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The Wonka’s: A Case Study on Dogs and Minimalism

Mason and I walk our four dogs twice a day, which means driving to Springfield once in the am and once in the pm. In the last quarter-mile of our ride, we pass a small pink house that we ignored for years. For one thing, they didn’t have any animals. For another, it’s a beat-down home with a muddy, junk-filled backyard. The only remarkable feature is its color, a dingy pink but pink nonetheless.

In retrospect, I’m sure I didn’t pay attention to the house because without consciously realizing it, I judged it and the family who lived there. And I’m sure my judgment was based on the capitalist conviction that being poor is bad. But, just like so many times before, a dog set me straight. Dogs are the Buddha’s of minimalism because they don’t see external wealth. They only see what’s on the inside.

We first spotted the mutt at the pink house two years ago. He was sleeping on their porch under a sign reading, “Beware of Dog.” Disregarding his blissful pose, he looked like the kind of dog who causes wariness. A beast, he must weigh 90 pounds. His coloring, brown and black, suggests a Rottweiler and Labrador mix. So does his physique because he has the brawn of the former and the snout of the latter.

The sight of that brute napping so peacefully under that sign was so funny we started paying attention to the pink house, so much so that the family even earned a nickname. Two grandfathers, a youngish couple, and three girls, ages 5 to 10-ish, live in a space that can’t be more than 800 square feet. Because of their crowded living circumstances, we couldn’t help but think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, thus they became the Wonka’s.

Now, we call the dog Mr. Wonka, and “check in” on him every time we ride to town. One of the first things I noticed is that he’s never leashed and doesn’t wear a collar. At any moment, he could run away and leave the pink house, its slumped roof, and grimy walls behind, but he doesn’t. And why would he? Completely unaware of his social status, that damn mutt is undeniably happy. From his swinging tail to his slobbering smile, his body language reads like a neon sign glowing, “Welcome Home.”

After a few months of paying attention, I began to realize the people in that house are as happy as their dog. The Wonka’s are a family-oriented bunch. Every morning, the grandfathers, dad, and all three girls stand outside to wait for the school bus. And Mr. Wonka is right there with them. He escorts the kids to the bus, then meanders back to grandpa, so they can watch the sunrise in Robertson County.

On weekends, the porch is never empty. Mom and dad are usually holding court with the neighbors. The grandpa’s are grilling on the hibachi or drinking beer from bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Apparently, the Wonka girls didn’t get the memo that kids don’t play outside anymore. Over the years, they have built forts, rode bikes, raced relay-style, and sloshed through mud puddles, all while dressed in bedazzled pink dresses. Nobody in that family ever looks sad, angry, dejected or any of the subconscious feelings I associate with poverty. Instead, their body language mirrors Mr. Wonka’s, as though everybody is exactly where they want to be.

Last week, I got stopped behind a garbage truck and sat in front of the pink house for a solid three minutes. The girls were standing in a kiddie pool. With clasped hands, they were surrounding Mr. Wonka and giggling. Uncontrollably. When I saw that mutt, I started giggling too. Looking perfectly content, he wore a blue cape and a magician’s hat complete with a tassel on top. He was big enough to plow through those girls and shred his cape within seconds, but he didn’t. Instead, he sat there as though wearing Dumbledore-type attire was completely normal. I circled the block twice so I could see that silly, happy dog again and again.

Overcoming subconscious social prejudices is a constant struggle for me. Minimalism is a lifestyle but it’s also a belief system that strives to strip away consumerism and all its superficial connotations. When I first saw the pink house, I disregarded it because what can be fun about being poor? But, when I stopped seeing the home through the lens of materialism and started seeing it through the eyes of a dog, I realized the Wonka’s have something way more important than material wealth. They have happiness. They have each other.

Now, Mason and I wave when we pass the pink house, and they wave to us, probably wondering, “Who are those crazy people with four dogs hanging out of a Civic?”

One day, I plan on telling them they are my daily inspiration.

Meet Duke: A Flea-Infested Mutt

Yesterday, when Donna met Duke, a year old hound mutt, so many fleas infested his skin that he has to spend the next few nights at the Greenbrier-Springfield Animal Hospital. Duke had ripped the fur off his hind. Now, his skin is raw and infected. His ears are swollen from thousands of bites.

Duke’s family had called Donna, ICHBA‘s head honcho, a few days ago, saying that they loved Duke, but couldn’t keep him because he went to the bathroom in their neighbor’s yard. As always, Donna approached the situation fully prepared to be the diplomat and try to solve the problem without a family losing their beloved dog. But after she saw Duke’s physical condition, she immediately removed him from the premises and refused to bring him back when the family asked if they could say goodbye. She was too mad to see them. I can’t blame her. Witnessing neglected dogs is the hardest part of her job, hands down.

As soon as Duke feels better, he’ll be moving in with an ICHBA foster family, and Mason and I will start leash-training him. To read more about how to prevent flea infestations, click here. It’s especially important at this time of year because fleas thrive in the heat and humidity.

Poison Ivy and Dogs

Ade and Tecnu(Adriana: “I spread poison ivy between my mom’s toes.”)

This post is specifically written for poison ivy sufferers.

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you’ll know one of my favorite things about dogs is sleeping with them. There is nothing like being surrounded by three or four dogs tucked all around me, feeling about as warm and safe as it’s possible to feel.

The problem (particularly at this time of year) is poison ivy. I get it everywhere and anywhere. The dogs trample through the plants, get the evil oil on their fur, then unknowingly transfer it to me when we’re all peacefully snuggled up in our den.

Since the foliage started blooming last month, I’ve had poison on my forehead, chin, calves, lower back, inside my belly button and ears, behind my knees, and between my toes. Right now, small red bumps are scattered up and down both arms, reaching from my hands to my armpits.

When I was kid, my father would rip the rash open with a wire brush, then poor something like bleach or peroxide over it to dry it up fast. And I loved it. There is nothing that feels as good as stopping that itch. Nothing.

Well, in my wisdom, I’ve decided that the bleach method seems a little extreme. It did leave a scar or two. And besides, I’m not that brave anymore. But luckily, I don’t have to stop cuddling with my freaks because I found a decent equivalent to an effective but possibly dangerous childhood remedy. It’s an over-the-counter liquid cleanser sold at pharmacies called Tecnu that washes away the poisonous oils. The cleanser doesn’t clear it up immediately, but it does stop those relentlessly itching bumps from spreading any farther.

During this lush, poison ivy-rich season, so I can sleep with my pack without any disruptions, I’m showering with Tecnu daily. 🙂

 

A Howling-fest at the Farnival

Last night, I was fast asleep. It was probably midnight. The bedroom window was open because the weather this week has been close to perfection, cool, sunny days with even cooler nights. Dogs were snuggled around my feet and behind my legs. It was like a cocoon of warmth inside our king-size bed.

Surprisingly, the coyotes cackling woke me up before the dogs; maybe it’s because coyote’s initial cries always sound more human than animal, or maybe the dogs were just sleeping so soundly it took them a moment to wake up. Whatever the reason, a few seconds later, as the coyote’s keening rose to a frantic crescendo, six dogs – all except arthritis-ridden Dessie and crated Tony- leaped up and bolted through the doggie door.

The dogs sprinted to the fence’s perimeter at the farthest edge of our backyard, closest to the forest, and barked, signaling something uninvited was dangerously close. Instead of retreating, the coyotes shouted back with their eerie yipping. They couldn’t have been more than a hundred yards away.

After a long minute of two packs – one wild and one domesticated – bickering back and forth, the clashing barks turned into howls and within moments I couldn’t distinguish coyote from dog. They were all howling together in perfect unison. It was beautiful and disturbing all at once.

Meadow’s Bad Hair Day(s)

Mead and ball(Meadow, pre-haircut)

I know my favorite canine philosopher Cesar Millan would say that I’m projecting human feelings onto my dog, but Meadow was not happy about her haircut for at least three days. She normally wears her hair long and flowing, but after a skunk sprayed her, we had to shave it off.

Her moping started as soon as we picked her up from the “salon.” We had brought two other dogs, Tony and Adriana, along for the ride, and she greeted them both with an uncharacteristic growl. She didn’t play in the mosh pit for several days nor would she sleep in our bed.

The other dogs weren’t sure about her new haircut either. The morning after we had her fur shaved Meadow stood up on the couch, and Adriana started snarling at her as though she didn’t recognize her. Like who’s the new chick?

Things finally turned around on Friday. Meadow, still brooding about her short fur, trotted beside me under a drizzling sky as we walked down the bluff towards the trails in our backyard. At that point, it’d been pouring for twenty-four straight hours, so by mid morning on Friday our normally dry creek had more water flowing through it than it had all winter. I’d say two feet of rushing water, enough to make crossing sloppy but not enough to stop us. We’ve had a lot of precipitation in Middle Tennessee over the past month, and sunshine has seemed nonexistent.

Meadow hopped into a deeper portion – maybe three feet – created by the jagged edges of the limestone rocks lining the creek bed like a dragon’s spine. And suddenly, as though a switch had flipped, she stopped sulking and started acting like the fun-loving Meadow we all know and love. In fact, I couldn’t get her out of the creek. The water splashing on her nearly naked body must have felt like a shower after a five-day camping trip, because she leaped and sprinted, diving her face under, then licking at the drops that sprayed off her muzzle. I realized she’s probably never felt water so close to her skin before, and that she must be a skinny dipper at heart. In order to celebrate her newly discovered hobby, everyday this weekend I’ve taken her down back and let her romp.

I don’t know whether I was projecting human emotions onto Meadow about her bad hair-day mood or not. But I do know that when she gets wet, even with her fur sheared she still smells like skunk. I’m not even joking. This is one of those patience things isn’t it? Like I just have to wait it out?

Tony Starts Leash Training

tony hand(Meadow and Tony a.k.a T-bone)

Our nine-week-old foster puppy Tony has officially started leash training. Yesterday morning we attached a slim, lightweight rope to his collar and initially just let him drag it along. We didn’t try to hold the leash or guide him. We just let him get used to it being there.

Tony scampered behind us on the paved Springfield Greenway, rump waddling back and forth as he tried to keep up with the pack. Tony wears an ink-black, thick and poofy coat – maybe some sort of poodle mix – and gets hot fast, even in thirty-degrees; after a quarter-mile his baby-pink tongue hung to the side.

At first he was ferocious with his new leash, grabbing and shaking it like he was taking down his archenemy. But eventually he gave up trying to kill it and started carrying the red sinister string in his mouth instead. Once or twice I caught him barking at it.

It was a cold gray morning, but Tony didn’t care. In his world the sun never stops shining. When he’d pause to sniff something of interest (and there’s a lot of interesting things for a puppy on a rural greenway,) he’d lag behind for ten to twenty yards, then tuck back his ears for the least air resistance possible and sprint full throttle to catch up.

None of the other four dogs we had with us were thrilled about walking beside T-bone because, like everything, he tried turned walking into a game, and he’d jump at their necks, legs, and ribs with his sharp piranha-like teeth gleaming white.

At one point he leaped at Meadow, latched onto her neck, and clung to her hair, literally hanging completely in the air. Meadow is a patient dog, but enough being enough, she reprimanded him with a low menacing growl and a sharp nip. He yelped but we ignored him, letting the pack teach him his boundaries without interfering. The dogs do it better than us anyway. Mason and I have to repeat rules in our awkward human language a bazillion times, but the pack reprimands Tony once, and he listens.

After a good mile or so, occasionally, I’d pick up the leash and hold it, letting him walk right beside a hound-mutt Rosie, who gets all serious when she migrates, and like Meadow, wasn’t putting up with an ounce of Tony’s silliness.

Tony would act great for a little while, black fluff ball trotting alongside the big dogs. Then he’d realize he was attached to my hand and start yanking and pulling. I’d drop the leash until he got his groove back, then try again.

This went on for the entire four miles; all in all, we – woman and puppy – probably walked in tune for only about 1000 feet. The good news is that when Tony got home from his first leash-training session, he took a solid two-hour nap. Every once in a while he’d jerk his tiny paws, like he was dreaming about walking with the big dawgs.