Surfer puppy

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 12, 2018 4:49 PM

When Maguire was a puppy, he was mostly dark brown, almost black, with white paws. Within a month after he first came to live with us, his coloring started to change and the dark brown became a bit lighter. Over the course of several years, the color of his fur continued to change, becoming lighter, blonder, with dark brown streaks and stripes. He became brindled. During this phase, people asked us even more often what kind of dog he was, and we answered as we always answered: no idea. To the best of our sleuthing and according to our vet, he probably was some mix of Australian shepherd, golden retriever, border collie, German shepherd, akita, Chesapeake Bay retriever. You get the idea. A certified mutt. And the best damned dog on the planet.

He was “the one.” We’ve loved our other dogs completely. We are head over heels over Riley and can’t imagine life without him. But Maguire remains the gold standard of Michel dogs. 

During his brindle phase, when he was young and energetic, when he would prance around the house, and on our walks around the neighborhood, we developed a new way to describe him. Previously he had always been “puppy feet;” he was a hunka hunka puppy luuuvvvv; he was my Honey Bear. We lived in Southern California at the time, so this new name fit perfectly. We just knew, given his coloring and his personality, that he would be perfect on the beach, chasing waves, waiting for the boards to roll in. He never went to the beach, but he became Surfer Puppy.

Today, as part of our sort of training regimen for Riley, we loaded him into the back of the Sport and drove to the park for a walk. Kevin’s knee has been bothering him so he didn’t want to tackle the hills that surround our home. Walking a flat couple of miles rather than a constant incline and decline of road seemed a better idea. Plus, Riley. 

Our boy has some anxiety issues. He’s afraid of, well, just about everything. The good news is that he’s not aggressive. We just need to build his confidence, that according to a trainer we saw on Monday morning. She worked wonders with a friend of mine’s dog, Charlie, who had anxiety issues and was aggressive. This trainer specializes in in-home training meaning you have to give her your dog for several weeks so that she can work her magic and return a dog who is better. Charlie spent a total of nearly 5 weeks with her but he’s a changed dog. He’s great. My friend wants us to be able to bring Riley to their house, have the dogs get along, maybe go swimming. But Riley is afraid. 

Monday morning my friend invited Riley and I to see her trainer who had generously offered to meet Riley and give us some pointers. The dogs got along great, so much so that we were all supposed to meet this morning to get the dogs in the pool. The trainer wanted to be there because Riley hasn’t ever been swimming, and she wanted to teach him how to get in. Unfortunately, my friend needed to cancel. But we still wanted to take the opportunity to take him out to be in a new place, with new smells, maybe see other dogs (though not necessarily to interact with them).

The seats were still down in the back of the Sport. Kevin bought a big moving blanket a couple of weeks ago that we can spread across the back of the car in order to mitigate some of the fur that collects on the carpet. Fur that is nearly impossible to get out. Riley jumped up and in, and proceeded to stand no matter how many times we implored him to lay down. He’d get down and then he’d get up and then we’d say “down” and he would curl up and then he would stand up. 

Finally, we gave up. No it’s not safe. I know that. We know that. But as I was driving, he was standing in the back weaving, adjusting his balance, changing the position of his feet. Surfing. 

Riley Michel. The new iteration of surfer puppy.

Golden Retriever surfing, by Carolyn Gray

Oh, deer

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 5, 2015 8:12 PM

The desert always amazes me. Friday night, after several hours spent unpacking boxes, I cut them up, flattened them, and put them in the back of the Range Rover. The hatch wouldn’t close so I started down the hill very slowly. At the second turn, I sensed some movement and slowed even further. A deer emerged in front of me and bounced across the road, up the hill and out of sight. I smiled.

I expected to see rattlesnakes, which I have, though not as many as I would have thought. I saw more in California. I expected to see lizards, and they’re plentiful. I’ve seen gila monsters which generally freak me out. They’re funky looking creatures, black and corral or black and pink or black and lavender. They lumber across the road or through the desert. Every time I see one and it’s not often, I recoil a bit. I’m not generally squeamish. I think with gila monsters I remember what a woman said to me when we first moved here. “Make sure you watch your dog closely because they’ll be curious and go to sniff and the gila monster can’t get out of its own way and so it will bite, and when it bites, it doesn’t let go.” I could just imagine Cooper with one of those things hanging off of his neck, panicking, as we flew to the vet.

My sister has long been worried about scorpions. When Mike was here last week, and Bobbi was here alone, he proceeded to tell her that he was going to beef up the padding around the door and to be very careful because new construction tends to scare out the scorpions. I had never seen one. And of all people to tell, he tells Bobbi who’s not especially fond of spiders and creepy crawly things. Yesterday, when I moved a box in the bedroom, I saw one. They’re smaller than I thought they’d be, and easily and quickly killed. I told Kevin we needed to start emptying our shoes before we put them on, just in case.

Coyotes roam through the cactus freely. We haven’t seen any out here; haven’t even heard their incessant howls in the night. We heard them more when we lived in the city. Coyotes were plentiful in California, too, of course. We used to see them regularly when we were hiking. I saw one brazenly walking down the street one night in Oak Park. It was on the sidewalk and just meandering along. It was late, probably after midnight and I was taking Maguire out to pee. He always had to pee in the front yard. It was routine. I always checked first to make sure the proverbial coast was clear. It wasn’t. That coyote stopped right in front of the house and stared at me as if willing me to bring the old guy out. “I’m hungry, lady.”

We have javelinas, wild pigs. And pack rats. We have two hawks that soar above the house daily. We have tarantulas or actually tarantula. Beetles and crickets that come equipped with saddles. When we bought the motorcycle a year ago, and were taking it out for its inaugural ride, we saw something black flying toward us. It was a weird kind of low cloud, and we had no idea what it was. Turned out it was a swarm of bees that hit us and the motorcycle straight on. It was ugly. We had bee carcasses everywhere.

This is life in the desert. It’s more lush and lovely than I ever imagined, and more prickly. This morning we were hiking in the hills above us and came upon a cactus that was flowering. Most of the others haven’t yet; it’s a bit early. By about the third week in April, the saguaros will all be sporting hats made of flowers.

After we got back from our walk/hike we made some coffee and eventually I made breakfast. It was a beautiful morning, warm but not hot. We decided to eat on the deck. I took the juice and the silverware out and glanced up the hill. I stopped. There was an animal. I thought it was a coyote. But it was big for a coyote. Still, the coloring was right. Then it raised its head and turned to stare at me, ears straight up, still as morning. It was a deer, perhaps my deer from Friday night. It was as if it had come back to say ‘Hi, welcome to the neighborhood. But don’t bother me.’

If this keeps up, I’m going to have to name it. As it is, I’ll just say ‘Hi, deer. Nice to meet you” and celebrate the fact that we have majestic creatures like deer that co-exist with the dreaded gila monsters. 

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Cooper sit

by Lorin Michel Thursday, May 8, 2014 9:42 PM

These were the first words I heard this morning. It was 6:53. Kevin had just gotten up because Cooper had just gotten up. This is the ritual. Cooper stretches inside his kennel, then we hear his paws hit the tiled floor. He shakes to get all of his fur into place. It's the equivalent of me getting out of bed and running a brush through my hair which I do every morning, often to little avail. Depending on how I've slept, it is often a lost cause. Cooper's fur always looks good though – the same, regardless of how he has slept. It's a perk of being canine.

The two boys padded out to the great room. There is a door in between the windows on the back wall that opens onto the patio. Every morning and several times during the day, Cooper journeys to this door so that he can go out into the backyard.

I heard the door open, the slatted wooden blinds that cover the glass banging slightly. Good morning. That's when I heard it: "Cooper, sit."

A few seconds later again came the words "Cooper, sit." It wasn't yelled nor was it whispered. It was a simple command -

Cooper, sit

- that Cooper obviously wasn't obeying. After about four more of these commands I heard the door close again, the blinds tousling, and then my little furry one was back in the bedroom and on the bed.

I heard Kevin making coffee, then he too returned to the bedroom.

"What's up with all the Cooper sits?" I asked without opening my eyes.

Cooper growled.

Kevin proceeded to tell me that when he opened the door to let Cooper outside, the sprinkles were running. The landscapers had been here on Monday and then back again on Tuesday, and had evidently recalibrated the sprinklers. Cooper started to go out, then stopped and turned to go back in. He didn't want to pee in the shower I guess. Kevin needed him to wait. The sprinklers don't run for long. He just needed to be patient.

Patient is not a word in Cooper's vocabulary.

Each time he would sit and Kevin would turn away, Cooper would turn too, lower himself to the ground, a snake, and try to slink away unnoticed. Kevin was having none if it. Cooper was being obstinate and Kevin was going to win because he was.

Cooper sat and waited and eventually got to pee. But he was not at all pleased about it. Kevin was holding him back, cramping his style, making him late for a nap.

Which is another perk about being a dog. Almost as soon as you get up in the morning after a restful sleep, you get to crawl onto the big bed to sleep some more. That's sleeping it out loud.

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Cactus Jack gets it in the kisser

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:50 PM

The episode began innocently enough. At 7:15, Kevin got up, slipped into shorts, a tee and sneakers, and took Cooper out to pee. I got up, made the bed, threw on a pair of shorts, a tee, and slipped into my flip flops. Soon, I heard the telling sound of Cooper padding back into the bedroom, the tags on his collar singing like a small wind chime. In the kitchen, Kevin was busy rinsing plates from last night’s dinner that hadn’t yet made it into the dishwasher. I heard him start the first pot of coffee for the day. He called to Cooper who turned from the bedroom and charged back toward the kitchen and dad. Time for a walk.

I put on my sunglasses and went out to meet my boys.

In the morning, I am on leash duty and Kevin is on clean-up patrol. In the evenings, it is the opposite. Kevin handed me the leash and I walked out the front door. We started down the sidewalk toward the gate in order to get out of the ‘hood for our usual morning walk. Along this sidewalk there are a number of different types of cactus, set back a bit. Small saguaros and prickly pear as well as cholla. Saguaros are the typical cactus most people associate with the desert. Tall, with arms that jut out and turn toward the sky. Prickly pear are short, bush like cactus with big flat paddles. Cholla cactus are rather like squat trees with cylindrical branches or stems and joints that grow up and in and over each other. All are covered with nasty needles.

We are always very careful to keep Cooper away from any form of cactus for obvious reasons. They bite. And when you end up with a cactus burr stuck to you, whether it’s to an item of clothing or skin, it is usually best to use pliers to grab it and pull it directly out and away. It is not fun. It would be equally bad in fur.

Maybe I was more tired than usual this morning. Maybe I simply wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency because he has never shown any interest in cactus previously. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Regardless, he moved in toward the cholla. I saw it at the exact time Kevin yelled: “Cactus!”

Too late. Cooper pulled himself back, yipping, hysterical, a cholla branch embedded in his mouth and the left side of his precious little face.

Shit, shit, shit!

I tried to grab it and pull it loose. It is nearly impossible to grab a piece of cactus without also getting impaled. I didn’t care. I managed to get most of it off and then shook it loose from my fingers. A small piece remained in his fur. I grabbed that, pulled and then shook that loose. Cooper was still yipping. There were several thorns stuck in his whiskers, in his mouth and he was shaking his head, pawing at the side of his face and crying. We turned and ran back to the house. Luckily we weren’t far. Kevin was leading the way.

“Get the tweezers!” I yelled as he burst into the house ahead of me. “I’ll meet you in the bathroom!”

Cooper and I flew into the house behind him. I kicked the door shut and holding tightly to his leash, keeping him moving forward, we went into the bathroom where the light is best. I sat down on the hamper bench, and forced Cooper to sit so that my legs could grip him, essentially trapping him. I wrapped the leash around my right hand to keep it taut, then I grabbed his head to hold it as still as possible. Kevin crouched on the floor, tweezers in hand, and one at a time, he pulled the thorns from our sweet boy’s face.

He had them embedded in his gums, in his bottom lip, under his nose. Thank dog none had gone into his eyes or into his nose. After about ten minutes, much wrangling, and one nip at mom’s hand – he caught my left thumb – we thought we had them all. Upon closer inspection, there was one still inside his mouth. Kevin went to the garage and grabbed work gloves for both of us. We were taking no chances of getting bit. Once again, I held Cooper’s head and mouth while Kevin surgically extracted this last of the offenders.

Cactus Cooper, post cactus

Finally finished, we all collapsed on the floor. Kevin and I were affected more than Cooper. For Cooper, as soon as the last thorn was pulled from his bottom lip he was fine. Tail wagging. Ears perky. Let’s have breakfast.

And so the Tuesday morning tale of Cactus Jack gets it in the kisser comes to a fitful desert end.

Celebrating tweezers today, and the incredible resiliency of animals. Though Kevin and I are still traumatized. 

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