the train depot and he waited for the train bearing his master to return. He waited for five and a half years, rising to meet each train. People fed him and cared for him; some tried to adopt him. But he wanted none it.

The long vigil took its toll on Shep. His legs became stiff, and he was hard of hearing. Perhaps that’s why he failed to hear Train 235 as it rolled into the station one cold winter morning. When he moved to get out of the way, he slipped on the icy rails and his long wait was finally over.

I’m not religious, but I do find a lovely synergy in the idea that dog is god spelled backwards, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Like that wayward shepherd in 1936, I too believe in the loyalty of a dog, and put my faith in one daily and for the rest of his life. And mine. 

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