The Wild Horses of Nevada

Horses in front of HouseI knew there were wild horses, or mustangs, in the area around Reno. I had had glimpses of them, from a distance, as I drove through the Sierra Nevada foothills. A dyed-in-the-wool animal lover, I was so enthralled by the prospect of wild horses that when we rented the house at the foot of the Virginia Highlands I mentioned to our landlord that I was hoping to see some of the famous wild horses that roamed the foothills. At the time I didn’t understand the sly smile when he assured me I would see some. The fact that the street to the north of us was named Wild Mustang should have been a clue.

Still clueless I was not prepared for the sight on that bright sunny November morning. Our dogs had started barking and were nervously pacing by the window. Thinking I would be confronting an annoying solicitor I threw open the front door. The mare closest to the front step lifted her head, her expression one of annoyance not fear. I stepped back and closed the door. In awe I gazed out the Foalwindow to see the wild horses grazing on our front lawn. It was a small herd of eight, the youngest not yet weaned. I did not want to startle them. I wanted them to stay on the lawn and graze. It was a selfish want. I wanted the opportunity to watch these magnificent animals for as long as possible. I rushed to get my camera. Everyone back in Canada would think I was hallucinating when I regaled them with stories of wild horses. I needed proof. I needed to act fast. I wasn’t sure I would ever get that close to a wild horse again.

The herd stayed on our lawn for about twenty minutes before sauntering down the street in search of, dare I say, greener pastures. I was sad to see them go and could only buoy my flagging spirits by reviewing the pictures I had managed to take.

ColtTwo days later, with the clamor of barking dogs ringing in my ears, I looked out the window. The small herd was back. This became a ritual that was repeated for about six weeks. Every second day, between 11:00 am to 12:00 pm, the horses strolled down the street. Ignoring the houses designed with Xeriscape front yards consisting of stones and bushes, they stopped in our front yard to nibble the green expanse of lawn. From my perch at the window, I watched as the youngest was nursed by his mother. When satisfied, he sat quietly still too young to graze on the grass himself. At first we were too timid to go outside during their visit. Our fears were allayed after one of our neighbors came out to feed the horses carrots. Pete Feeding HorseCarefully my husband and I ventured onto our front stoop. By the raised heads you could tell that the horses were aware of our presence. Although they did not appear alarmed, the adults kept a watchful eye on us. We were always careful not to approach the young foal or colt, stories of animals protecting their young foremost in our minds. After a few visits we became brave enough to feed the horses some carrots.

Alas by late December the visits stopped. I took comfort in the thought that the herd had moved on to different grazing areas. They were from a long line of survivors and I could only hope they would continue to thrive, living in the foothills during the summer and moving to the valley floor for the winter. We lived in Reno during the unsettling years of 2008-2010. It was a time of economic devastation which left neighborhoods littered with smashed dreams and abandoned homes. Watching the small herd of mustangs that thrived in the harsh desert of the valley floor and the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains was calming. Observing their persistence against such strong odds, I knew deep in my soul that we would be okay. We would weather the current storm and we too would thrive.

Can Dogs Tell Time?

Our lives are ruled by the clock. We stumble out of bed to the jarring sound of alarm clocks. We tackle the morning chores and start the commute to work. The work day is punctuated with time frames. Our lives are full of self imposed deadlines; errands, social engagements, a trip to the gym, our kids sports and activities. Staggering with exhaustion at the end of the day, we collapse for a few hours sleep until the next day’s alarm starts the cycle again.

Dog with ClockAs far as we know dogs cannot tell time. Their lives are not ruled by a clock, at least not an external one. As dog owners, we know that they have extremely accurate internal clocks and are masters of routine. Their sudden appearance, forlorn glances at the food cupboard accompanied by a crescendo of short staccato barks reminds us of dinner time. Admonishing us to not stay up too late, Moe will offer a heavy sigh and shake of his head as he leaves the room at night to go to bed. His attitude reminding us that morning comes early and there are dogs to be fed before we go to work.

Our dogs also know when the work day is finally finished. Over the years as early evening approached, I watched our dogs rouse themselves from their slumber in various parts of the house and gather at the door. Every noise from the street would be greeted with a short round of barking and vigorous tail wagging. When it was determined that it was not my husband returning from work they would settle down uneasily to wait some more. If it was my husband, the barking would increase as they ran in circles too excited to contain their enthusiasm.

During the time that we lived in a rural area east of Vancouver, BC, my husband’s nightly commute included an hour train ride and a twenty minute drive. It was about the time my husband was leaving the train station for the drive home that Moe would start to howl. This was new. At first it would be a low keening moan, which would increase in volume to a full out howl. Soon Moe would be joined by our other dogs. A chorus of four distinctive voices, sounding like wolves calling a missing pack member home, filled the house and spilled out across our acreage. It was a haunting mournful sound that cut straight through to your heart. As we moved several times across Canada and the US, the nightly routine remained the same. Shortly before my husband’s return from work the dogs would gather by the door and the soulful yowling would start.

We currently live in Arizona and our new routine includes my husband flying out on Monday morning and returning Thursday evening. Our dogs have adapted to this new situation and have settled into a new routine. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening, after their not so subtle reminders, I feed them and they then settle down for a quiet night. This all changes on Thursday evening. Around 7:00 pm they become unsettled, running to the door at any noise from the street. After a few minutes of pacing and barking they realize my husband has not returned. They settle down, looking more like wound springs than sleeping dogs, to wait some more. Finally about 10:00 pm a cacophony of dogs barking and howling marks my husbands return. Sometimes I fear that Willa, my husbands loyal companion, will turn herself inside out with joy. Moe spends the first few minutes of my husbands return running between my husband and myself, as if to say “Look Mom, I knew I had a Dad.”

One Thursday it took me awhile to realize that the dogs were spread around the house sleeping, the normal Monday to Wednesday routine. There was no pacing anxiously around the front door. “How weird,” I thought during the unusually quiet evening. Around 7:00 pm my husband called from LAX; his flight was delayed. Several phone calls later, he called a final time; after numerous delays his flight was now canceled. Our four dogs slept through it all. Did they know my husband was not returning home that evening?

Now when my husband calls from the airport, he asks if the dogs think he is coming home. If they are restless we know his flight will be okay and he will be arriving home soon to the welcoming chorus of his dogs.

I Am Guilty of This

Who Can Resist
Who can look at this picture without smiling?

Anthropomorphism

Noun – the attribution of human form or behavior to a deity, animal, etc

Why do we attribute human behaviors to objects and animals? Perhaps it is due simply to our need to understand our world and everything in it. Fear of the unknown is very strong in humans. Is our desire to humanize everything around us a method to know them and negate fear? If we know and understand the creatures in our life we may be able to predict their behavior, something that would go a long way in helping us in a conflict. We humanize more than animals. We talk about Mother Nature and Father Time; we call ships she and give storms female names. Some people name inanimate objects such as their car.

We takeDogs in Costumes anthropomorphism to a whole new level when interacting with our dogs. According to a 2012 article in Time, people in the US spent $300 million on Halloween costumes for their dogs in 2010 and this was expected to increase to $370 million in 2012.

According to the article, we take it even further –

77% of Americans give birthday presents to their pets, and … spend $5 billion on holiday gifts

(The complete article can be found here.)

I have to confess. I have on occasion given our dogs a Christmas present and will wish them happy birthday. Like most animal lovers I can not resist the picture of a dog in a piece of clothing. My guilty pleasure is supplying dialogue for the dog; even if it is only in my mind. It’s a bad habit; one I can’t resist. Watch for future posts. I will be giving into anthropomorphism and posting pictures with appropriate dialogue, of course!

In Need of Some Serious R and R

The last couple of weeks have been tiring and stressful for our pack.

Willa RestingSpurred on by the wedding invitation we started planning planning our trip to Toronto months ago. Although not our first choice, we had decided to board our dogs. Normally when we traveled, we were comforted by the fact that a carefully chosen pet sitter would come and stay overnight at our house. Unfortunately, Moe has become more and more aggressive towards strangers coming into our home, so we spent several weekends visiting kennels to ensure our babies would be okay for their four day stay. They would be emancipated by my husband on his return on May 4th.

On May 1st with trepidation we dropped Moe and Willa off at the boarding kennel prior to our flight. Although it was to be a short stay we were like parents watching a son or daughter going off college for the first time. Unaware of our hearts breaking, they happily trotted away with the attendant.

On my husband’s return, at first it appeared Moe and Willa’s stay in the kennel had gone well. Then he discovered Willa, ever a nervous Nellie, had licked raw patches on her back legs which had become infected. She has been subjected to wearing the cone of shame until they are fully healed. Moe was bitten by some “bug” in his lower abdomen, which may or may not have happened at the kennel. Seeking relief from the itchiness, or simply seeking revenge he attempted to lick his abdomen raw. Before Moe inflicted any serious damage my husband put a cone on him and he will have to brave this indignity until the bites marks and any desire to lick the area is gone.

My trip extended to May 16th which meant my husband was home alone with the dogs for 12 days. He usually works away from home for four days, every second week, so this extended time at home was a bonanza for Moe and Willa. My husband loves his dogs and ensures me the most effective way to train them is to “love them good”. This methods requires administering lots of treats and belly rubs and I have been warned that it may take 12-14 years for them to be fully trained.

One of his favorite games with the dogs is to play 52 pick-up, which is similar to the kids game where one person declares in a loud voice “52 pick-up” while spraying a full deck of cards across the floor for others to pick up. The latest version does not require any verbal declarations, only the scattering of kibble across the floor for the dogs to pick up. Moe and Willa love this game and wait ever alert for kibble to come raining down. They fully believe the adage “you snooze, you loose”. When my husband is at home they sleep lightly, waiting for the sound of kibble hitting the floor, or the sound of the door to the “treat cabinet” opening.

All the love, attention and food usually means that after my husband leaves, to Moe Restingwork on site at his clients, the dogs are exhausted. Fully resigned to the fact that no food will be raining down during his absence, they find a quiet place to sleep. I do not see them until meal time. This week after my husband has been home for such an extended time, I may have to wake them up for their dinner.