Friday, May 27, 2011

Class clown

Anybody with an Airedale is going, "Well, duh; that's what we expect." We expect the little unexpected antic, the touch of creativity. In our monthly fun/training class, Miro has been taking his job of class clown to a new low. The class is an informal one where the trainer teaches a new topic each month. We've done nose work, agility, off-leash work and more. Different people and dogs come and go.

When we pause for the trainer to explain the next step, most dogs sit attentively beside their people or lie down in a relaxed, yet alert attitude. Miro is the only one--in this class or any other that I've seen--who does this:
He flops onto his back and grins, first at me, and then around the room because he knows everyone will chuckle. I swore to myself before class last night that I would not react, I would not so much as smile; in fact I would look down at him disapprovingly and then look away.

Didn't work. Note to self: do not attempt to bluff at poker.

"I never met a man half so true as a dog. Treat a dog right and he'll treat you right--he'll keep you company, be your friend, never ask you no questions. Cats is different, but I never held that against them."
From "An Animal Lover" in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

p.s. Problems with Blogger this week have prevented me from leaving comments on other blogs. I'll keep trying.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chicken dramas

Any day with a little bit of sun is called a sunny day, despite the "partly cloudy" and "partly sunny" announcements delivered by weather stations. Today was a sunny day and the chickens came out. They wandered a bit, tearing at dandelion leaves. Then Maewest spotted me, having not noticed that I was the one who opened the gate to the pen or having forgotten. She ran to the tall food dispenser (me).

Muffin saw  and immediately ran to chase her away from me just in case I was indeed carrying food.

Running chicken: a blur of action. Maewest and Bazooka dashed off together.

They went to the edge of the yard and chased each other in circles, which of course I did not capture in a video though it is the absolute truth.
Muffin went off to have a dust bath with Brangelina.
That's what passes for the afternoon soaps when you have chickens.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Do not talk to the birdies

I started volunteering in the baby bird nursery at PAWS wildlife center where all the little birds who can't yet feed themselves are kept. Birds are grouped according to species and stage of growth and each stage has its feeding schedule. Some of the birds have been injured, like the baby robin I thought of as "Paddlefoot" because his broken foot was bandaged onto a paddle-shaped brace. The most common cause of injury is cat attack (one reason why I advocate the Audubon Society's mission to keep cats indoors).

These are wild animals whose exposure to people needs to be kept to a minimum so they don't become habituated to us, the goal being to get them to the point where they self-feed and can be released back to the area where they were found. The birds are housed in baskets or cages covered in mesh to block their view of us. Only when it's feeding time or when a technician is checking them do the birds see people nearby.

Hard part #1 is resisting the very human impulse to talk to the birds. After all, they're talking, even screaming when I first lift the mesh and they know it's time to eat. I can understand why the one with the loudest voice gets the most food--the parent birds would want them to just shut up, like whining kids. Fortunately we people with our ideas about fairness and equality try to make sure each bird gets the amount of food it needs. But there's no encouraging the reluctant ones with a "Come on, open up" or telling the aggressive ones to cool it. This is not at all like hand feeding baby cockatiels where you want them to get used to a human voice.

Hard part #2 is getting reluctant birds to eat. Finches are easy and will eat until their crops burst. A group of robins I was feeding the other day began with beaks wide open but would suddenly flop over, sound asleep, after getting a bit of food. I learned to wake them by tapping their nest. The movement suggests the shaking of the nest when a parent bird lands. Nest shakes, eyes and beaks open, food goes in (more on that another time), sleep.

When a bird is awake but reluctant, you open and close your hand, tapping the thumb against the fingers in imitation of a beak opening and closing. Instead of looking at your hand and thinking, "Yeah, like that's gonna remind me of Mom," the babies automatically react to the movement by opening their beaks. Another trick I learned is to swoop my hand through the air above the nest in imitation of the parent bird coming in to land. Happy meal comin' in!

Babies: it's all about the food. For us, it's about the food and the poop.

Unfortunately, I can't take photos in the baby bird room, making this a photo-free post. Here's a link, though, to a blog post where someone recorded the progress of a robin's nest right outside her window:
The Robin's Nest.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chickens are 8th graders

I speak of hens and eighth grade girls, the ones who hang out in cliques and are very slow to let in newcomers. They huddle together and giggle while the outsiders stand forlornly in their corner, wondering if they're the ones being giggled about.

Are we wearing the wrong outfits?

What did they just say?

Eventually the most self-assured girl wanders over to the newcomers, as if she doesn't really notice them even while she's checking them out.

Hmmm, they look dorky but might improve with time.

The other girls talk it over. Shall we let them join us?

We'll let them hang out nearby for a while so we can rate their coolness factor.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When it's time to groom Alanis

I  see this

and this.

She's a tiny girl at 43 lbs and hasn't figured out passive resistance (which didn't work for Miro, anyway). I haven't clipped her yet, just raked out lots of undercoat while she looked at me reproachfully.