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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 36: Fern and West and Dusty and Ivy

Monday, November 2, 2020


Ivy and Fern

Both of our cats (Dusty and Ivy) LOVE  our Belgian Tervuren Fern.  She is fluffy and warm and gentle. They weren’t so sure about the new H57 (Heinz 57) West at first, but West knew immediately that he had entered THEIR home.  He initially met Dusty at the doorway into Sean’s room.  Each of our adult children have their “own” seldom-used bedrooms.  It’s where we put their stuff until they next come to visit us, or we go to visit them.  They have fled this state for great opportunities, but by them each having a room in our home it feels like they are here, or at least will be. West looked at the cat without locking eyes and immediately rolled onto his back exposing his unprotected belly to his superior.  Dusty stared briefly at the new beast, blinked once and retreated to the top of the bed where she could watch the doorway from a safe distance.  He could stay, if that pleased the humans, but he would only be tolerated, not loved.  West righted himself and sat in the doorway staring toward the queen cat on her queen-bed-throne.  He whined to let her know that he would like to play.  Dusty blinked slowly, “There shall be no play today or ever.  You shall worship me from a distance, but now you  are dismissed.”

Queen Dusty

West stood, turned and trotted across the hardwood to our bedroom at the end of the hall.  Fern was napping on her red and black plaid blanket in front of my Grandma Ham’s antique oak vanity.  He nudged her under her arm with his wet nose, “What’s up with the cat?”
Fern opened her eyes slowly, “Which one?”
“There’re TWO???!!!  It is old and gray and white.”
“That’s Dusty.  Are you bleeding?”
“Then she will let you stay, take a nap.”
West was excited, “No way.  I have to find the other cat!”  He turned and sprinted down the hallway, made a u-turn at the foyer and down the stairs, tongue flapping from the side of his grinning maw.
Fern rolled her eyes back under their lids, sighed, and resumed her nap.

Olive and Ivy and Dusty

In four huge bounds, West arrived at the base of the staircase.  Ivy was sitting in front of the 125-gallon African Cichlid aquarium waiting for the new smell and sound to come down the stairs.  She was not surprised to see West, this cat had been spying on him from her various perches throughout the house.  West was surprised though, as he tried to put on the brakes and slid and scrambled across the tile in the downstairs anteroom.  His path ended a few inches from his quarry. He leaned forward and touched noses with this younger, more friendly-looking soft blue-gray cat.  He sat and cocked his head to the left, “What’s your name?”
Ivy hissed, swatted him on the nose and turned, running past the bar and into the rec. room.
“Chase. I like that game!”  he scrambled in pursuit, colliding with the antique tin coffee bin under the carpenter’s bench bar.  I heard the commotion from the workshop, started toward the noise and found West receiving a flurry of furry nose swats under the pool table.
“Sorry boy, no excitement for you for another four months.”  I dragged him by his collar across the room to his crate in the sunroom.  “No fun until your heartworms are gone.”  West was sad, Ivy was disappointed, Dusty was victorious, Fern was asleep.  Calm and order were spreading over our home in the woods.

The Spoiling of the Heartworm Patient

Kristen and I researched how to keep a crated dog.  The repeated answer was to give him things to keep him interested such as:
•    Treat Puzzles, which he quickly solved and ate, puzzle and all.
•    Chew toys, which are almost immediately dispatched.  “Aggressive Chewer” toys do not last long.  A “guaranteed” Kong frisbee lasted  3½  minutes before it became literally hundreds of shreds and chunks of purple and green rubber resulting in frustration and eventual suicide attempts by our Roomba.
•    Water Buffalo horns worked for a while until they became slimy and stinky.  One disappeared, not a good sign.  I gathered the few that had pieces left and threw them deep into the woods to confuse future fossil hunters.
•    A food dish puzzle.  It’s difficult to picture, but  it is essentially a plate of 4” tall lime green plastic stalagmites. The dry dog food pellets that rest between the spikes can only be devoured if the dog flicks them with his tongue to the edges where he can bite them. It expands the typical 5 ¾  seconds dog feeding time to several minutes.  Compared to Fern’s two bites and a slurp, West is now a leisurely feaster due to puzzle training – even though the plate was long ago retired to the back of a cabinet.
•    Car rides.  Most Fridays Kristen and I go to LaMex after work.  Chips and salsa, average Mexican fare but the BEST Golden Margheritas that we have had ANYWHERE (including Mexico) lead to the expected, and repeated 7:00pm Marg. nap, 12:30am Pepto Bismol shots, and all-day Saturday hangover.  We used to take my Mom as her weekly treat, we still go there regularly when our kids are in town, and it has become Kristen’s and my weekly work decompression meeting.  One Friday, Kristen and I had an out of town work meeting.  We didn’t expect to get back to Joliet until 6:00pm, but the meeting and traffic went well and at 4:15 we were exiting I-55 at Rte. 52.  I glanced over my right shoulder at my wife, “No one expects us back.”
She responded, “Let’s pickup the dogs and take a drive before LaMex.”
I forgot where we drove, but I know that Kristen suggested (this one was NOT my idea!) that we could leave the dogs in the car while we supped at LaMex (typically 30 minutes or so). 
After too many chips, Steak Diablo, and one massive Margherita each we hefted our bloated bellies to my burgundy Chevy Tahoe – the company flagship for heavy highway work.  Fern was sitting in the driver’s seat keeping an eye on all movement in the parking lot.  West was sitting angelically in the back where we had left him.  We should have been suspicious, West is never “angelic.”
Sunday afternoon we prepared to drive Kristen’s parents to her older sister’s home in Villa Park for a family dinner.  Kristen helped her parents into the center seats of the Tahoe while I prepared the vehicle for departure.  Kristen had just climbed into the front passenger seat when Mom questioned, “Where’s my seat belt?”  Dad added, “I can’t find mine either.”  I had elderly parents, elderly grandparents, elderly aunts and elderly uncles.  At some point buckling and unbuckling seatbelts had become a difficult chore for each of them.  Kristen’s parents must now be entering that stage of life.  I sighed, unbuckled my belt, opened my driver’s door and jumped the 2 ½ stories to the driveway below.  Kristen did the same on her side.  We opened the middle seat doors and prepared to assist our elders.  Kristen and I came to the same identically timed recognition and conclusion from opposite sides of the vehicle. In unison we exclaimed, then lamented, “There are no seat belts…….West….crap!”  There was literally not a shred of any of the three middle seat seatbelts left.  West wasn’t being “angelic” on Friday. He, like us that night, had a belly ache.  Unlike us, our meal was $35, his was $550!

Separation Anxiety

Once West was cured of heartworms we had to train him to be alone in the house outside of his crate.  We thought that Fern’s companionship would help.  It didn’t.  I have lost track of all of the items that West chewed but it included several of Kristen’s shoes, a sofa pillow and six dog beds. The dogs now sleep on blankets- cheaper and apparently less tasty than fluffy dogbeds.  On a warm morning we decided to leave West on the screen porch. Within 30 minutes he had pulled the upholstered cushions off of the sofa and two armchairs.  The porch was covered with shreds of material and chunks of foam.  The winning, but unfortunately not the most expensive destruction was when Kristen left a bag of library books on the floor of the foyer.  When I came home from work I found a book at the front door, two downstairs, one on our bed, two in Sean’s room, some pieces in Rick’s room, several pages in the Great Room and the kitchen floor was covered in pages from different books.  The librarian was very kind. Two of the books were old and would not be replaced. Four could be repaired, two had to be replaced, and the several that just had a bite mark or two on their covers weren’t that bad and we wouldn’t be charged for the damage.  $125 for repairs and replacements.  It was time to train this dog.

The Result of a Hunger for Literature

I called the trainer at PetSmart.  She was very helpful.  She said it was classic separation anxiety.  We should read a book entitled, “For the Love of a Dog”, and get special all day treats for when we leave.  I settled on cow femurs that were filled with fake marrow.  However, they were only useful for 1½ days before the dogs became bored with them because the marrow was beyond the reach of their tongues.  My Scottish blood boiled at the waste, so I used a drill to remove the remaining marrow, mixed it with peanut butter, then repacked the bones.  Then I started packing other dog treats into the bones. One bone per dog every time we both left the house. The dogs were now excited instead of anxious when we left home. After a few months I would give them empty bones every few days.  It was disappointing for them, but still kind of a treat, and the other days were good PB&Y (peanut butter and yuck) bones. Then I would skip the bones completely every once in a while.  Today bones are a very seldom special treat and we don’t have to deal with regular anxiety chewing.  Engineering processes and research work for everything, even pets.

A Few Pics

Fern and West at the Library, Hungry for More Books
West barking up the wrong tree

When he was first allowed to roam the yard after his heartworms were gone, West would sit for hours at the top of the brick path along the side of our house.  He would stare into the woods and whine softly.  In this pic you can see the path at left edge-center. 
One morning I stood behind him for a few minutes.  There was a handsome red fox sitting in the woods staring back at him.  West and “Big Red” have a game.  Red will take a few steps into the yard over the invisible fence.  West will start barking a accelerate into high gear, only to have the fox step back outside the line and sit when the would be attacker gets close.  Eventually the fox works his way from one side of the yard to other by walking along the swamp, on the other side of the invisible fence.  West completely loses his patience with each foxy step.  We have other foxes that West also tries to catch, but his one is actually playing from a safe distance, and its fun to watch.  Every morning when we let him out, pre-dawn he runs to “fox-corner” to bark and wait for his friend.  Sorry neighbors!

West Watching Foxes from the Porch

Unfortunately we don’t see foxes every day, so West decides to worry the groundhog families and once he locates them in one of their burrows (there are four, two of which he can get near) he barks incessantly, and becomes “beagle-deaf” when we try to get him to stop. 
Raccoons are the worst.  Once West sees a raccoon in a tree he becomes convinced the ALL trees must have racoons that must be barked at.

I Always Wanted a Dog that Would Bring the Paper to Me...
We Blocked the Dogs in the Downstairs so We Could Seal the Travertine Floors, 
They Prefer to be Where the People Are

Kristen and I have had several philosophical discussions about the pets in our lives.  We first got a pet as practice before we had children.  Then we had pets as companions for the kids and to teach them responsibility.  Now we have them so that the big house doesn’t seem so empty.  
But the most important thing that pets have taught us is flexibility and to accept, even expect, non-perfection.  The most ingrained trait of an engineer is to plan.  Some would say over-plan, but they are incorrect.  Another problem with engineers?  We are never wrong…
When you plan for a big party, and your dog decides to eat the porch furniture – you learn how to adapt.  Quickly.
When the dog eats the birthday cake?  See above.
The new carpet gets a pet stain?  Nothing is ever perfect.
EVERYTHING coated in pet hair, including your black suit and you don’t notice it until you enter the meeting room.  See above.

Pets and children humble you.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, and we are blessed to have them both.

Have a beautiful day!


A Boy and His Dogs