Thursday, February 25, 2010

Airport ho!

We took Dempsey to Minneapolis-St Paul Airport last week to introduce him to some things that could be potentially scary: the baggage carousel, the tram to the parking lot, the big X-ray machines, and the men’s room.

Dempsey has been going to public restrooms for a few months now, and as long as it isn’t too dirty or noisy, he does pretty well. But the men’s room at MSP airport is a different story. You may recall that's where Senator Larry Craig was arrested in 2007 for lewd behavior.

It didn’t really occur to me until I came home and re-read the police report that Dempsey could have gotten us arrested! Check out the evidence against him:

The officer reported a “white male with grey hair standing outside my stall.”
Ok, I’m not white, but I might as well be. And I do have grey hair. When Dempsey is practicing his stays, I frequently stand outside stalls.

“I could see Craig look through the crack in the door from his position.”
This is one of Dempsey’s more embarassing habits. If someone enters the next stall, Dempsey is overcome by curiosity and tries peeking through the crack, or under the stall wall.

“The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.”
Dempsey does this, too! For some reason, he tends to drop crossways in a narrow stall, so that his tail or his paws intrude on the stall next door.

“Craig then proceeded to swipe his hand under the stall divider several times.”
Ok, Dempsey doesn’t do this with his paws, but when he wags his tail, I'm sure it looks suspiciously like swiping in the next stall.

“With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, ‘No!’”
If Dempsey enters a stall with an unflushed toilet, it sometimes takes a bit of cajoling to get him out, as he likes to sniff it. Just like Senator Craig?

“Craig exited the stall…without flushing the toilet.”
Since I don’t use the bathroom “for the intended purpose” when I’m with Dempsey, I don’t always flush. Perhaps I should.

Craig explained that “he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom.”
So does Dempsey! Unlike most boys, he spreads his legs and squats when he has to pee, instead of lifting his leg up.

Craig told the officer he reached down to pick up a piece of paper. “It should be noted that… Craig [did not] pick up a piece of paper,” the arresting officer said.
This is another of Dempsey’s bad habits we’re working on. Sometimes when I ask him to pick up a (clean) paper towel from the restroom floor, he’ll eat it instead. Just like Senator Craig?

Creepy, no?

We brought the camera to document Dempsey’s first trip to the airport, and in a rare display of common sense, I didn’t take any pictures in the bathroom, so we have no documented proof of Dempsey's lewd behavior. We did, however, take a bunch of pictures outside.

They’re not that interesting, because Dempsey did really well! He was unfazed by the baggage carousel, even when the buzzer sounded and the red light flashed. He didn’t notice the x-ray machines. The only challenge was retrieves near the escalator, which were a little scary at first, but he got over it pretty quickly. (BTW, Dempsey is not allowed on escalators – it’s not safe for his paws – but we think he needs to be more comfortable working near them.)

Now that I know Dempsey could be arrested for his behavior in the bathroom, we'll be focusing more on polishing those skills. No more peeking under the stalls, and no more licking yourself, young man!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Our New Buddy

Doreen and I have a new buddy: Buddy, a rescued Himalayan tom whom we adopted last week.

After Bailey passed away, we realized that we couldn't possibly have Dempsey as our "only child," so went looking for another cat. I know it hasn't been very long, but I like to think Bailey would understand: She wouldn't want our house to be a doghouse; it should be, at least, a dog- and cat-house. Or something like that.

Anyway, we fell in love with Buddy when we saw his picture on the Safe Haven of Iowa County Website. This is a cat with some attitude!

Of course, we didn't see any of his attitude his first day here, most of which he spent hiding under the bed. That night, he hopped into bed with us, though he wouldn't let us touch him: That's moving way too fast. Now that he's been here a few days, he's learned to relax and actually close his eyes.

Unbeknownst to Buddy, we have big plans for him. Now that we know a little bit about clicker training, we've decided to try training him. My first thought, since I'm all about ease and convenience, was to teach Buddy how to use the toilet, but I discovered after doing some research that this can seriously backfire.

Karen Pryor, the guru of animal training who developed many of the methods we use at Helping Paws, sometimes teaches cats to "play" the piano as an after-dinner party trick. This would be neat, except we don't have a piano. And there's also the fact that Karen Pryor is a training expert, and we are not:

I suppose there's a good reason why you don't see too many service cats. But Buddy, be warned: We're gonna learn you!

P.S. A big thank you to everyone for all the nice notes, comments, and cards for Bailey! We really, really appreciate all your kind thoughts.

Since Buddy's videos are pretty boring (so far), here's a video from the archives of Dempsey playing "Who's calling?" at the tennis court. The object of the game is to stay, until somebody calls him.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Once upon a blanket

The late songwriter Townes Van Zandt once said there are only two kinds of music in the world: the blues, and “Zippety Doo Dah.” Because music helps me make sense of the world, I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Townes lately, particularly his song “Lungs,” which he wrote as he lay dying:

Won't you lend your lungs to me?
Mine are collapsing.
Plant my feet and bitterly breathe
Up the time that's passing.
Breath I'll take and breath I'll give,
And pray the day ain't poison.

I for one, and you for two,
Ain’t got the time for outside,
Just keep your injured looks to you,
We'll tell the world we tried.

Bailey died last Sunday.

We’re still stunned. We had been diligently feeding and medicating her five times a day, and planting her feet on the ground so she could exercise her hind legs. I had been tracking her progress in Excel, and all her vital signs had been showing improvement. I guess it just goes to show that there are some things a spreadsheet can’t help you understand.

When we visited Bailey in the kitty ICU, we told her that we had promised to be her “forever family,” and that we couldn’t keep our promise if she didn’t get better. Bailey didn’t listen to what we said, but that was never her style.

I vividly remember the first time I met Bailey, about the time I started dating Doreen. One rainy Saturday afternoon, Doreen and I had curled up on the rug to watch a movie, when the most beautiful seal point Himalayan I’d ever seen sauntered in. Bailey walked all over me, sniffed my crotch, and then curled up and took a nap in my lap.

That first meeting set the stage for our relationship: Bailey continued to walk all over me on a regular basis. A true princess, she was never satisfied with the beds and blankets we laid out for her, and she’d often climb onto a tall pile of warm blankets I had just washed and pulled from the dryer.

Before I knew her well, I bought her a present: a little plastic kitty toy, with multicolored fish and fake feathers. She took one look at it with utter disdain before she turned around and walked away: “I hope you didn’t buy that tacky – thing – for me.”

Bailey could be haughty and disdainful, but she was also very sweet, and very cool. Once, in a fit of frugality, I decided I could bathe Bailey myself instead of sending her to the salon every month, and I asked my cat-loving friend Ellen for advice. She didn’t have any advice to offer, but she did ask that I call her from the emergency room and let her know how it went.

It went well – Bailey loved getting a bath! She snuggled right up to the massaging showerhead, moving her head back and forth like Stevie Wonder, and she used up all the hot water in the house. Like I said, Bailey walked all over me on a regular basis.

There were so many ways Bailey wasn’t a typical cat. When she was younger and not quite as lazy, she would run down the stairs, meowing, whenever we came home. She loved going on car rides and looking out the window, and we were lucky to be able to take her on two cross-country road trips. On a lark, we smuggled her into Canada once – an international cat! I even took her hiking a few times, carrying her in a wool-lined Sherpa bag. Unlike Dempsey, who was oblivious to the bald eagles, beavers, and coyote we tried to show him, Bailey was pretty observant. Once, in Michigan’s upper peninsula, she spotted a black bear before I did.

Although Bailey was a quiet little kitty, the house seems even quieter without her. On Wednesday night, after Boston had gone home and Dempsey was in the hospital for his neuter surgery, we decided we should put away Bailey’s things. I finally unplugged her Drinkwell fountain, and watched as the motor wound down, the trickle of water slowing to a drip, before it finally stopped and was still. It was an awful night, with none of our “kids” in the house.

Bailey, we love you and we miss you. You’ll be our “forever” cat in our hearts.


Bailey was truly an extraordinary kitty and we miss her terribly. Below are some pictures of the princess, including some of Bailey's favorite napping spots.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dempsey's special day

Although it feels like I spent most of today tickling the cat -- long story, but it's "physical therapy," honest -- we tried to make Dempsey's birthday a special day for him.

He was very patient in his kennel this morning while I fed the cat, a 45-minute procedure with the feeding tube. When he got out, he got an extra-long belly rub, and instead of training for his breakfast as usual, he got it all in orange moon ball, one of his favorite treat-dispensing toys. Then he waited patiently while Doreen baked a peanut butter carrot cake for him, though he was very curious about it.

The best part of his day was when his sister Boston arrived. They played and played and played, and when they were good and tired ("good" being highly correlated with "tired"), we got out the cake and balloons and had a birthday party.

Although Dempsey had been very curious about the cake when Doreen was baking it, it seems he lost all hope of ever getting any when it sat on the counter all day.

He couldn't believe his good fortune when he actually got a chance to eat it. Unfortunately, he blew it.

But since it's his birthday, we gave him another piece in the privacy of his own kennel, where he promptly ate it, "frosting" first.

And of course, since both Boston and Dempsey are in training to be service dogs, we felt we had to throw in some socialization, too. The "party blowouts" were a success, but we obviously did not do enough practice wearing the funny birthday hats, so this is the best picture we have of them taking them off.

Birthday boy!

Today is Dempsey's birthday! He's exactly (as of 2:35 this morning) 1 year old!

Contrary to what you might think, we do not celebrate Dempsey's birthday every month. However, we do take a ton of pictures and videos, so for practically every month, we have a picture taken within a day or two of his birthday.

It's hard to believe how quickly he's grown! When we're out in public now, Dempsey sometimes gets mistaken for a fully trained service dog. And to think just a year ago, he looked like this. (Dempsey, by the way, was known as "Norm" back then.)

We need to go take care of the cat now, but in the meantime, please enjoy this little Dempsey retrospective. We'll have more pics (hopefully) later tonight.

This was Dempsey on his fourth day home with us.

Dressed and ready to work already! Or at least, ready to go to class.

Dempsey takes a break on his walk.

Dempsey gets a manicure!

Visiting Wisconsin!

"Dress rehearsal" for the Tail Waggin' Dinner.

Wearing "Dad" out. (Nala is the fuzzy one on the left.)

Belly rub, please?

Can I have a taco, please?