Monday, February 28, 2011

Quiet Riot

All is quiet at the Invictus house. Leeloo is biding her time about coming into heat and I am sorry to say there is no way to speed up the process - it's simply a matter of waiting. And trust me, no one is more excited about Leeloo's impending heat than Boy!  She, however, only cares about what affects Leeloo - a comfy bed, down throws and a plush blanket was all she needed last night. And, according to her, no less than she deserves.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Watcher in the Woods

After New York I was exhausted and then, as often happens with travel, I came down sick with something caught from a foreign land. It remained in my throat for several days and I was patiently waiting for it to resolve into a cold. After a few days I got to thinking that perhaps this was not a cold, the sides of my neck were stiff and sore and this persistent throat ache felt more like an infection than the common cold. As it happens I was battling strep throat without realizing it. Since I'm stubborn and obviously not dying, able to function and love to complain, I have been kicking this infection using the old school method. This is against the advice of two nurse friends who are probably exasperated with me to no end.  What it also means, obviously, is that I have not been much inclined to type out the daily dose of Ridgeback Heaven.

Today though I felt I owed it to the dogs to describe their impressive tracking and air scenting skills. The snow is ass deep in a lot of places which means that where we walk, if the snowmobilers haven't been through, is a bit of a slog. Fortunately yesterday some kindly 'biler's roared around our usual walking paths and mashed down the snow so it was easy to walk on.

The sun was finally out after days of seclusion, there was no wind and it was not, for once, actively snowing. We meandered along until we came to a large curve which took the path out of sight. Raimi was about 20 feet ahead of me and Leeloo was off with Esme snuffling in the snow, digging holes and generally having a grand time. Raimi caught my eye when his head perked up, the wrinkle cloud gathered and he started that low, unsure of what he was seeing/smelling wag. He was walking slowly forward and when I spoke to him he glanced back quickly but then carried on gazing into the distance trying to see around the bend. I looked up but couldn't see anything - no movement, no sound other than the jingle of Leeloo's bell.

The wind was drifting gently toward us from that direction so I know he smelled something close enough to send its scent to his hound dog nose. Leeloo was oblivious as was Esme, they were too busy in their own little world. He seemed concerned that I be close to him so he circled back to me as we rounded the bend but there was nothing to see to cause concern.

Further along the path I saw tracks in the snow which crossed the path we were on, some of the tracks had blood sprinkled around them although I don't think the blood was from the animal that made the track, I think it was probably from something the animal was carrying. At this point Leeloo finally realized there were tracks that smelled incredibly interesting. She followed one set for about 20 feet and then lost interest when they got into deeper snow. Esme was hot on her heels, jamming her face into each track to get a good sniff.

Raimi still stuck quite close to me and made sure I was never more than about 10 feet away. What was interesting is that there were a set of tracks that emerged from the woods and set out straight across an open field but after about 30 feet they circled back. Where they circled back is exactly where Raimi would have been able to catch the scent from around the corner. Whatever it was must have heard us coming and changed its mind about being exposed on the field in case we saw it - I am extremely grateful for this sound logic on the part of the animal.

All the tracks were very fresh and the most interesting thing about them was how tidy they were. When the dogs move through the snow they smash and mash it down, kick it up and stomp all about. These tracks were clean, clear and only broke the surface of the snow, no dragging through to leave any more scent than necessary. Also, there were only two footfalls made meaning that the hind foot always cleanly fell into the track of the front foot.

Leeloo, once discovering these tracks, spent the bulk of the time sticking her face into every hole, then moving to the next one thereby following the trail. After a while the dogs just started criss crossing the field looking for more tracks. Raimi discovered a trail that went straight down a snowmobile path(so we are not the only ones taking advantage of them) and he raced down that path until the trail made a 90 degree turn and he hit the brakes and followed those tracks toward another path we use quite regularly.

I decided to just go with the flow and while everyone was happily sharpening their nose-following skills, I was wading through knee deep snow to get to the packed down path. Whatever it was that they dogs were following was now long gone (and probably enjoying a lovely pheasant or rabbit breakfast) but they had a marvelous time and I quite enjoyed watching them eagerly move from track to track and using the doG given skills they were born with.

As ever the danger in walking the dogs in a relative wilderness is that we are not the only ones there. Leeloo's bell is a good warning to anything within hearing distance that we are coming, but it is no guarantee that whatever is out there is going to move out of our way. Constant vigilance on my part is the primary reason we are rarely caught off guard - and I don't mean watching the woods, I mean watching the dogs. The first sign you will ever likely have that there is 'something in the woods' is watching your dog's body language. Knowing how to read your dog is the first, and usually last, line of defence against having them disappear after a deer, coyote, rabbit or squirrel. They are experts at catching scents, following trails and seeing movement within the woods - you need to become an expert on knowing when they have spotted something worth a chase.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mad Men

If you are on my list to get a puppy from Leeloo's potential litter I just want you to prepare yourself for what you are about to see. Don't judge her on a singular moment in time. I mean, you wouldn't want someone judging you based on the time you were drunk and someone dared you to ride the mechanical bull. It's unfortunate that all the other times you looked your very best are forgotten when that one embarrassing and totally humiliating photo was posted online for all to see. Such is the case with Leeloo. I won't lie, a Leeloo puppy is going to be a bit ...well, weird, but that is why we love our Leeloo. It makes her unique, lovable and irreplacable. Maybe the puppy will have completely mad snow catching skills and you will then be able to look at this photo and say with pride "That's my dog's Mommy." For now though ... make of her what you will.  Crazy, committed, and all Leeloo all the time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New York, I Love You

I do apologize for the lack of posts, I caught a cold/infection while in New York and between trying to catch up on lost sleep and nursing a sore throat I have not had much impetus to blog. Plus, leaving Zero's brags up a few extra days can't hurt!

Back to reality means I am once again blogging about my own hooligans here at home. The snow has been relentless which means we are constantly slogging our way through fresh snowfall. Today was such a day. After all the attention that has been heavily weighted to Zero of late, perhaps we should take a moment to remember the Little People who never once thought he would do anything *but* win.

His brother, Raimi, who's adoring gaze I missed so much for 4 whole days - we have been making up for lost time and having a good cuddle in the mornings. I want to just kiss that snow off his nose, what a sweet Boy! He says "Hooray Zero! But you still love me the most right Mommy?"

Leeloo is most curious about this Zero fellow. Is he handsome? Is he rich? Can I have his children? All in good time Leeloo. Nice ears by the way, do they come with a nun's habit? Best not let Zero see those ears - he might make assumptions.

And Esme. She says if Zero is a Ridgeback who will let her be Queen of the Castle and gnaw on his hocks then she will cheer until she is hoarse. Who are we kidding though? Any excuse for this dog to make noise!

And there you have it. Everyone still alive and well, including me although I would swear there is something happening in the back of my throat that I dare not investigate further. Who knows what's setting up camp back there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Garden State

The fun continues in the aftermath of Zero's Best of Breed win at The Garden. Congratulations are rolling in and it's been a bit of a whirlwind of people sending their best wishes. There are many people in other breeds who are extolling the virtues of Zero, whom they saw in group on TV, and who believe he should have at least made the cut. I won't disagree! I sincerely appreciate every single acknowledgement of Zero's marvelous and unexpected rise to relative 'fame'. He certainly takes it all in stride as does his owner Erin who I'm sure was pretty confident he could pull off practically the biggest win of a dog's show career.

Right after the Breed win we were required to go to the NY Times photo shoot which until a few minutes ago remained a bit of a mystery. Here is a photo of the shoot which I took while the photographer was busy taking his own photos. You can see the result of this shoot on the NY Times website.

You can also see a cute video they took of the behind-the-scenes of the shoot. Zero's feet are close to the beginning and there is a moment or two of Erin tossing bait to get Zero to perk up. The funniest part, to be honest, is the Basset Hound ... it is hysterical. To see that just head to the Best in Show II video kindly provided by the NY Times.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the whole experience, not just the show and not just the win but the entire trip. It was a great adventure in my life and I'd definitely like to repeat it at some point, including the Breed win(!), but even without that New York definitely did not disappoint. I wasn't going to buy one of those cheesy "I (heart) NY" tacky tourist items but when I was in the airport just before we left I changed my mind. Before Zero's win I would probably have given this little white bag a miss but after the Big Win make no mistake ...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I 'Hart' New York

If you don't know by now that Zero won Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club then you have probably been on vacation in Tibet! I think this win makes him the very first Canadian-bred Ridgeback to win Best of Breed at The Garden. The entry was the highest it's ever been for Ridgebacks and this year was the highest breed entry in the entire show; there were only 4 or 5 absentees which means he defeated at least 50 of some of the top winning Ridgebacks on the continent including previous year's Garden BOB winners, National Specialty winners and Best in Show winners. It's kind of a big deal.

The judge, Espen Engh was efficient and clearly knew exactly what he was looking for. He examined the dogs quickly but gave every single one its fair share of attention. He made his cuts quickly and wasted little time repeatedly moving the dogs - I think Zero only did the down and back twice. I'll be honest, when he made the first cut I was thrilled - all along I've been saying that was my goal - to show well, look good, and hopefully make the first cut. Making the second cut was something I could hardly believe, then he made the third cut and remained one of only 8 dogs in the ring so I knew he was almost certain to get an Award of Merit. The judge pulled Zero out with a dog named Beau and had them move around together and then free stack. Zero nailed it and looked fabulous. They were then asked to return to their places while the judge did one final walk down the line, stood and then pulled out Zero first, then his Best of Opposite and then the Awards of Merit. I thought I was going to pass out and when he moved them and then pointed at Zero for the Breed.  I jumped around and screamed like a 12 year old - there's even video proof of it!

I will admit to having a suspicion during judging that Mr Engh liked Zero a lot. He always took what I thought to be an extra moment with Zero every time he walked up the line. I didn't dare, at the time, to allow myself the luxury of thinking he especially liked Zero because there is absolutely no predicting what a judge will do no matter how much he looks at your dog. The win is also gratifying because the judge is foreign and therefore politics are hard to blame for any wins or losses, he doesn't know who 'should' win. He was pleased to hear that Zero was the #3 Ridgeback for 2010 and that he was still young, lots of future for this boy that's for sure!

I grew up watching this show and knowing Best of Breed at The Garden is the pinnacle for many breeders, owners and handlers. Placing in group is simply gravy on one of the best meals in dog shows you can ever be served. Often only the well known top winning dogs will be pulled and placed in group but Zero did us all proud by showing what a relaxed, calm and stable boy he is and showed his heart out - expertly guided by Erin who looked fabulous on TV! These past few days would not have been possible without Erin who's 'special' Special is far exceeding any of my expectations and I'm pretty sure she is also a little surprised! Big huge thanks to Juliet too who has shown Zero to most of his wins ... I'm sorry you couldn't make it to this one but maybe next time!

Instead of drowning blogger with photos I thought I'd simply publish the links to the online albums for my trip ... it was simply ... spectacular and I highly recommend it, especially if you can pull off a Best of Breed win at Westminster!

New York on Saturday

New York on Sunday

Westminster Experience!

Here is the link to the breed judging video, if you make it to the end you'll see me, in the blue turtleneck and red hair in a pony tail, practically passing out and then freaking out when he won ... I'll never forget it!  Enjoy!

WKC Ridgeback Breed Video

Friday, February 11, 2011

New York Minute

This is it. The day before the day before. I leave for New York in just under 24 hours and was awake at some totally unacceptable hour to try and get my brain/body prepared for the 1am wake up tonight so we can be at the airport at 4am to get onto a JFK bound plane at 6am. Yes, this is international travel at it's very best. Thank doG we are not taking a dog because we'd have to be at the airport even earlier.

The weather looks like it will be cooperating with mainly clear skies and hovering around zero degrees - perfect flying conditions. In New York they are predicting almost now snow and about 5 or 6 degrees Celsius which will make wandering the city a little more pleasant. Of course, if New York is anything like here we just have a wait a couple hours and it will change.

The dogs are in for a bit of a shock. There is *no where* for them to run at my parent's acreage because of about 6 feet of snow drifts built up around the house. It's insane. The only place they can run is down the drive-way and my Dad will have strict instructions to not allow that to happen because the driveway leads to a well travelled highway. They will just have to make do with the treats I get them!

Zero arrives in New York with Erin on Sunday morning and then on Monday at about 2pm Eastern he will get his chance to shine. The entry is huge, the dogs are coming from all over the continent and the judge is foreign; it really is anybody's game. I keep telling myself that it doesn't matter how Zero does because I just want him to look good, show well and enjoy himself but I am obviously going to be cheering him on like crazy and hope he gets noticed. I am not allowing myself to worry about what he might win because it can become all consuming and I won't enjoy myself. I'll let his owner/handler do all the worrying for me! Have fun with that Erin!

I'm not sure how much I can post about the trip on the blog. The hotel has internet access and I'm taking my laptop but you never know how glitchy things can get. I hope to be able to update as much as possible so keep a weather eye open for exciting news from the Big Apple.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Mission

Here's a funny story from a while back - right at my front door is the dog's water bowl. It holds about 3 litres of water, has a round bottom and is made of glass. I love these bowls but because of the round bottoms they sometimes tip if you knock into them - fortunately that doesn't happen very often since the weight of the water usually prevents tippage. The bowl is also right next to the dog couch so nappy dogs who are thirsty don't have to go far. 

So one Saturday I am busy mashing out yet another brilliant blog, the dogs are peacefully slumbering on the couch and all is quiet. Suddenly there is a knock at my door and the house erupts into mayhem. Raimi is standing at the door emitting the biggest woof he can muster, Leeloo is standing on the couch with her feet on the arm ready to greet our guests at eye level and Esme is pinging off the walls in excitement and emitting high pitched barks. I wrestle my way to the door and push aside the curtain enough to see two young men standing there looking understandably concerned for life and limb. Pinned to their lapels are shiny silver name tags engraved with the words JESUS CHRIST and I presume their names and the church for which they are on a Mission - I didn't catch those details because I had 115 poinds of Boy trying to climb over me.

I don't have a problem with religion as such - most factions are basically harmless, it brings communities together, it's a great support system, they do a lot of charity and they help a lot of people. However, on a Saturday afternoon, do not come to my door and push whatever you're selling in my face. Ever. What will greet you is two very large dogs and a small barky dog who also do not like their Saturday afternoon disturbed.

So I open the door a crack to tell these young men I am not interested in their Word. Leeloo, upon seeing daylight, throws herself off the couch, tips over the freshly filled water bowl, pushes me out of the way and greets the young men in person. I am yelling at anything that moves while trying to hold Raimi back, Esme is still pinging, Leeloo is all wiggles and joy on the front step, there are 3 litres of water quickly spreading across my livingroom and the young men look politely horrified.

In between reprimanding the dogs and attempting some modicum of control I tell the men I am not interested, demand Leeloo get back in the house and shut the door. Once everyone has calmed down and towels are soaking up the water, I took a moment to reflect on the previous 4 minutes of my life. I recall, with some chagrin, that the first words out of my mouth as Leeloo leapt from the couch and hit the water bowl were "JESUS CHRIST LEELOO!" Chances are good those young men won't be back to the little blue house on Oak Street.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Generation X

Yesterday the very first second-generation Invictus Champion was created. Zuri lives in Alberta with Renee and Tom and a passle of Rottweilers and she is a ray of beautiful sunshine let me tell you. She reminds me so much of her dam Karma but some of Karma's traits are tempered with her sire Argos' genes - the best of both dogs combined to create a totally dreamy little light wheaton bitch. I knew that breeding would turn out some pretty impressive puppies ... I'm glad I thought of it! I have photos of Zuri but they won't load into Blogger so hopefully I can get the systems to 'talk' to each other at some point.

You might remember from early last November when Zuri, at her very first show, won not only Best of Breed but also a second in the Hound group at just barely 6 months old. It was a spectacular start but didn't end there ... she completed that weekend with 9 points and has been just waiting for her chance to get that final point and finish the job. Of course the trouble with finishing a senior puppy is ... now what? Perhaps an AKC Championship is in the cards ....

So my sincerest congratulations to Renee and Tom on their hard work and dedication to Zuri, she is one pretty girl and you are destined to have lots more fun with her!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Postcards from the Edge

Because of where the park is located on the coast of Nova Scotia there is a cliff that lets you look out over the ocean across to Pictou Island and Prince Edward Island. Protecting the general populace from this "Actively Eroding Cliff" is a veritable Berlin Wall of fences. As you can see Leeloo made short work of it in impressive Leeloo Style.

Raimi soon followed using this tried and tested technique ... we all must fly our own way you know. Who am I to judge? On his way back he used the more elegant up and over method which I did not catch on camera but is far more becoming a dog his size.

Intimidating barrier defeated, he and Leeloo took a moment to gaze out across the shining, ice packed sea. Somehow they knew the snow drift was not safe to walk out onto - the cliff ended before the edge of the drift and I was wondering if they'd topple over. Not so, careful Leeloo tests with toes ... so darling.

Once the location of the edge was established over they went. My heart stopped for a moment but they were well ahead of me as far as knowing what they could handle. Apparently a 55 degree gradient is no big deal.

For Esme the hill proved a bit too intimidating so she satisfied herself with whining and barking her concern at the Ridgebacks from on high. She doesn't like it when they go where she cannot herd them back to safety.

Once at the bottom Leeloo found some very interesting smells but they actually spent very little time down there. I think the great expanse of the ice floes and not being able to clearly see me had them a little on edge. I don't want them to worry too much but I do like them to stay frosty and pay attention in case the tide turns. And it does ... without fail.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Storm Warning

We are settled in once again for what is I think our 5th or 6th snow storm warning this year. It's been quite a first 5 weeks of the year with a good blast from Old Man Winter every week. Now, I'm not really complaining since I don't allow the snow to dictate my daily plans - sure, it meant I got to go home early last Wednesday but other than that I just carry on as usual, sweep off the truck, put 'er in 4x4 and away I go. With the roads clear on a glorious 'calm before the storm' type of day, we headed out to Caribou Park which is a Parks Canada area used quite a bit in the summer by picnickers and campers. Now though, its pristine, silent and under about 2 feet of snow.

Snowmobilers had packed it down a bit but even so it left the dogs floundering. Leeloo soldiered on ... brave girl that one.

Esme knew stepping off the trail would mean being over her head in snow so she often stood not so patiently on the path waiting for the Ridgebacks to return.

The Ridgebacks, for their part, wondered if perhaps the squirrels of this park wanted to play. They heard naughty squirrel chattering but since the noise was coming from the other side of some particularly deep drifts they let the opportunity pass. Raimi was mid-pee when he stopped to listen ... isn't he cute?

Leeloo makes her own path in the snow, just as in life. The ocean beyond has about one kilimetre of ice floes on it which is all broken up and very dangerous to walk on so we didn't go past that line of bushes.

A little Ridgeback play to keep things real. There are eight off the ground in this one and pretty high too considering the depth of the snow!

I'll post more of our adventures tomorrow but for I'll leave you with these little guys, you'll have to click the photo to get a better look at them. They are the first live seals I've seen since I moved here, there was the unfortunate incident of the decapitated one from last spring but these ones were lucky enough to have their heads still. There are two facing each other on the ice floes and between them is a small expanse of water where I could see the occasional seal head, presumably attached to a seal body, pop up for a moment and then back down again. It was neat to watch them and fortunately they were too far away for the dogs to spot. One step in the water would change a Ridgeback's mind about pursuit by why take the chance right? Anyway, apparently these guys are  hanging out along this shoreline fresh from birthing their babies on that island in the background, that's Pictou Island and is their annual maternity ward. Cool beans huh? For this prairie girl it sure is.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

White Christmas

Even though it is no longer Christmas I thought since we are buried in snow we'd do the Time Warp and share a fun photo of Archer's brother Odin in Calgary with his best friend Kika.  If you've been following the blog for a couple years you'll know that Kika was part of the Advantix ads we did with Raimi, Rory and Seth. She was only 9 or 10 weeks old at the time but she is now all grown up ... not as grown up as Odin  though! He's uh ... kind of tall.  Anyway, this is the mother of all Ridgeback Christmas decorations! Good job guys!

Back here in Nova Scotia we got a pretty rough and ready storm yesterday, it hit about 1pm and was over by about 11pm which is my kind of storm. No messing about, just do it and be gone. The sun is shining bright today to reveal a lot of digging in my future. That is the side of my house where the dogs go to wait to be let into the truck. The gate is just over 6 feet high and Leeloo says "How are we supposed to go for a walk?"

The back deck fared no better but at least the snow isn't as deep. I made a trench for them to get into the yard where I have managed to clear about 100 square feet of space. It's a bit daunting to look out over a backyard entirely buried under 3 feet of snow.

The front yard is also disturbingly deep but at least I only have to make a hole to the door of the truck. The dogs can use the front door for now when we go for walks, I have a feeling I'm going to have to spend several days digging out that back yard!