March on the Plains


Yesterday morning Martha and I joined the group for a walk on the Plains. We were a little late, and the road where we parked was hard packed dirt, glazed with old ice. Not a great walking or driving surface. Martha got off to a slow start, obliged as she was to sniff everything. We finally got going along the packed down snowmobile trails and caught up with the group.

It was pretty cold – high teens – but I was warmly dressed. The trail was a little tricky, because if you stepped off the packed snow, your foot went down deep into the soft powder on the sides of the trail.  The group moved along at a brisk pace.  The dogs were quite a mix – three large labs, a golden, a beagle, and few tiny ones including a chihuahua, a teacup yorkie, and some others. It was a great walk, even if we were only out for about an hour.

I expected that Martha would be a little sore afterwards, since we’d been inactive for so long and she had pushed herself pretty hard.  I gave her some pain meds when we got home. Later that evening, when we were at my folk’s house for dinner, she was pretty stiff. I stayed overnight, but I slept on the couch on the first floor because Martha wasn’t able to climb the stairs. Uh oh.

She hadn’t improved much overnight, and I gave her some more meds when we got home this morning. She has an appointment to see the chiropractic/acupuncture vet on Wednesday. She can just about get onto the couch, but can’t leap up to the bed, and it breaks my heart to see her like this.

She will be twelve in May.


Tennis Balls and the Mysteries of Laundry

2014-12-06 21.27.11 2014-12-06 21.27.05LIke many a frugal Yankee homemaker, I use tennis balls in my dryer to help fluff heavy loads of laundry such as sheets and mattress covers so that they will dry evenly. I have amassed quite a collection of tennis balls over the years. I’ve never had to pay for a one – my walking route with Martha includes the area just outside the local public tennis courts, and stray balls have inexplicably  found their way out of the woods and brush and into my cellar for use in the dryer.

When Martha was younger, I attempted to use these stray tennis balls as toys. I soon learned that she and I had very different ideas about the recreational uses of these fuzzy  yellow orbs.  I’d heard tales of ball-obsessed Labradors, who endlessly chase and return slimy, filthy balls to their owners for hours on end.  Alas, Martha was not one of them.  She’d retrieve the ball maybe two, three, or four times, but that was it.  She quickly lost interest in the sport, and instead showed great delight in chewing on the ball so as to carefully and delicately peel off the fuzzy covering, leaving a broken and ruined wreck all over the living room floor.

She showed a similar attitude towards soft, fuzzy stuffed animals.  I’ve heard tell of dogs who lovingly carried their stuffed animal “babies” around for hours, tucking them carefully into bed, and generally doting on them. Martha could disembowel and shred a stuffed toy in less than five minutes, leaving a huge messy cloud of stuffing and shredded furry covering  all across the room. Frozen beef marrow bones would keep her entertained for nearly an hour. I was shocked to learn that many dogs take several days to dig the marrow out of such bones. She’s such a lady.

I am pleased to report that her destructive tendencies are strictly limited to inanimate objects.  (She has also been seen to attack plastic grocery shopping bags and stray hub caps in the wild.)  She is perfectly polite and gentle to all living creatures, and has been known to show special fondness for puppies and small breed dogs. She also loves people, (though not so much being petted) and seems to understand the need for special calmness around small children and those who are elderly or in wheelchairs.  My sweet puppy.  I guess her values are in the right place.

Anyway, back to the mysteries of laundry.  How is it hat when I put tennis balls in with the sheets and pillowcases, the tennis balls somehow find their way inside the pillowcases in the dryer?  A free (used) tennis ball to the first person who can explain that to me.

Not only Emily.

Headstone of William S. Clark, West Cemetery, Amherst, MA USA
Headstone of William S. Clark, West Cemetery, Amherst, MA USA

I walk Martha in West Cemetery nearly every day, all year round, rain or shine.  I frequently see people wandering around as though they are looking for a particular gravesite.  Most of the time, they are trying to find Emily Dickinson’s grave, so I point them in that direction and off they go. It’s fairly easy to identify these folks, because they usually arrive in a late model sedan with Connecticut license plates – a rental car, for sure.

One recent mid-day, Martha and I spotted such a vehicle, parked near the Town Tomb.  Three well-dressed Asian men got out, and looked around as though seeking – a particular gravesite.  I approached and asked them if they were looking for Emily.  To my surprise, they said no.  They were looking for someone named “Clark.”

They explained that they were from Hokkaido University, and they were looking for the grave of William S. Clark.  Clark, the third president of Massachusetts Agricultural College, had later been hired by the Japanese government as a foreign advisor to establish the Sapporo Agricultural College (SAC), now Hokkaido University. Although he was only there for eight months,  Clark made a huge impression on the Japanese, and there is a large statute of him on the campus of Hokkaido University. He was buried in West Cemetery.

I remembered that the Town of Amherst has an online map and directory  of West Cemetery, so I looked it up on my phone and soon enough we were standing before a large, white marble stone which bore the name of William S,. Clark.

Somewhere in Hokkaido, Japan, there is a photograph of three well-dressed Japanese professors, standing with me and Martha next to William Clark’s grave.

Beware the Flabrador, my friends.

When Martha was a puppy, I took her to the vet for regular check-ups and weigh-ins.  I first met her when she was only four weeks old, and brought her home at eight weeks.  I was so excited to watch her grow up and gain weight.  She was such a beautiful, healthy puppy.

So you can imagine my surprise and embarrassment when the vet gently informed me that Martha’s remarkable weight gain had gone a bit too far.  She  was getting fat.  It was then I learned that certain breeds are especially predisposed to weight gain.  Martha was becoming a Flabrador.  What do to?

Changes in diet and exercise help both dogs and humans to lose weight.  The techniques are not mysterious or difficult.  This article about dog weight loss covers the basics.   Martha learned to love a wide variety of vegetables, including bell peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, and leftover salad (with dressing, no onions or croutons, thank you.)  I learned (in consultation with the vet) that she could be perfectly happy and well nourished while eating about half or less of the recommended portion size on the dog food bag.  The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to resist those soft brown eyes and that sweet face looking up at me whenever food was anywhere around.  Drooling was even worse.  With practice, however, you, too can learn how to resist such a beggar.  No matter how much he tries to convince you otherwise,  your dog is really not in danger of starvation.  Just say no.  And stop looking!

Keeping Martha slim has been a work in progress.  She’s at her ideal weight now, at nine years old, and I know that makes it easier for her to get around and stay active.  One of the greatest risks for older dogs is excess weight gain placing a burden on the dog’s circulation, breathing, and mobility.  Any tendency to arthritis, dysplasia, or muscle weakness is made much worse by excess weight.  The challenge of keeping your dog fit and trim is well worth the health benefits.  If we could only manage to take such good care of ourselves.