Tag Archives: animal behavior

Morning Symphony

Trudy and I continue to “camp out” in our guesthouse while our home undergoes renovation and restoration. Because of a flood, our wooden floors required replacing and we had to move out for three weeks. While we were at it, we decided to do a bit of updating as well. Fortunately we had a guesthouse to move into rather than having to move to a motel (a dog friendly one, of course). We plan on moving back to our usual house in just a few days. Hoorah!

While we have felt frustration over our inability to access certain items, my morning routine has remained unchanged. It begins with a canine symphony, or should I call it a canine cacophony?

You see, after I shower and begin to dress for the day, my two Border collies, Bandit and Bella, begin barking like crazed dogs. They become so excited by the prospect of going out onto the ranch. They are not at all patient


“Two-footed humans sure move slowly!”

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Jack, our little brown dog, appears nonplussed by the whole matter. If anything Jack places himself between the Borders and me, attempting to prevent the overly excited collies from jumping up  while I totter about on one leg, putting on my jeans.

I am a good dog in the morning, not like those noisy Border collies.”

I’ve found that the barking of the Border collies cannot be suppressed. I try repeatedly to shush them verbally, but to no avail. I even resort to gently squeezing their jaws together. Nothing works. Bella, bless her little canine heart, has even taken to nipping at my legs (very disconcerting for me), if I don’t move along at her desired pace. She clearly herds me in the direction of the pickup and becomes visibly frustrated if I need to double back.

Unfortunately, even on reaching the pickup, the morning symphony of dog barking doesn’t stop. My good neighbor and friend, Tom Norris, says he can always tell where I am on the ranch because of the dogs’ barking. You see, sounds carries very well in Live Oak Valley.

I suppose my dogs’ barking is a new form of G.P.S., i.e. godawful pet sounds! Or maybe it should be C.P.S, Canine Positioning System. Eventually the dogs stop barking, although I suspect it may be because of doggie hoarseness.

My frequency of blog posting (and FB posting) has slowed lately. This absence results from the time I’ve  devoted to writing another book. I am entering the final phases of finishing my next book (well prior to sending it off to potential agents and publishers and the lengthy process that is sure to follow). My book is tentatively titled Hitler: Prescription for Defeat.

The book seeks to answer the “Holy Grail” of questions about Hitler- that is, what was it that affected his reasoning to the extent that he made such colossal blunders in judgement toward the end of World War II. The premise of my book is that Hitler’s failing health and abnormal personality largely explain his errors in judgment and aided the Allies in achieving victory. The book goes into Hitler’s major and minor illnesses along with describing his unusual personality characteristics and how these aspects worked against him. His health is spliced into a number of the major battles of World War II. Wish me luck!

I have  received feedback from my beta readers on Hitler: Prescription For Defeat and have made the necessary edits. I feel so grateful for the time and expertise of Janet, LaNelle, Tom, and Madeline for carrying out this helpful task. Thank you. Extra sets of eyes prove very useful!

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance to read my first book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, I hope you will pick it up at your favorite bookstore or order a copy. The book has won awards, and received generous comments from Amazon readers. These reviews on Amazon are extremely welcome and encouraging.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My absolute favorite feedback about Carrying The Black Bag came in the form of a picture from a family member who was at the time training as a Pediatric surgical nurse.

This young reader gave me a great morale boost by reading my book between surgical cases

Taylor McNeill, a surgical nurse and dear niece, reading my book between cases

The days at Medicine Spirit Ranch are lengthening and warming, and it won’t be long until Central Texas looks like the picture below. Spring with the wildflowers is hard to beat!

Bluebonnets and Paints

My Friend: The Great Blue Heron

Okay, okay calling the Great Blue Heron a friend just might be an overstatement, but developments of late have made me wonder.

Great Blue Heron in flight

Over the last few years I’ve written several times about a Great Blue Heron that frequents our stock tank and how he waits patiently for me to toss out fish food. I’ve referred to this as my “chumming for heron.” After I retreat a safe distance, the heron flies in on magnificent wings and and crouches waiting for a fish to swim by, or else dives from five to ten feet into the pond to retrieve his meal.

In this almost daily feeding ritual, the heron is used to my presence. I can now get within twenty yards or so of the Heron before  it with its stiff legs struts away or flies away.

For the last several weeks, to my surprise, when I arrive at the large stock tank at our other ranch a mile or two away from the heron’s haunt, the Great Blue Heron flies in to meet me up with me there. He picks a spot to perch on a ledge, the bank of the pond, or on top of a tall tree while I go about throwing out fish food. Again the heron uses my fish feeding as a hunting opportunity.

A strange feeling overcomes me when I see the giant bird circling languidly above. He clearly seems to  monitor my terrestrial progress. Previously I’ve written of the many heron myths, all of which indicate the heron predicts good luck. He is almost like a ancient Greek god who follows my actions with interest or at least with mirth. I find myself wondering what he sees from the great heights achieved in his flight. I suspect he has wonderful eyesight, as he can spot a fish several feet below the surface of the pond. While I am pretty sure about his good eyesight, I have no idea about his hearing. Also I’ve never heard him utter a single sound. He is my silent watcher on land, water, and in the air.

The heron shows adaptation, I suppose. He has learned that fishing is more productive after I summon the small fish to the surface of the ponds. Perhaps its behavior is really no different from the cows who carefully attend my coming and will draw near for my spreading of the tasty range cubes. Also the horses on spotting me will actually gallop behind the pickup when they see me heading for their feed trough.

The relationship with the heron represents symbiosis, that is a mutually beneficial relationship between the Great Blue Heron and his human rancher/fish feeder. I know that I sense wonder from the magnificent bird and feel strangely comforted, knowing he silently watches over me, even if  just for reasons of hunger. The benefit for the heron is obvious and can be seen by its ample girth.

Whereas privacy remains a concern for many, and people feel they are being watched in public; I sense something different. I sense a benevolent and silent watcher, looking after me. Thank you Great Blue Heron, but leave a few fish for me.

Carrying the Black Bag book

My book is in bookstores or online (or contact me and I’ll send it). If a speaker is needed for your event, contact me as I love to share these stories with others either via print or in person. Keep the book in mind for birthday presents or other gift occasions where you wish to present a positive view of dealing with health issues.

 

 

Buddy’s Place In The Sun

Many years ago I read The Good Earth. Pearl Buck wrote this magnificent book in the early 1930s and won a Pulitzer prize in 1932 for it and received a Nobel in 1938. The story covers multiple generations of a Chinese family- a family that had to struggle against all types of external and internal challenges. Particularly vivid in my memory is the book’s ending where the old Chinese grandfather, who having run his race, retires to his comfortable chair, occupying his richly deserved place in the sun. He sits remembering and enjoying a deep sense of satisfaction from his long efforts.

I am reminded of this daily when I observe my thirteen-year-old Border collie, Buddy, and his aging behaviors. Due to infirmity he wisely retired from herding cattle over a year ago. I wrote the story, Buddy- The Slacker early on but did not get around to posting it until March 30 of 2018. In the story Buddy is only a half-grown dog but amazingly manages to break up a ferocious fight between two huge bulls. After so doing, he ran the neighbor’s bull off and then returned our bull unassisted through a forest and around rocks and streams to our ranch. This proved to be the single best herding achievement by a dog that I’ve ever witnessed. After witnessing this event, I no longer referred to the half-grown Border collie as Slacker.

One days several years later I was unaware of a Longhorn cow sneaking up on me while I fiddled with a difficult gate. Buddy saw the approaching cow and easily could have sped off. Instead he stood his ground, short canines against very long, heavy horns. The cow thumped me many times before Buddy helped to drive her back. I can think of no better example of Buddy’s loyalty.

While Buddy no longer herds, he still enjoys riding around the ranch in the back of my pickup. I must lift Buddy up and into the bed of my pickup to gain his rightful place of honor. His old gray snout becomes animated when riding in the back of the pickup and surveying his ranch. His ears perk up, his dull eyes become livelier and dart from object to object, and he stands erect and proud as if for a few moments his joints no longer pain him. He points his nose into the air and listens as intently as his old ears allow.

It’s my ranch and I still look out for it.

Because of his advanced age, Buddy has largely stopped going on walks with Bella, Little Jack, and me. He will usually await our return while waiting patiently beside my pickup that in the driveway. The effort to take a walk on his painful limbs must have simply become too great, I suppose, and he has taken this commonsense approach.

Buddy has multiple beds in the house which is only appropriate because the majority of his day is spent napping. He has a doggie bed in the study where he keeps track of me while I distractedly click away on my computer. Buddy has another bed “in his office” located in a corner behind a screen where he monitors the goings on in the living room. Buddy also has a doggie bed in our bedroom where he catches many a daytime nap.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun and a good nap

Buddy frequents all of his sleeping spots at various times during the day. These spots have something in common; each allows him to soak his aging bones in the warm sunlight streaming through nearby windows. Buddy migrates from spot to spot to capture the healing sunlight. I like to think this warmth provides pain free rest periods. These doggie beds, I believe, are Buddy’s places in the sun.

Hey, don’t forget I also like to lay in the sun.

I sometimes observe Buddy dreaming with his legs making running movements. His whiskers shake and shiver. I, of course, have no idea what he dreams about, but I hope Buddy is reliving his best herding memories and summing up his many adventures. I know that at age 13 (or 91 in dog years), Buddy won’t be around much longer. i can hardly bear to think about losing him.

Buddy was born on the ranch (actually in my bedroom closet) and has barely left the outer reaches of the ranch. He models stoicism and provides more unconditional love than we can ever hope to return.His loyalty and desire to protect his people goes beyond question.

During this wonderful holiday season, the thought occurs to me that God’s love for all his creatures is, in small part, represented by our dogs love for their humans. For this let us give thanks and offer in return unconditional love.

Dream on Buddy, my loyal companion. You’ve earned your place in the sun.

Something Old

Nostalgia is comfort food for the soul. It is as present during the Holidays as are Christmas carols and tinsel. My awareness of how much I enjoy all this tradition got me to thinking as to why this might be.

I know I enjoy old Christmas carols, traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, vintage Christmas movies, and decorating the tree and house. What about you? What are your favorites?

What got me to thinking about this was an incident recently with Little jack Kerouac, our Texas Brown Dog, and his old, but lost collar. Trudy and I noticed one day that Jack was without his collar. Whether it came off in a tug-of-war with another dog, or whether i took it off to give him a good brushing and failed to put it back on, I cannot say. In any event, one day both we noticed that Jack stood naked without his Double T dog collar.

Jack wearing his transitional collar before earning his Double-T collar

You see, our dogs after reaching an acceptable level of training and decorum receive their Texas Tech Double T collars. This is their reward from their proud human companions. The collar is distinctive with its red and black colors and signifies their graduation to full acceptance into our dog/human pack.

By the time  Jack had he lost his collar, he been the proud owner of his Texas Tech collar already for several years. Now, I might have surmised that Jack would have found wearing his jingling collar an overall negative aspect. But I would have been wrong. Jack is quite the hunter of squirrels and armadillos, and I can’t believe his jingling collar makes his hunts any easier.

One day recently our ranch hand, Juan, found Jack’s lost collar and returned it to me. When later I held it up later for Jack to see, I was amazed at how excited he became. Jack must have been mourning his loss of his collar based on his reaction. Jack began to shake all over, as if having a rigor, and repeatedly jumped up and down. He became so excited he began to squeak! You would have thought we had just returned to claim him after a very long absence.

I then approached Jack for the purpose of placing his collar around his neck. Jack immediately stood as still as the Sphinx, and I carefully replaced his collar around his blotchy brown, furry neck. He developed his happy face- a look of satisfied contentment.

I suppose old and familiar objects and traditions provide joy and happiness for us all. As humans we have many examples that can provoke nostalgia. For dogs their possessions are limited with Jack’s collar being his only one. I don’t think Jack is materialistic, so much as he likes familiar objects and his people. His familiar pack and his collar provide him comfort. I think objects like an old dog collar may relate to interactions we have had with loved ones (pack-mates) which create the good feelings that are nostalgia. Nostalgic memories are, after all, only good memories, it seems to me. Nostalgic memories are like comfort food for the soul, be they for humans or dogs.

What do you think? Do you think your dogs are nostalgic? Are you? Would love to learn your experiences.

Wishing all readers of this blog the happiest of Holidays and a wonderful New Year. Along with your eggnog, I hope you enjoy lots of nostalgia and loving interactions this Holiday season.

Flash Floods in the Texas Hill Country

Only a few weeks ago I wrote a blog piece on the terrible drought and now we have floods! Such is the weather in Texas. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, just wait a few minutes!”

For the last two days we’ve been largely stranded on our hill outside of Fredericksburg. Several times I’ve gone down the hill only to have the flooding of Live Oak Creek prevent my from leaving the ranch. This happened after the ground had been thoroughly saturated and then another 10 inches or so of rain fell. The thin soil  can’t absorb that much water, so it runs off into the streams at a rapid clip. On a positive note my stock tanks are now full. It’s been a long time since I could say that. See below

It is surprising how strong the current can be, as its been known to wash out fences and sweep away cars and trucks. Trudy and I have gained a healthy respect for flash floods and try not to tempt fate. Our schedules are not that precious. See debris line below, showing earlier extent of the flood and white water other side of low water crossing.

Our dogs have reacted in different ways. The dark, rainy days suggest Jack’s favorite past-time- napping. See below. Jack likes his creature comforts, especially snoozing on a pillow top mattress on our bed with his little head on a feather pillow.

Jack: Rainy days make me sleepy. For that matter sunny days do too.

 

Our senior Border collie, Buddy on the other hand becomes anxious during storms. As always he is goal directed animal if there ever was one. He begins to look s for a job to perform. Below you will see what the flash flood caused with Buddy. As you can see he has prepared for a still worse flood, waiting in his pool float, umbrella overhead, and goggles at the ready. Buddy always has a plan.

“Let that water rise, I’m ready for it!”

I Have A Dog Who Answers The Telephone

Please excuse my absence from the blog, as Trudy and I were on vacation. The time away allowed time to contemplate some questioning feedback I received regarding recent stories posted about Little Jack Kerouac. You see some readers did not fully accept that Little Jack dictated his back history and all I did was merely write it down. Oh you of little faith.

I did too dictate my story

Such feedback made me think about other ways in which my dogs communicate, ways which hopefully everyone can accept. Now surely others have witnessed their dogs barking to go outside, to take a walk, to be petted, and in the case of my dogs, to go for a ride in the pickup. Yes, my dogs, especially Little Jack and Buddy, are quite insistent about nudging me out of my chair about 5:00 pm to go for a ride or to take a walk.

Bella, our female Border collie has her own idiosyncrasies. She communicates. She really does. She does this  by barking when Trudy or I don’t hear the telephone. Perhaps like many seniors our hearing is not the best. Trudy has graduated to the honest stage of wearing hearing aides while I simply deny my hearing loss and soldier on. Bella on the other hand has tremendous hearing. We say she has “dog ears.”

Bella, our little helper
Photo by Ramsey

If we fail to hear the land line or a cell phone ring, Bella will begin to bark. I’ve noticed she doesn’t bark for the first couple of rings. Presumably she waits to see if we hear it or not. Only when we don’t respond by the third or fourth ring does she become insistent that we answer the phone. Her initial barks cease and she begins to howl. I’ve never heard her howl except when we fail to answer a telephone, but believe me she is quite effective in mobilizing her humans to answer the phone. Bella can sound just like a hound dog. She’s become a regular little phone helper.

Now this behavior fits well with Bella’s helping personality. She likes to have a job and likes to prove useful. For some time she has helped out Buddy when he wants to go outside to do his business. You see, Buddy will stand quietly beside a door to go out. We don’t always observe him. Only rarely will his urgency cause him to scratch at the door to draw our attention. Bella, on the other hand, seeing Buddy waiting patiently beside the door will begin to bark. Her bark is persistent and loud. It’s hard to miss.

Bella and Little Jack guarding the ranch from the pickup

She also likes to accompany Buddy when we put him out, just in case I suppose. Buddy has actually become fairly dependent on Bella’s going out with him, as otherwise he is hard to push out the door. So you see beside answering our phones, Bella also serves as door monitor.

They say you have to give a Border collie a job, or else it will become self-employed and never productively. Well, I’m here to say some Border collies (read Bella) find their own jobs and are helpful. Who would have thought we would have a dog that answers the phone or monitors doors?

Do your dogs communicate with either you or any other dogs? I would love to have your feedback. Please leave your experiences in the comment section.

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps