Whatfore Art Thou Lucy?

Over the past month, I’ve begun to obsess on whether Lucy might be considered a genetically modified organism. GMO’s are illegal in Mendocino County. We could be breaking the law by harboring her.
Fun Fact: On March 2, 2004, Mendocino County became the first jurisdiction in the United States to ban the “cultivation, production or distribution of genetically modified organisms.”
DSC03313People here take this GMO stuff very seriously. I once saw a man outside Safeway dressed as a tree with vegetables hanging from his limbs and a sign across his trunk that declared GMO’s ARE BAD. In order to avoid confrontation with people dressed as vegetable trees, Lucy would have to be disguised as an old Finnish woman on our daily walks.

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After I expressed my concern to our son Harrison, he sent us a Wisdom Panel 2.0—a breed identification DNA test. Who knew such a thing existed? The packaging offers “DNA-based insights towards optimizing your dog’s overall care and training needs.”
I’ve always believed the care of dogs was fairly basic: feed, bathe, brush, exercise, and take to obedience classes so you can earn a certificate to legitimately boss them around. Will the results of Lucy’s DNA test cause me to rethink this routine? She might prove to be such a sensitive combination of breeds that we’ll have to learn how to punish—I mean “correct”—her without screaming when she chews the ends off and rips the stuffing out of sofa pillows.
The Wisdom Panel 2.0 also claims that it “covers 200+ breeds and varieties.” What if it turns out that Lucy is a genetically modified combination of all 200 of them? Will she get a prize? Like a million dollars?
The kit contains two white swabs that look like pipe cleaners on the end of six-inch plastic wands. The instructions say to “firmly roll the swab’s bristles between the inner surface of the cheek and gums for about 15 seconds. Repeat with second swab.”
I imagined Gary and I would be about as successful at getting Lucy to refrain from eating the swabs as we are at getting her to stop eating pillows or digging tunnels in the yard. (She’s up to something spectacular out there—we’re hoping it’s part of a complex re-landscaping effort.)
DSC03344I made an appointment with our vet. Lucy let Phil, the Zen-like vet assistant, swab the inside of her cheek without incident. He helped repackage the swabs and I dropped them in the mail.
Three weeks later, we got the results.
Lucy appears to be a conglomeration of Australian Shepard, Miniature Poodle, Cairn Terrier, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and Labrador Retriever. Oh, and a thing called a Catahoula Leopard Dog.
My daughter Laine remarked, “You said you wanted a poodle, now you’ve got one.”
None of these breeds make any sense whatsoever. What kind of mutant creature do we own? (It’s suddenly clear why GMO’s are outlawed in Mendocino County.)
And what the hell is a Catahoula Leopard Dog?

Bingo!
Not only does Lucy look like a Catahoula Leopard Dog, she shares many of the same characteristics: oddly piercing “glass eyes” in vivid shades of light blue or goldish-brown, a fierce independence that sometimes borders on being standoffish, bouts of stubbornness, and domineering of other pets.
Fun Facts: In 1979, the Catahoula Leopard Dog became the official state dog of Louisiana; hence, its name was changed to Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. Louisiana Governor Earl K. Long (1895-1960)—an eccentric politician whose wife had him removed from office and placed in a mental institution until his legal advisor sprang him and put him back in office—was partial to the Catahoula breed and collected them.
Long’s devotion to the breed is memorialized in an annual competition known as Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials. These trials are held during the third week of March (dang, we just missed them!) in Winnfield, Louisiana and involve boars, Catahoula Leopard Dogs and another exotic breed called the Blackmouth Cur. This event regularly draws a crowd of 5,000 with people traveling from Canada, England and across the United States.
According to Wikipedia, “…dogs are judged on their containment and control of the boar and their style of baying. If a boar runs from the dogs, they may nip the boar to make him stop, however ‘catching’ the stock is prohibited.”
Now that I’m aware of Lucy’s heritage, I’m obligated to train her for next year’s Hog Dog Trials. I’ll need a boar. Please let me know if you have one I can borrow. In the meantime, I can substitute our cat Little Mister.
DSC03343I’ve learned that GMOs are considered to be any organism with DNA that has been modified by human intervention. Given the number of dog breeds found in Lucy, her DNA was modified by generations of human non-intervention. She’s relieved to no longer pretend to be an old Finnish woman.

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Poo Patrol

DSC03293During a recent cold snap, I notice what appears to be snow in the alley that runs behind our house. Upon closer inspection, I discover the snow is kitty litter loaded with poo. Judging by the sheer size of these deposits, a mighty big cat lives in that neighbor’s house.

The Control Freak part of me wants to confront the woman who tosses this poopy kitty litter behind her rented house and across the alley onto her neighbor’s property. I want to ask who the hell does she thinks she is? I’m going to call the cops. I will. I mean it.

I take a deep breath and remind Control Freak that since this is not happening on my property, it is not my concern. But a bit of Internet research might make it my concern.

A March 2012 article in The Atlantic catches my eye—How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy. Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr describes how parasites from cat poo can permeate your brain and cause you to behave erratically.

He claims that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii found in this poo “contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia.” By the fifth paragraph, I am so freaked out that I have to stop reading.

DSC03291But kitty litter is safe, right? Wrong!

Most kitty litter brands contain sodium bentonite clay and silica gel. How dangerous can that concoction be?

Apparently it can cause bowel blockages, cancer and a whole list of other terrifying side effects that—trust me—you are better off not knowing.

It’s scary to think that whenever my dog Lucy and I walk past that woman’s toxic dump we risk constipation, cancer and a car crash. I don’t even want to think about what happens when the rains wash this cocktail of Toxoplasma gondii, sodium bentonite clay and silica gel down the street, into the storm drains for deposit into the Great Pacific Ocean.

DSC03301In the midst of the kitty poo scandal, a strange phenomenon emerges around town—tags that identify random dog poos as “Bad Dog Owner.”

Someone with a great deal of discretionary time made dozens of these tags and went in search of abandoned dog poo. I wonder if this might be a piece of performance art or if the inventor thinks that by marking these droppings, he will change dog owners’ behavior.

This got me wondering if the toxins in dog poo are as scary as those found in cat poo.

Just about. (Go to Dog Talk 101 if you insist upon torturing yourself with this knowledge.)

Perhaps the dog poo tagger thinks he’s doing a community service. But I’m not certain this is the best way to manage the problem.

DSC03305What will happen to the fabric tags and toothpicks after the rain disintegrates the dog poo? Like the kitty litter, they’ll end up in the storm drains and float into the Great Pacific Ocean a few blocks to the west.

I have a better idea.

Our city could institute a system similar to the creative management of CGI Residential, an apartment complex in Charlotte, North Carolina. All resident dog owners are required to take their dogs to the main office for a DNA swab. Whenever a public poo is discovered, it is collected, sent to a lab for testing, the dog identified and its owner fined $250.

This solution might be difficult to enforce in a large city, but in a town as small as Fort Bragg, it should be a cinch. Each swabbed dog will have a large neon-orange “D” (for DNA) sprayed on its side. Permanent barricades will be erected at the intersection of Highway One and Highway 20 to the south and Virgin Creek to the north to check incoming vehicles for canines. In this way, people who live outside the city limits and use our city’s amenities cannot sneak their unmarked dogs into town poo on the sidewalks.

All this research has been exhausting. It’s so much easier to make things up.

Fan Mail

1441214_10152206094356844_1136025372_nHere at ithappenedatpurity.com, it is our policy to not publish fan letters (mainly because we don’t receive any).

Sometimes rules are made to be broken—as in the case of Lucy receiving her first fan letter.

FanLetterArlo sweetened the deal by offering Lucy a spread of cheesecake photos and his phone number. How’s a girl supposed to resist after seeing his cute little baby picture and his sexy expression as he describes himself “On the hunt”? On the hunt for Lucy that’s for sure.

ArloA meet and greet is pending. We’ll have an update soon.1374220_10152031548311844_1507168159_n

Wanted

Lucy and I cross Franklin Street at Alder, from the post office to The Purity. We walk north on Franklin. Up ahead, a large woman with tightly curled gray hair and black-framed glasses gets out of a blue van. She moves to stand on the sidewalk and looks in our direction. She’s obviously waiting for some puppy lovin’.

Lucy's impression of The Flying Nun

Lucy’s impression of The Flying Nun

As we grow closer, I notice her expression differs from that of most people who see Lucy for the first time—she does not smile and giggle at the goofy dog with the brown eye patch. There’s a deep crease between her eyes. She gnaws her lower lip.

“That your dog?” There’s a muscle to her tone that would have frightened me in my younger years.

“Yes ma’am.” I smile. “Would you like to pet her?”

She squints and gives me the once-over. “Just saw a missing dog poster. Looks exactly like the dog on the poster.”

“She’s not. She’s mine.” I continue to smile.

She raises one eyebrow. “Where’d you get her?”

“The Humane Society.”

Lucy does all she knows to entice this woman to pet her—fanatic tail wagging, piddling on the sidewalk and wiggling into a sit. She throws herself on her back to offer a submissive tummy, mopping up piddle with her fur.

“What’s her name?”

“Lucy.”

Lucy looks up at me.

“Good thing for you that she knows her name.” The woman takes a few steps away before stopping and turning around. “You live in town?”

“Yes I do.”

“Give your dog bottled water. City tap water is polluted.” The woman points west towards the former Georgia Pacific mill site. “Because of all those years of toxic waste they dumped into the land, there’s a high incidence of cancer among dogs in this town. Don’t risk it. Give her bottled water.”

“I will.” (No I won’t.)

“You should drink bottled water, too. A lot of people in this town get cancer from drinking tap water.”

I give her a thumb’s up and coax Lucy away.

“You’re sure that’s your dog?”

“I’m sure,” I holler over my shoulder.unnamed

Puppy Kindergarten

There’s a program called Puppy Kindergarten and I enrolled Lucy in it this past Saturday.

It didn’t start out well.

Within minutes of arriving in the parking lot of the Evergreen Barn in Mendocino, Lucy got so hopelessly tangled up with a border collie that the owner and I had to restrain our dogs while someone else removed the collie’s collar and untangled the leashes.

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Flying ears.

When the puppy group was released for play in the training room, my normally mellow darling turned into a psychotic tweeker.

Cesar Milan says not to take your puppy’s behavior personally. But how do you manage that while five other “parents” watch in horror as your great white shark ruins the delicate balance of Puppy Kindergarten?

Expert trainer, Elaine Miksak, asked me to gently coax Lucy into the “time out” area and keep her there until she settled down.

Try as I might to get Lucy’s attention away from chomping on the other dogs’ necks, it was a no go. It would have been far easier to pick her up and haul her out of Puppy Kindergarten forever.

Elaine, bless her heart, finally intervened to skillfully move Lucy away from the action.

After a few minutes, she settled enough to be allowed back into play. However, I was asked repeatedly to intervene by going to her, calling her name while gently clapping my hands, moving backwards and coaxing her to follow. This simmered her down for about 15 seconds at a time.

A gorgeous four-month old golden retriever dabbled in the play, but when it got rough, took refuge at the feet of her owner. I found myself standing by him after my one hundredth “coaxing” of Lucy to stop her bullying ways.

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Looking for action.

“We used to have a golden retriever,” I said. “He was perfect.”

He gave me a weary smile, almost as if I’d said I’d once driven a Mercedes and now drive a 20-year old piece of crap Geo—almost as if to say, “I don’t care to hear your tale of woe.”

His look made me realize that I believed Lucy was less than the others, that she would never be more than the snapping, barking creature that she was at that moment.

A few minutes later, play time was thankfully called to a halt and we were asked to leash up our dogs. Lucy thrashed as we walked to my chair. She lunged to incite the other dogs to play. I quietly soothed her into a sit.

Elaine gave a sweet lecture on I don’t know what because I was giving myself a silent lecture to straighten out my thought process with my dog.

This was Lucy’s first experience with playing with puppies outside of her littermates. In her defense, littermate play is like my childhood—a turbulent mob of sibling rivalry. Lucy took what she had learned in her kennel at the Humane Society and transferred it to these strangers.

Most of Lucy’s experiences are first-time. It is up to us, as her owners, to be patient with helping her learn. It is a daily process. Unfortunately, I am not good with daily processes.

New mantra: I am good with daily processes.

After Elaine’s lecture, the puppies were allowed two additional mosh pit sessions intermixed with two basic training periods. (It was the longest 90 minutes in recent memory.) In the end, Lucy sat quietly at my feet before slumping into a down position. One of the “fathers” commented on how well she was behaving.

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Too tired to misbehave.

I wanted to proclaim, “This is the puppy I know, not that monster from before. She is a good puppy, I swear she is.” I wanted to cry. Puppy Kindergarten was hard. It was really, really hard.

This class helped me realize that my initial two weeks with Lucy had turned me into a neurotic mess. My desperate need to make certain she is well behaved and the dog everyone loves gave me occasional bouts of vertigo.

As I write this, she is quietly chewing a rawhide bone on the rug in my office. She has had two walks today. She has met people on the street and exhibited great affection towards them. She has been played with and loved.

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Serenity

She is perfect right now.

She will be perfect as she grows older.

I need to calm the hell down.

We Love Lucy

We have a puppy!Lucy

If you’re shaking your head and using the Lord’s name in vain, know that I was doing the same thing less than one week ago.

After Wilson died, our adult children asked if we were going to get another dog. Gary said yes at the very moment I snapped no. Gary looked hurt and the kids got quiet and I felt mean and controlling.

I softened my declaration by saying, “We won’t go looking for a dog, but if one comes into our lives we’ll keep it.” This was stated as a far off, someday, maybe type of possibility (as in hopefully never).

Harrison and Laine, along with Harrison’s girlfriend Kasi, visited for the Labor Day weekend. These constitute Paul Bunyan Days in Fort Bragg. Saturday morning, Harrison and Kasi said they were going downtown and Laine left to visit a friend.

We had plans to meet friends for a late lunch at Dolphin Isle Marina. My afternoon family agenda included the Ugly Dog Contest and the Volunteer Fire Department Water Fights. I was excited to engage in activities that we hadn’t shared since their childhood.

At one o’clock I sent text messages. Harrison and Kasi were running late. Laine was running late. I was running bitter. I decided not to wait for them and drove to Dolphin Isle. I was surprised when they arrived at the same time.

Laine returned home with me while Harrison and Kasi went on a mission to buy fish straight off a commercial fishing boat. I reminded them of the three o’clock Ugly Dog Contest. They said they’d be on time.

Shortly after three, Laine said, “Harrison and Kasi are here. Let’s go outside.”

Harrison walked through the front gate alone. I asked, “Where’s Kasi?”

Kasi was led through the gate by an Arctic white puppy with a brown patch of fur circling one eye. Harrison, Laine and Kasi sported impish smiles.

No! No! Oh God No! I forced a chuckle. “Take it back.”

Their smiles faded.

“Is it a girl?”

“Yes,” they said in unison.

“Okay, then her name is Lucy,” I said. “We need to get her a crate and some food.”

Our thoughtful kids had already gotten everything she needed.

Our thoughtful kids did what they felt was best to help their parents recover from the loss of Wilson.

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Lucy’s pack

They had spent hours at the Mendocino Coast Humane Society “testing” every puppy to choose the perfect fit for us.

The remainder of the afternoon and evening was spent loving on Lucy and helping her adjust to her surroundings. That night, I set up an air mattress next to her crate.

My fantasy Lucy was supposed to be a poodle. Or a Yorkie. Or a Yorkie-poodle. Not a Weimaraner mix, a breed that I couldn’t even spell. I lay awake until the wee hours of Sunday morning reading online about Weimaraners, about how they need lots of exercise and how they can grow to the size of a dozen Yorkies executing a pyramid stunt.

Weimaraner_wbOver the course of the night, I tossed and turned while Lucy grew to 75 lbs.

At 6:00am, Lucy whimpered. I opened the crate door and she crawled onto my lap. I marveled that the 75-lb. dog of my nightmares was so small, so cuddly, and such a sweet, affectionate baby.

Sunday was spent with a mass of humans taking care of her.

On Monday after the parade, the kids left Gary and me with sole custody of our new puppy. I stood on the porch, waved goodbye and verged on hyperventilation. Our “pack” was leaving. I wanted to go to the park with a handful of cash and sit at the picnic bench until a dealer came by to offer me narcotics.

We had not had a puppy in many years. We had not finished mourning the loss of our buddy Wilson. We suddenly had to gear up to nurture a vibrant new life.

LucynapWhile Lucy napped, I sat on the sofa and closed my eyes. In an effort to get my breathing and heart rate under control, the word “flow” came to mind.

The currents of life are ever changing—dang it anyway. I can struggle against this fact or surrender to it. I can accept this gift from my loving children and be grateful that they think their dad and I are up to the challenge of raising a dog that will eventually become a great companion.

I choose to honor my children and Lucy. I choose to slip into this changing current and flow.971612_10200414909920136_647040935_n

Our Last Walk

When we moved to Fort Bragg 21 years ago, we brought along a three-month old golden retriever named Journey. He grew to be the Journeyperfect dog. He loved people and other dogs. We took him nearly everywhere—on leash, off leash, it didn’t matter. He knew that responding to our commands meant getting petted. And he loved to be petted.

He died from leukemia five years later. We suspected we’d never again have such a perfect dog.

We were right.

Laine receiving a rare demonstration of affection from Wilson.

Laine receiving a rare show of affection from Wilson.

A year later, we got a Border collie/Labrador mix that our son Harrison named after a Wilson Jet basketball. Wilson’s response to our requests for appropriate behavior was the canine equivalent of flipping us off. He didn’t care about receiving affection. He cared about getting his own way, about climbing the ivy-covered fence in order to get out of the yard, about running as fast as he could away from us.

Each time I took him to Rose Memorial Park (a secluded cemetery not far from our house) for a run, I would cry because I missed Journey and felt guilty that I didn’t like Wilson. When he was five months old, I called dog trainer Sally Stevens to ask when she was starting a new obedience class. She said that she preferred dogs be at least nine months old before they began training.

“I want to kill him.”

“Bring him this Saturday.”

He was the worst dog in the class—barking and lunging at other dogs to herd them. However, during those six weeks, I learned how to live with a working dog. He needed a great deal of exercise and to be told what to do. We all tried to be consistent in redirecting his energy, but it was exhausting and we often failed.

Wikson Blog ShotIt would take adopting another dog—Tucker—and another 10 years to turn Wilson into the (nearly) perfect dog.

After Tucker died in late 2011, Wilson and I moved our daily walks from Rose Memorial Park to the streets of Fort Bragg. By that time he was 13-years old—ancient by large dog standards—yet would race to the front gate each time I picked up the leash and opened the door.

A few weeks ago, we sauntered by Bainbridge Park on the home stretch of our walk. A young couple (who looked like tourists) sat at the picnic bench near Laurel Street. They were eating sandwiches while their daughter did what most toddlers do—explored the area nearby in lieu of sitting at the table.

About 100 feet away, a 60-something woman with long white hair sat in a folding lawn chair reading a book. At her feet lay an Australian Shepard with coloring reflective of his mistress.

The toddler started to walk toward the dog. The father yelled a rapid-fire series of “NO! NO! NO!” The toddler sprinted—like toddlers tend to do—away from the command. “No” to a toddler translates into “Must hurry before they catch me.”

The reader looked up. The dog rose to his feet. The toddler was on a collision course with the dog’s mouth. The father and mother untangled themselves from the picnic table, both screaming “NO!” and raced to save their child.

The reader was frozen, yet managed to tighten her hold on the leash. The dog was poised to fend off attack by the creature rapidly closing in on him. A mere three feet before the toddler reached the dog, the reader bent forward, chair and all, and collapsed to pin him to the ground.

A second later, the father grabbed the toddler and lifted her to his chest. He walked back to the picnic table, continuing to yell NO! NO! NO! The toddler screamed as only a toddler can do.

A shaggy street person crossed Laurel Street from the library. He smiled at the father. “Hey man, that was a good save.” The father did not smile back.

This was to be the last of Wilson and my adventures on the streets of Fort Bragg. Ninjas

The following day, my husband Gary and I went out of town for a short vacation. We left Wilson in the care of our loving friend Marcia who has been our dog sitter for the past six years. The night before we returned home, Marcia called to say Wilson could not stand and his breathing was labored. We made the decision to end his suffering. My pain was amplified by not being able to be with my ninja buddy during his last moments.

Gary and I returned from our trip to enter a house where—for the first time in nearly 15 years—we were not greeted by a dog. It felt empty. And sad. Very, very sad.

Two weeks later, the raw edges of our sadness are starting to heal with the knowledge that we loved Wilson and made his life a good one. It will take much longer to stop missing him.Wilson