Friday, December 28, 2012

Dangerous Minds

Lest you think I allow The Boy's adoration to go to my head, I am going to remind you that I also own three bitches who burst my bubble on a regular basis. The girls certainly do love me and want my approval but often times I think the approval is more like "You will approve of me Mommy, or else." The girls also look at me with reverence in their eyes which I read as more of a "How did she get to be in charge?" than straight-up hero worship.

The girls are calculating and in my experience a truer statement was never made. They look at you, into you, through you and although it's often said that dogs do not have a concept of the future, these bitches know how to plan and are often forward thinking enough to keep me guessing.

Halo's breeder Erin once told me that the girls always have an agenda. Never make the mistake of thinking they've forgotten about something just because they're no longer paying direct attention to it. They are always paying attention; to you, to their end game, and they never hesitate to strike when the moment is right. They always know when you are not looking.

They sometimes work in tandem, especially in the field, and I have to really watch their level of excitement when two girls want to bay themselves up a Boy. He is currently sporting some new war wounds from a couple of over-zealous bitches. It's eerie to watch when they 'hook up' almost telepathically and copy each other's actions. That's when you have to be on particular alert. This "Children of the Corn" moment had me especially focused on their next move!

They are also better at communicating intent or desire with me. Leeloo is especially insistent I understand what it is she wants and will go to great lengths to make herself clear. Cora and I have developed a language where I finally understand what she is trying to say when she speaks to me - and she likes to chat! Esme has always been pushy and extremely direct in her motivations and doesn't let any 80 pound Ridgeback stop her from reaching her goals. Boy is, and has always been, passive when it comes to what he wants. If the cat is in his chair he fusses and then gives up whereas yesterday I watched Cora stare at the cat a few moments, then poke her, then nibble her gently on the chest until finally Fat Cat decided to shift her chubby arse. Cora hopped up on the chair and settled in. It's a pretty popular chair in point of fact.

Let it never be said that the bitches don't have a special connection with me - they certainly do as individuals and I simply adore the challenge owning these girls offer. They keep me humble, grounded and constantly guessing what they'll do next. It's just harder to know what's going on in their brains since The Boy is pretty simple. I like the dynamic we have here now, there is a peaceful balance and everyone knows their role. I'll always be in charge but sometimes I let the girls think they are just to keep them guessing too ...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Guardian

I was chatting with Taryn the other day about the way The Boy looks at me when we were discussing the puppy she's chosen ... or that chose her. She said Sequana already looks at her the way The Boy looks at me and so it bodes well for their future together. If you've ever had a dog like The Boy you'll know what I mean. If you haven't I will try to elaborate. I am lucky enough to look into the eyes of a dog that would breathe for me if he could. If he was able to reach into my chest and gently pump my heart to make it beat, he would. If he knew I was in mortal danger he would not hesitate to protect me, with limb or with life; whatever it took. If he knew how to stop pain he'd be my Aspirin. If he isn't near me he wants to know where I am. If he is near me he wants to be touching me. If he wakes from a nap the first thing he wants to see is me. When he sleeps the last thing he wants to see before his eyes close is me. He never questions his love, he never wonders if I love him too, he never hesitates to wag at my voice. I reach down to touch his head, his back, his side and there is always a moment of knowing, of feeling, that he is a rock that will not falter until his dying day. His happy cupping ears, the low wag and dancy feet, the stretch of joy that I know so well, the gentle nibbles when he is overcome with glee. He does all this for me, because of me, and only me. We should all be looked at like this, no matter the age or the breed of dog. I think it makes us appreciate love more, to be looked at like this, because this kind of love is variously impossible to find in people. With Boy there is no, and will never ever be, any question of loyalty, truth or monogamy. He will never leave me on purpose, he will never hurt my feelings by accident or design. He can't see the future and doesn't know anything more than what he loves right now and what he loves, and will always love, is me. He is not my child, my husband or my boyfriend and never gets treated as anything more than what he is: a beloved canine companion. However, beyond those words lies something deeper, something stronger and something, in particular ways, better, than any other relationship I've ever had. One day may you be blessed with eyes like this that look at you with so much love it cannot be adequately described.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

It's been 9 weeks since the tragic loss of Rifka. Her puppies are now ready to head to new homes and it's been quite a journey watching these guys grow up. Raising an orphan litter is no easy task, especially when there's so many mouths to feed, but Taryn managed it with a little help from Lola - the puppy's aunt - and several selfless friends who gave whatever they could to ensure the survival of these little babies.

Taryn has wisely decided not to send some puppies home until after Christmas because it can be a difficult to integrate a new puppy into a home during the mayhem of the holidays. I am very impressed with the puppies in this litter and Rifka and Manny certainly did not let Taryn down with their 'kids'. They show incredible promise and I am delighted at least one, Ellie, will be heading out here to the East Coast to live with her cousin Peggy from Leeloo and Raimi's second litter.

Taryn has made her choices about what puppy she is keeping to attempt to fill the shoes of her beloved Rifka; little Sequana is staying and has already made her mark on Taryn's heart. Taryn let Sequana choose her, instead of the other way around, because it was important to her that the puppy she kept connected to her the way The Boy or Cora connect to me (see the Atonement post).  In only looking for show quality you can sometimes choose a dog that isn't meant to spend its life with you - you also have to choose the personality that best fits your lifestyle.

Not many people will be able to understand what Taryn went through during the whelping of this litter or the depth of the loss that she experienced. There are no cut and dry guidelines when it comes to whelping or when you should get to the vet when your dog is in labour. If there was a Magic 8 Ball of Whelping I'd sure love to get one and so would thousands of breeders across the globe. We are all simply guessing, trying to figure out what's in there, what's going on, who's on their way out and when they might arrive. It is not easy to tell what the bitch is feeling, you are constantly second guessing the process and you never ever know when something is going to go wrong.

(Photo credit Amelia Payne Birch)

An experienced and honest breeder would never say there are cut and dry guidelines for when you should get to the vet - or really anything to do with breeding. Reproduction can throw you for a loop and you'll never know when; sometimes with perfection, sometimes with stillbirth, sometimes with puppies missing parts (ears, tail, leg), sometimes with extra parts, sometimes with parts on the outside that should be on the inside (intestines, brains). And sometimes the bitch dies and its no one's fault.

(Photo credit Amelia Payne Birch)
Rifka didn't die because Taryn didn't get her to the vet on time, or because she didn't know what she was doing, or she didn't have the money to pay for that magical and extra special veterinary care that guarantees no loss of life, or because she was irresponsible, or she didn't care about Rifka's life, or that she didn't read the "Cut and Dry Guidelines" book on whelping. Rifka died because sometimes that's just what happens and these are the chances we take when we breed dogs.

It is still unaccountably, inexplicably and vastly unfair that Rifka died, but Taryn tells me that she can feel Rifka visiting her some days, just as sometimes I accidentally call Esme by the name of my little heart Puli Petal who has been gone now almost 5 years. I think it's a way for the dogs we've loved and lost to remind us they are still here touching our lives while they patiently wait for that fateful reunion. Until then Taryn is going to enjoy watching Rifka's legacy grow up and I'm sure will see different shades of her in every puppy. They may have been raised without their dam but with the conscientious care of Taryn, Door, and Frejya (and sometimes Willow) they have developed into shining representatives of their mother and their breed. So many people are heavily invested in this litter and we are all proud to know and be a part of the Elyia family.

Rest In Peace - Rifka 2007-2012

Monday, December 17, 2012


I'm not sure I've mentioned it but I adore Cora. She is certainly a one of a kind Ridgeback in my house. She has inherited some of Leeloo's quirks and I sincerely appreciate the things about her that I can pinpoint as being from each of her parents. Her brown toenails are from her Daddy Boy, her giant ears too, but the shepherd's crook at the end of her tail and the indefinable weirdness is Leeloo all the way. Being goofy is from both parents that's for sure! But when I look at her siblings, and there are 18 of them, she doesn't look a single bit like any of them. I know who she looks like, I know where some of the things she does come from. I look at Cora and although I see her parents, there's something else in there, something that feels like a bit of a second chance, an opportunity to get it right. Something to do with Halo.

If you haven't been here long you might not know about Halo. She is my foundation bitch, Raimi's mom, and she was my first Ridgeback. Prior to getting Halo all my research about the breed told me it was tough, you had to be firm with them, you had to start early, be aware of their independence ... but no book prepared me for how sensitive they are. The breed is a strange combination of steel and marshmallow. With Halo I was firm from the start and I think I put too much pressure on her, in several ways, which prevented us from making a solid connection. I didn't understand until Raimi was born what the connection was supposed to be and didn't realize until then that with Halo it wasn't there. I have spoken to several Ridgeback owners about this and they admit that with their first RR, they too didn't realize the precarious balance that must be struck with this breed and also regret the type of training they used.

So when Halo had finished her litters and we moved to Nova Scotia and I realized in the first few months I didn't know what to do with her. I didn't feel the same way about Halo as I did about The Boy and Leeloo, or even Archer (who was just a puppy at the time). We didn't have the bond that is so important to a dog and that she so richly deserved. At 5 years old, I knew Halo needed a home that was not me. People question placing retired show dogs, some breeders criticized me for it (although not directly to me), but they are not here, they don't know and perhaps have never been in that situation. In short, Halo deserved better than me. Thankfully a wonderful home landed on my doorstep and Halo made her way to Quebec to live with Pia who has described Halo as the best dog she has ever owned (and she's owned other 'retired' Ridgebacks in the past from other breeders). It was the best thing I could do for Halo, she will be 9 in the New Year and I still hope to make it up to Quebec one day, perhaps to see her one last time. She doesn't look her age, that's for sure!

In some ways I feel like Cora is my redemption. And my penance. Because she is, bar none, the naughtiest and most challenging dog I've ever owned. I sometimes wonder, if I hadn't been such a strict trainer with Halo, if she wouldn't have been just like Cora is with me. I look into Cora's eyes and feel her soul.

And I'm sure she reads me like a book which is to my detriment. I won't lie though, I have probably been a bit too lenient with Cora and that has made her more naughty than average. She plays me all the time and I am sad to say I let her. It's hard to say no to this.

She is also very manipulative and strangely direct at times which is a hard thing to balance when you're a dog, but she does it easily.

Cora looks a lot like like Halo and as she matures I am seeing the kindness and shape of her eyes as a combination of Halo and Leeloo rather than just Leeloo. She has Halo's brains for opportunity and is basically an improved version of her. She also has Halo's athleticism which is something I hope to bank on in the New Year. She can leap a 4 foot fence from a stand still, easily clears an 8 foot creek and neither of her parents can touch her cornering skills. I am looking forward to the new adventures of Cora in the coming years and perhaps at last coming to terms with the better job I could have done with Halo.

I wasn't fair to Halo and she knew it. Everyone always told me how well trained she was and what a good job I did with her, but she and I knew the truth. I put too much pressure on her, I expected too much, I didn't understand and I regret my inexperience.  In some ways I think she is channelling through her grand-daughter and making me pay for my mistakes - as we all must do. Still, thank you Halo for sending me Cora, she is a delight and a devil and even though you are a thousand miles away, you are still well represented in this house.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Dogs do fashion too, you know. You may recall I got Cora and Leeloo new collars a few weeks ago which I am totally thrilled with. They are now worn-in and covered with dirt, they wash easily and compliment the dogs perfectly. I wasn't going to get The Boy a new collar yet because he didn't really need one but I love the girls' so much I just had to. And if you are getting one for each of the 3, you have to get another for the fourth so Esme was also measured up and a color and style was chosen. If you don't remember I got my collars from the latest and greatest dog collar manufacturer in the northern hemisphere ... Sexy Beast Dog Collars. She seems to have a booming business through her Facebook page and I know several people who have gotten collars from her, more proof that they are second to none.

The Boy and Esme's collars arrived this week and I was excited to see how they looked on the dogs since seeing the finished product on SBDC Facebook page. I was not disappointed. The Boy's collar is perfect for him. Understated, stylish and not too flashy. When you are The Boy you don't need flash, you need something to accentuate how alarmingly handsome you are and this collar does just that.

The edging is a deep navy blue which is, as mentioned, The Boy's color, and the middle is tooled 'nutmeg' leather and it matches the various hues of his coat perfectly. He is certainly looking very dapper in his shiny new collar although I don't think it's going to stay shiny for long. His first day out with it was spent hunting squirrels (well, every day is spent hunting squirrels) and gave me plenty of opportunity to take some photos. 

There is nothing quite like watching the dogs enjoy themselves in the woods and having them in gorgeous collars only adds to my enjoyment. I just think that the better you look the better you feel and although the dogs have no idea (or care) about their collars, I like to see them just being dogs while wearing a beautiful piece of fashion.

Esme got her collar too but it was very hard to try and get a photo of it through all that hair when we were in the woods. I opted for an indoor photo and a classic Puli pose. Her collar is little dragonflies which are blue, yellow and orange - I chose the dragonflies because Esme is kind of like that; flitting here and there, zooming about, backwards, forwards, up down, around and everywhere. The based leather color is orange so it would stand out in her coat and does it ever! I think it looks fabulous. Instead of a martingale it's a limited slip collar so it only closes so far. Not that you can tell when it's on her. At least now people can tell which end is which - I can always tell, it's the barky end.

She hates me posing her for photos so when I was doing this, thankfully, you can't see the expression on her face. It was a combination of resignation and annoyance. The second I was done she jumped onto the couch and snorted her irritation at me. Here she'd put her head down on the dog bed as a sort of silent protest against being posed. When Esme poses she thinks it should be on her terms ...

So finally the dogs all have their Sexy Beast Dog Collars. I love that they all match and that they are all leather. Nothing quite like leather to last and even when it's worn-in, it still looks great. I will have to look up some care instructions for them, I'm not sure about anyone else's dogs but mine are hard on their collars. I know Esme, Cora and Boy's will last longer than a year but with Leeloo it will be a true test of the collar's mettle to get through 12 months unscathed. Challenge ... accepted.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Blind Side

Our walks don't just involve the dogs standing around looking awesome, they also involve quite a bit of exploration and rabble rousing. I can't imagine moving back to somewhere that would require taking the dogs to another location to walk them - having the space for them to be safe here is pure heaven. I have a large expanse of lawn, as you may have noticed, that is just over an acre of which the dogs have access to about three quarters. They make good use of this area with wrestling, chasing, showing off and general showboating. The players vary but the game is always the same: a smackdown, a pursuit, another body slam or two, some ear biting, tackling and more bolting about in fits of glee. The Boy and Cora make good use of the space - it's no wonder they didn't use my postage stamp backyard in Pictou for this sort of activity. And don't worry about Esme, she is in there like a dirty shirt biting the ankles of whichever dog is on the losing end of the encounter, she backs a winner, does Esme.

Leeloo makes no bones about playing dirty. She doesn't let up and never backs down and insists on winning no matter the cost. She is very inclined to play with her front feet, using them to smash, hit, pummel and grab. She has always been very adept with those white paws and many a Cora has lost a battle as a result. She's getting it from above and below in this case!

Cora's signature move is rolling onto her back. I once watched her dance about in front of Boy for several minutes and every few seconds she would drop to the ground, roll over once and then get up. I think it was her invitation to play, as in "See, I am no threat, play with me!" and then once engaged she'd open a can of Whoop-Ass. Silly Cora, so funny. She never gets upset about being on her back, even when tackled by three other dogs, she loves it. Her ending up on her back in this situation is not an accident, she drops to the ground on her own and her pursuers skim right past her, she then pops up and bolts off in another direction. Strange but clever.

Sometimes Cora ends up on her back and stays there whether by design or being pinned. When it's The Boy pinning you it can be hard to get up! Esme is in there like a dirty shirt and if you look close enough you can see teeth on Cora's leg. Bad Esme! Everyone gets a piece of Cora. After play sessions like this she comes into the house looking like she's been through a battle field with lumps and bumps all over her head, body and legs. It's alarming unless you know that she's spent the last 30 minutes getting the crap beaten out of her.

What Cora and Esme do best is run. And run and run and run. Cora loves a good chase and she especially loves to play with Esme because Esme is always up for a gallop. This works well for me because running is the one thing that wears these two out in a short amount of time. The Boy and Leeloo like to run also but it's usually in a lot shorter bursts and then they stand around watching Cora and Esme behave like maniacs - you can almost see the eyerolls at each other like "That's YOUR kid". I wish I could say I think Esme and Cora's behaviour is because of youth but I have a feeling this is something they'll do forever.

Whether Esme is in front or behind ... this is the scene. It fills me with joy to see them filled with joy. Can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hold That Pose

Winter is trying to settle in on this second day of December. It's not trying very hard but yesterday we were out with the sun shining and some flecks of snow falling and it made for a very peaceful walk. I need to replace the coats that I had for everyone because someone chewed the buckles off of not one, but both of them - I used to have three but Halo's original coat doesn't fit anyone here and it also lost a battle with She Who Shall Not be Named. I think I can replace the buckle on Raimi's but the other is a lost cause. Honestly Cora. Fortunately it's not really cold enough yet for them to need their coats and I hope it stays that way for a little longer!

I took my camera out to stretch its legs and it did its level best to show the dogs doing what they do with such ease, look amazing. I am so blessed to have dogs that are fit, healthy and raring to go at a moment's notice although standing and looking for squirrels is a much loved past-time for everyone. There is a certain section of the woods that the squirrel hangs out so the dogs make their way there every single walk, ever hopeful of spotting that Evil Rodent.

When that gets boring, or they are convinced the squirrel is not around, sometimes they find interesting ways to amuse themselves. This includes, but is not limited to, chewing on random branches of trees. Leeloo found this branch at the perfect height for munching on. I'm not sure why they do this but they all like to chomp on twigs and pieces of wood. There is certainly enough to choose from!

Speaking of twigs and debris, Esme is an expert at picking up various bits of the woods and attempting to bring them into the house. On this walk she tried to jump the creek, failed, landed in it and ended up with her back end all wet. This resulted in the water in her coat freezing and as it did so it picked up leaves and twigs. Fortunately most of this fell off before going in the house but I had to pick out the larger bits - she hates debris in her coat and I hate it on my floor! Look at that dirty little face ... can do no wrong!

What can I say about Cora? My Baby Booble is growing up. Just the other day I looked at her, reallized she is starting to lose that puppy softness around her face and my heart fell a little. While she will always retain that heart melting expression, she is still destined to Grow Up. I have increased her food lately because she is going through a bit of a growth spurt and she is due in heat any day so everything about her is starting to fill in. I can see it in her cheeks, her muzzle and the breadth of her head. It makes me sad for the loss of the Puppy although I think she will always be silly and goofy and downright annoying sometimes. I'm looking forward to the amazing Big Girl she will be and anticipate lots of great adventures. 

At one point Leeloo thought she heard something up at the house and took off to see what it was with Boy and Cora in close pursuit. I called them back from down at the brook and they all came to the edge of the hill to see what I was yelling about. There's Cora in the middle with her 'Jar-Jar' ears and Leeloo with her flying ears and Boy ... always so handsome even though he's a bit hidden. But where's Esme? She's right where she's supposed to be ... at my feet awaiting the next command. Reliable Esme, I always know where she is!