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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Post #31: Henry Houdini

Henry healed remarkably well after his back surgery.  Henry was eventually back to his old self.  He still had speed … he was catching birds.  And he had stealth.

The thing about a black dachshund is that they can be very hard to see sometimes.  It is really tough to get a good photo of a black and tan dachshund because that shiny black fur soaks up all the available light.  Every picture of Henry that I’ve posted on this blog had to be adjusted for exposure and shadows first, or you would never have really been able to see Henry.

We often referred to Henry as our stealth dog because he could sometimes just disappear.  He would be in the same room, and we wouldn’t know until he was ready for us to see him.  It was impossible to see Henry at night.

Another nick-name for Henry was “Henry – Houdini.”  I’ve already told you how he could figure out ways to get into the mulberries despite my best efforts.  Henry could also figure out ways to get out of things he didn’t want to be in.  We would often be surprised to find Henry in rooms or other spaces that we thought we had adequately blocked off.
Our granddaughters had come for a visit one weekend, and we enjoyed taking them to the waterfront and doing other grand-parenting types of things.  We fed them a nice meal and then Wife started putting the girls to bed.  For some reason, I had not yet eaten, so I started on my meal which included among other great foods, a baked potato.  At some point, Wife asked me to come up to help with the girls.  I was only gone for a minute or two.  But when I got back downstairs, I found Henry sitting at my seat, looking up at me innocently.  I knew I hadn't really been gone long enough for him to eat my food.  He knew he wasn't allowed to eat people food.  So, I stood there and stared at Henry, and he stared back.  "Nothing wrong here, Dad!  Just watching your plate for you so the flies don't get on it."  I picked up Henry and set him on the floor.  Then I looked carefully at my plate.  I couldn't see any bites taken out of the food.  A closer inspection, however, revealed that the top of my baked potato was really, really flat.  No, Henry hadn't taken a bite, he just licked it down some.  If I hadn't caught him in my seat, I probably would have never known ...

Henry learned how to duck his head and slip out of his collar.  If he wanted to go somewhere while we were on a walk, Henry would turn toward me and dig in his heels.  I’d give the leash a “come on” tug to encourage him to follow me, and then he’d be free.  I’d be left holding an empty collar while Henry was off exploring on his own. 

We started making Henry wear a harness, rather than a simple collar.  I figured that it would be impossible for Henry to escape from his harness.  We’d have his front legs encircled by the harness.  This method actually worked … for a little while.

Henry soon had mastered the art of escaping from a harness.  I’m still not sure how he got out.  A head duck, a paw lift, and then another paw lift all in rapid succession and he was free.  And Henry’s timing had to be perfect.  I had learned not to give a steady pull on the leash.  Giving any kind of tension was always an invitation to escape.  So, rather than a steady pull (come on Henry), I’d try a quick little tug, and BOOM! He was gone.  I’d try not to tug at all, and Henry still managed to find enough tension in the line to make his escape.

I usually took Henry on walks when we travelled.  We would pull into an RV park, set up the trailer, and then go for a walk.  And then I’d have to go find Henry.

The worst times were when he got lose during a nighttime walk.  Even with a flashlight, he was almost impossible to see.  Henry could just disappear into the blackness.  I’d only be able to track Henry by listening to the jingle of his dog tags.  I'd listen, then follow the sound and stop to listen some more.  Finally, I'd shine my light, and where all had been blackness before would be a pair of brown eyes staring back at me.
I'd scoop up the animal, just hoping it was Henry, not really being sure until I got him under a street light.  Then Henry would get a free ride home, back to our trailer.  I wasn't about to let Henry try another Houdini escape again.
At least not for that night.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Post #30: Living off the Land

Henry was always good about supplementing his diet.  It seemed as though Henry figured out a new supplemental plan for every season. 

During the Summer, Henry would feast on Locusts.  He learned how to sniff them out while they were still under the ground.  Then he would dig them up and have a little snack.  I think his favorite locusts, though were those that made the mistake of stopping too close to the ground to shed their outer shell.  You know, they say texture really enhances one’s dining pleasure.  I think Henry enjoyed the extra “crunch” of biting into the locust’s crispy outer shell.

In the Fall and Winter, Henry would eat the acorns that fell from our giant live oak trees.  The trees were huge, ancient, and their canopies pretty much covered our entire back yard.  I’ve learned that the acorns from a live oak tree are bitter.  One taste was all it took to convince me to leave the acorns to the squirrels.  Henry, however, seemed to like them.  Maybe I would have enjoyed the flavor more if I had eaten the shell along with the bitter nut.

One Fall afternoon Wife took Henry to the vet for a routine checkup.  They had a new vet in the clinic who was not familiar with us or with Henry.  She chided Wife for letting him get overweight.  He was only one or two pounds over his ideal weight, and was by no means obese.  Wife told her that we didn’t know where he had gained the extra weight.  The mulberries were no longer in season.  It might be the acorns.  No, we never fed him table scraps.  Yes, we were giving him the recommended amount of dog food.  The vet didn’t believe Wife, but let it drop.

I got home from work the same time Wife got home from the vet.  As we walked Henry from Wife’s car to the gate we talked about what the vet had said.  I thought it was probably the bumper crop of acorns that our trees had produced.  Wife wasn’t so sure.

We got to the gate.  I bent over and unleashed Henry as Wife opened the backyard gate.  Henry took off like a streak of black lightening.  Before I could even stand upright to see what was happening, Henry was on the far side of the backyard, munching down on the bird he had just caught.

Wife and I looked at each other and laughed.  Now we knew how he was gaining weight.  Apparently the first two bird catches were not just a lucky accident.

Henry’s favorite time of the year for snack food was the Spring.  Our neighbor had a mulberry tree that hung large branches over our backyard.  The tree’s limbs would be heavy with ripe mulberries.  The berries would drop into our backyard by the truckload.  Both PD and Henry would feast on the berries.  But Henry was the one who would gain weight.  Wife referred to him as having “porked out” on the berries.  We discussed whether eating mulberries would be a problem for our dog’s weight.  Our vet assured us that dogs couldn’t get fat on eating mulberries.  I believed that the vet was wrong!

We were especially worried about Henry’s weight because of his back.  We knew that even a few ounces on a small dog put excessive weight on the long back.

I decided that I needed to fence Henry out to keep him from eating too many mulberries.  I started off just using assorted lumber and cinder blocks that we had around the house.  I fenced off that portion of the yard where most of the mulberries fell.  I didn’t fence off the entire area, since I felt like a few mulberries would be OK for him.  I just fenced off the area where the biggest piles lay.

Wife and I couldn’t see the area I had blocked off from the kitchen, since there was a small shed in backyard that blocked our view.  I went outside later in the afternoon to see how things were going with my fence.  Henry had managed to knockdown some of the boards and got in.

I chased him out, added a few more boards and some more bricks.

Those got knocked over, too.

Sigh!  Time to get serious.  So, my next stop was the local Tractor Supply store to see what they might have in the way of inexpensive and temporary fencing.

I found three foot high green wire fencing and fencing stakes.  I bought what I thought I would need and brought it all home.

I pounded in the stakes.  The wooden fence separating us from our neighbor made one side, and our little shed made a second side.  So I ran stakes from the fence to the shed on two sides.  Then I stretched the wire fencing from one stake to the next until my mulberries were secure.

The next day I came home from work and I found Henry calmly eating mulberries under the tree inside the fence.  He had figured out how to squeeze between the wooden back yard fence and the first metal stake.  I wasn’t sure that he could get back out, though.  Since the days were getting warmer, I was concerned with Henry having access to water.

I spent the rest of the afternoon securing all of the gaps that I could find.  I left for work the next day certain that there would be no more holes for Henry to squeeze through.

That evening I saw the same familiar site.  Henry grazing on fallen mulberries inside the fence.  I searched the fence for gaps or knocked down stakes.  There were none.  What I found, however, was a nice hole dug under the fence. 

So far Henry had shown me that he could go over the fence, through the fence, and under the fence.

Henry won!

The fence came down.  I decided to trust the vet and quit worrying about mulberries.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Post # 29: The Back!

When you adopt a dachshund you learn that their long backs are their weak point.  Henry was a young, athletic dog.  He caught possums and birds.  He would fly off the couch to confront any new sound that might threaten the household.  And we worried about the toll our stairs, steps, and his flights onto and off of the couch would take on his back.

For my part, I built ramps.  We had a ramp for every couch in the house and for our bed. 
I had a series of ramps built so our dachshunds could come into and go out of the house without jumping or climbing steps.
A small ramp led from the mudroom up to the doggy door in the wall.  Another short ramp led from the doggy door in the wall to the backyard porch.  And then a rather long ramp carried the dogs from the porch to the backyard lawn, four feet below the porch.  We put a fence and a gate around the porch so PD and Henry wouldn’t be tempted to take the steps.  I put a lattice fence along either side of the long ramp so they would not be tempted to jump off when they were only half way down.

Still, dogs don’t always make the best decisions.  Henry took one of his flying leaps off of the couch one evening and hurt himself.  He didn’t let us know he was hurt until later.  Not until he had aggravated his back by going down the front steps.

Henry was hurt bad.  We were scared.  He never cried, he just wouldn’t/couldn’t use his hind legs.  We took Henry to our vet and had him checked out.  Henry was given some pain medication and we took him home.  Henry did the mandatory crate and rest routine.  He got better.

And then, Henry hurt his back again.  Henry had no feeling in his back legs.  He was walking on his “knuckles.”  We went back to the vet.  The vet told us that there was a place in San Antonio that could do the back surgery on Henry.  We were also told that there were more failures than successes with back surgery.  Our vet was also not in favor of putting Henry in a wheelchair.  He reminded us that dogs in a wheelchair needed a lot of help with bodily functions/elimination.  He suggested we keep Henry crated for a couple of more days and that we watch him. 

So we did.

The next day, Henry seemed a little better.  And then he got worse.  I called the vet.  It was time to try surgery.  I got the name and phone number of the hospital that did back surgery on dogs and gave them a call.  We were at the hospital three hours later.

The new vet examined Henry and determined that he would be a good candidate for the surgery.  We left him in their hands.  It was a long, sad drive home.  But at least we had hope.

We returned a few days later to pick him up.

Poor Henry.  They had shaved off a large patch of hair down his back, and he had a lot of staples over his spine.  One of our friends had put their dachshund through the same procedure.  She had described her dachshund as looking like a football after the surgery.  She was right.  With the bare skin and staples, he really did look like a live football.  Henry was so glad to see us, and we were equally happy to see him.  It didn’t matter what he looked like.

We were warned that Henry might not get back the full function in his rear legs.  We watched Henry over the next few months as he got better.  He was wobbly at first.  Sometimes it looked like he was trying to walk sideways.  And standing on three legs to pee was a challenge.

But Henry got stronger and he regained his footing.

I knew Henry had made a good recovery when he caught his next bird.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Post #28 Fearful Henry

I started a game of fetch with PD before Henry came into our family.  We played with a Rubber Chicken, rather than a ball or stick.  I’d throw “Chicken” and PD would run after it and bring it back.  … Or not.  

Sometimes, PD thought it was only fair to sit and wait for me to walk over to him, and then throw Chicken back across to where we started.  I was never sure which rules we were going to play by, but PD always knew.  The fun part of “Chicken” was that we could play in the house, or we could go outside and play in the yard.  We could even play in our travel trailer, if we happened to be going somewhere.

The first time Henry saw me throw Chicken was the first time I began to wonder if Henry had been hit in his previous home.  Henry cowed and walked as far away from me as he could when I raised my arm to throw Chicken.  This little game that brought so much joy to PD instilled fear and dread in Henry.  We learned of other things that scared Henry as well.

Smoke was another fear that Henry had.  The first time we started a backyard barbecue, Henry ran into the house and hid under the covers on the couch.  We took the dogs with us when we went camping.  Our normal routine was to walk the dogs around the park several times a day.  I learned that I had to steer clear of campfires and barbecues.  Henry would cower, shiver, or just stop and refuse to move once he caught the scent of smoke.  This fear lasted for several years.  We eventually were able to get Henry used to the campfire smoke.  Henry was able to walk past other campers grilling hamburgers or just burning wood without a problem.


Oh, Henry would act brave when he smelled and then spotted a cat.  He would bark his deepest manliest bark at the cat.  His hair would raise up in a ridge down his back, and then he would charge.  All would go as planned as long as the cat retreated from his back yard.  Or, in the case where I was walking the dogs, as long as I was able to firmly grasp the leash in my hand. 

The first time was late one evening, and I was standing in the front yard, waiting for PD and Henry to take care of their business.  Before the first instance of getting free from my leash, I did my best to protect the local cats from Henry.

Henry and PD both noticed the cat, and Henry started his deep ferocious barking routine.  Then he rushed the cat, and caught me off guard.  Henry managed to pull the leash out of my hand.

Henry raced across the street barking loudly and viciously in hot pursuit of the cat.  The cat retreated to a row of bushes by the neighbor’s house, and then turned.  The cat decided he did not want to run anymore.  He arched his back, puffed out his fur and hissed, swiping his paw at Henry.

Henry’s deep ferocious bark turned into a high pitched girly squeal as he turned around and raced back to the safety of his own yard.  He yelped and squealed all the way home, managing to run even faster in retreat than he did for the attack.  Henry really was a brave dog when possums and skunks were involved.  But cats?  Not so much.

I did my best to protect Henry from cats after that.