You are my Sunshine

I live in that wide swath of the country that was hit by arctic storm Cleon. Funny, I didn’t know that they named winter storms, but I guess they do. Anyway, I have been housebound since prepping Wednesday night. I worked from home as a layer of ice blanketed the roads on Thursday. By the end of the day I thought the storm might be a bust – just some sleet and freezing rain. I felt silly for getting out the Carharts and putting the survival kit in the Jeep so early – after all it is still autumn. Cleon raged on Friday and by noon there was a foot of snow over that ice. I would work at my computer for a few hours and then I would have to get up and pace up and down the hallway – the signs of cabin fever were beginning to show. I was out of bread, apple cider, and chocolate. I stepped outside over my lunch hour and shot some birds during the flurries (I’ll save those for another time) but as I passed the 48 hour mark my mind was on all the things I didn’t have. A trip out to the firewood pile to restock was about as much fresh air as I had gotten and I was feeling a bit stir crazy.

Well, this post isn’t really about me (although it sounds like it so far – right?). You see, I live in the Stone House with 4 dogs – 4 very active dogs. Three terriers – Kirby, Velcro, and Squeegee – and a lovely Goldendoodle named Sunshine. I have written posts about all the terriers and their journey to the Stone House, but I’ve only written a dog shaming piece on Sunshine and that is a shame. You see, Sunshine is a very special dog and deserves his own story.

Sunshine is the last dog to be added to my pack. I never imagined that I would own more than two dogs, but then I saw sad Velcro at and adoption fair. After one of my pups was killed by uncontrolled dogs and Kirby came to live with us I began to think about the safety of my terriers. They say that a terrier is a big dog in a small body, but the truth is that when a big dog approaches aggressively these small dogs are scrappy but no match. I started thinking about what kind of dog would blend in with my pack, have a significant size, and would be gentle enough not to harm the smaller pups. I began to research Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. I had made a few calls to breeders and was considering a drive north to look at some dogs. The reputation of the doodles – crosses of Labs or Golden Retrievers with poodles – is one of gentleness, playfulness, loyalty, and they are supposed to be hypo allergic to boot.

I was talking one day with some friends when I mentioned that I was interested in looking at some doodles, but that I was hesitant to buy a dog from a breeder. I really prefer to rescue pets if possible. Someone told me about a group of Goldendoodles that she was fostering. The story was that their owner had died and they had been left unattended to when they were still nursing puppies. He was shy, tall, easily frightened, and had been unsuccessfully placed more than once. He sounded perfect!

When I met Sunshine he was going by the name Duke. I sat down on the couch and he immediately approached me – a good sign. I took him home and he was a little tentative getting out of the car. He walked behind me, hiding behind me as I moved towards the other dogs. As they approached he just laid down on the ground and looked them in the eye. Before the first evening was over he was fast friends with all three terriers. I saw his long blonde mustache and beard and thought he reminded me of an old mellow hippie named Sunshine – so Duke became Sunshine.

Sunshine is the complete opposite of a terrier. He is mild-mannered, gentle, careful, protective – he is a tiny dog in a tall body. He likes to try to hide under tables, even though he just doesn’t fit. When he plays. you can see the poodle in him – he gets his body low behind his outstretched front legs, ready to pounce. He has only two fears, thunder and gunfire – both of which are not uncommon in the woods. Beyond that he will defend me from any danger. He hikes with me, camps with me, and just hangs out with me. I probably neglected to write about him because he is easy. He isn’t pushy or demanding, although he does like his hand held at least once a day.

What made me think about writing about Sunshine today was the sunshine on that foot of snow in my yard. The dogs have been cooped up just like me – running outside for less than 5 minutes in the extreme cold. Today’s sunshine beckoned us all to come out and play. Sunshine hates it when it’s snowing, but the boy loves fresh snow. Here’s a gallery of him as he enjoys that virgin powder in the glorious sunshine – click through to get a sense of his movement:

Sunshine is that dog that watches you and anticipates your next move. He very gently inserts himself into your routine. He lies on a rug while I cook. He’s laying at my feet under my desk as I type this. He is always close by. He is not, however, hypo allergic. He sheds like a horse. I find blonde dust bunnies in ever corner on the floor and his addition to my home has necessitated another addition – a Dyson Animal. Speaking of the Dyson, I need to wrap this up and vacuum – it’s getting awfully fuzzy in the corners of the Stone House.

Because Sunshine doesn’t have as jealous bone in his body, I know he would not mind me including a slide show of his best pal in the snow. Snow is the one thing that Sunshine is the front-runner in their relationship. Kirby had to watch Sunshine run before he was sure he wanted to try it out. Again, click through for a sense of movement.

Everyone needs a little Sunshine in their life!

It’s hard to believe that this is my 200th post. I have been thinking about where I want to take theeffstop. I know I want to take good photos and share thoughtful or silly stories. I get a lot of comments about the camera settings I have shared, so I will continue to include those, but I will put them at the end of each post. I’m not really interested in writing a how-to blog, but I love sharing the knowledge I have picked up along the way. Thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with me. Your support and friendship have meant more to me than you will ever know.

Shutterbug Notes:

Both of these galleries were shot using Shutter Mode. On a bright sunny day you don’t have to push the ISO too high, especially in the snow. I set my ISO to 1000, Shutter Speed 1000. If you keep the focus point in the center of the frame you can focus on the face even as the running dog moves through the frame, in other words, give him room or you will cut his head off. 

Kirby’s Story

Several years ago there was a tragedy at the Stone House. I had three terriers – Velcro, Squeegee, and Zipper. Terriers are like no other dogs – stubborn, brave, fiercely loyal, and affectionate. Zipper was the only male and was the sweetest of the bunch. He camped and kayaked with me and had an weird habit of picking up bricks in his mouth and running away with them. He was odd and was very high energy, but was completely gentle around other animals. Once I spotted him out in my back field laying down in the grass watching a deer graze a couple of feet away from him. One day I heard the girls wail, it wasn’t a bark – it was very different and alarming. I ran outside to see that some roaming dogs had killed my sweet boy. The girls were inconsolable. I was inconsolable.

I’m not the kind of pet owner who heads out to replace a lost pup. I don’t think you can replace one, they are unique and each hold a special place in our hearts, but as the weeks wore on I could visibly see that the girls were mourning and I missed my cuddly adventure dog. I put up a post on a local BBS asking if anyone knew of a Jack Russell Terrier rescue or breeder in the area. It was time to move on.

Someone recommended a breeder and although I have typically rescued dogs, after a talk with her on the phone I decided to go look at some puppies. The kennel was quite remote – up a series of dirt roads about 20 miles off the pavement. They had a racing and training facility there, so I knew their dogs were not vanity terriers, they were working dogs. She showed me a couple of puppies and my heart melted – that baby animal serotonin thing kicked in. As I looked the two available pups the owners pointed out a dog to me in a large  training area. They told me his name was Cloud, and that they had bred him to compete for Confirmation. He was a gorgeous dog, I had never seen a terrier so perfectly proportioned. There was just one problem – he was terribly shy, so shy that he would bolt when touched by a judge in the ring. Worse still, his behavior was affecting the other dogs. He had been trained to race and to go to ground, but as a show dog he was useless. He needed a new home. He was 18 months old and had not been housebroken because he was a working dog. I sat with him for about a half hour, feeding him from my hand. The owners offered to let me just take him home with me. He had been adopted out once already and they were desperate to place him. They gave me his papers and I loaded him into the car for the two-hour ride home.

Cloud (Kirby's) first day at the Stone House

Cloud (Kirby’s) first day at the Stone House

Once we got back to my place I put him in a dog run that used to be on the property. My other dogs were on radio collars so they were free to run in a large circular area around the house. Cloud would have to stay in the run until he got used to me and could be trained on the fence. The run was attached to my shop building so he had an indoor outdoor area and I filled it with a new bed and lots of toys and blankets that smelled like me. The next day after work I went into the run to spend some time with my new boy and found that he was not at all open to letting me touch or even approach him. I decided that I needed him to bond with me in some way every day, so I fed him all of his meals out of my hands. He would grab a bite of kibble then bolt so that I had no chance to pet him. One day I thought I would try to walk him on a leash – after an hour of chasing him in the dog run I cornered him and he fought me so hard that I worried that he could be injured if I tried to force him to let me catch him – I needed to try something different.

I decided to put one of those old metal porch rockers in the dog run. I would sit in it each morning and evening for an hour or more feeding and talking to my new pup. Days passed, weeks passed – nothing. He seemed happy to see me, he wagged his tail each time I approached the run – but he was not going to let me touch him. This went on for 28 days. On day 29 I had an idea.

I brought Velcro into the run with me and I fed them both by hand. Each time I fed Velcro I would pet her and give her lots of affection. Cloud would watch and I could see that he was just a little jealous. After about 45 minutes of feeding both dogs he finally decided to let me touch him. I petted him under his ear and he pushed into my hands. He wanted to be petted! It was like a floodgate opened. He would not let me stop – it was like he had a skin hunger. I renamed him Kirby that night, because he was sucking up all the affection he could get. That night he moved into the house with us and the next evening I started training him on the invisible fence. He took right to it, and in a couple of days he was running with the girls.

That was in the summer of 2007. Today Kirby is very affectionate, but only when he chooses to be. He doesn’t make friends with everyone, but if he chooses you it means you must be pretty special. He protects the girls, who have reasonably become wary of any strange or unwelcome animal entering the yard. He and Velcro love to eat persimmons in the winter when they fall from the trees. He kayaks, he camps, he kills snakes – he is sweet, shy, and brave. He’s not Zipper, but he filled that hole in our hearts after we lost him – he filled it by choosing to love us on his own terms.

It’s only been recently that he has allowed me to take his photo. Perhaps he is a bit jealous of the birds.

Does the Friendliness Gene Exist?

Last Summer I wrote about a pair of whitetail fawns growing up in the field beyond the local Elks Lodge. The Lodge sits on one side of a hollow at the base of Pine Mountain, my house is at the top of the mountain,  and my road meanders down the side opposite from the Lodge. There is a large whitetail herd and it’s not uncommon to see the same deer at any spot along the mountain.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

This is a shot of the friendly fawn from last summer.

Over the years I have photographed a doe that is easily recognized by a thin white strip on just above her black nose. She is friendly and curious about me and tolerates me approaching her to take photos. I respect her space and back off if she shows any sign of concern. Last year she had two fawns – one with a black nose and one with a white stripe that had a wide spot in the center. Like it’s momma, the one with the white stripe had no concern about my presence and was actually very curious.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn's nose.

This shot gives a clearer picture of the marking in the fawn’s nose.

That original doe was one of triplets and was the only one with the white mark. Her sister still stays close and is not at all friendly. She starts snorting almost as soon as I leave my jeep. That friendly doe has had two sets of twins and only one of those has a white stripe and only that one is really friendly like she is. The others have been very cautious and quick to run off. Last year I was lucky to get so close to the friendly fawn on several occasions.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetails use their tails like flags when alarmed - the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

The tail tucked and low like this indicates no sense of alarm. Whitetail use their tails like flags when alarmed – the rest of the herd can spot them in the woods when the have it raised so the white hairs show.

I watched a documentary about the domestication of wolves – the forefathers of dogs. Humans and wolves have always interacted – wolves feeding off of livestock or the trash of people. In a pack of wolves there is usually one or two who are bolder around humans. These wolves are the ones who make friends with humans and by doing so they can secure food and comfort for the pack – they are like ambassadors. Scientists have found that these dogs share a genetic marker and they call it the friendliness gene. This marker is also found in domesticated dogs today.

Not that this has anything to do with whitetail deer, but it got me thinking about why some deer are curious and some are flighty. The deer have no need to befriend me for food. I do find it an interesting coincidence that all of the deer in our small herd who are comfortable and even curious about me and my camera seem to have a similar white stripe on their nose – is it nature or nurture? Does the original doe’s boldness embolden some of her fawns?

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Notice how the doe has no concern or alarm, she even turns her back on me when her fawn is nearby.

Of course winter comes and the whitetail move deep into the hollow. I put my thoughts about this friendly trait away for winter. The deer stay away from the field once hunting season opens and have yet to make an appearance there this year. I have seen a couple on the roadside running into the woods, so they are on the move.

A couple of days ago I saw a deer ahead of me on the road. It didn’t bolt – it just looked my way and walked leisurely into the woods. I pulled up along side and it looked over its shoulder at me…

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

Unconcerned with me or my noisy jeep, this yearling looked at me.

I stayed in the jeep – opened the passenger window and snapped a few shots. I was taken aback by how long the young whitetail looked at me and at its calm demeanor. And then I saw it…

20130321-121924.jpgThis was not any yearling, this was my friendly fawn. No wonder it showed no concern for me, it knows me. It survived the winter in the hollow and is now roaming over the hills.

It’s nice to catch up with old friends.

Raining Cats & Dogs

What follows is an excerpt from my Art House Coop Sketchbook Project from a couple of years back. Basically you buy a sketchbook, fill it with whatever you like and you send it back – the Brooklyn Art Library then sends your book out on tour with thousands of other sketchbooks in a traveling exhibit – a library where art lovers can check out your book and even leave you comments. It’s a wonderful project and when the road show returns to Brooklyn your sketchbook becomes a part of a permanent library. I have loved doing Sketchbooks – I’m on my 4th and my niece is joining me this year.

Check it out here.

I live on about 6 acres in the Ozarks. When I moved here a decade ago I had one dog. With so much room it seemed natural to add another, and another, and another.

Here in the hills and hollows the neighbors have “country dogs” – basically dogs that have no limitations, no fences, no kennels, no boundaries. So even with my humble pack I am often surrounded by dozens of cats and dogs. Some days it seems like it is raining cats and dogs.

I decided to make a photographic record of all the cats and dogs in my life over the course of a couple of months. Some are mine and some are my brother’s family’s pets. I shot everything with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic app. The captions on the photos are things I have heard said about each pet.

Oscar

"The softest cat in the universe"

“The softest cat in the universe”

One day my sister-in-law Karen got a call from her neighbor, a local veterinarian. Someone had dumped kittens at the clinic overnight. They were only 2-3 days old. Only one was still alive when he arrived at work. He asked if she would be willing to try to bottle feed the lone survivor – translation “Karen, take this cat and be responsible for it for the rest of its life.” Karen obliged and Oscar thrived. Oddly this yellow cat that was never nursed is on a mission to nurse every small animal he meets. Puppies, kittens, the chihuahua – he tries to be a wet-nurse to them all. He has been known to allow Karens birds to feed in the same bowl he is eating from. He has the loudest purr of any cat I have ever seen. Oscar is odd…and soft.

Daphne

"She's like your crazy old aunt"

“She’s like your crazy old aunt”

When Karen’s great-aunt passed away she left behind Daphne -14 years old, deaf, blind, and not housebroken. Daphne was a difficult houseguest. Every 12 hours Daphne would bark non-stop until she was fed. Even the time change to Daylight Savings Time had no effect on her – every 12 hours, every day.

Karen began to take Daphne to the Doggy Spa once a week for grooming and massage. Daphne served her master and then enjoyed her golden years by bossing around her new humans. She was like that crazy old aunt – we all have one.

Kirby

"if you're my friend, you must be special"

“if you’re my friend, you must be special”

Kirby hates:

Camera – he hides when he sees one

Snakes – he has been bitted by Copperheads 8 times

Pills – he has to take them after snake bites

Kirby loves:

My living room rug

Killing snakes

Kirby was bred to be a show dog. He is perfectly proportioned and has a gorgeous coat. He is a dream to walk on a leash. There is just one problem. He is terribly shy, so shy that he could not tolerate being touched by judges in the show ring. His breeder was eager to place him in a home because his behavior was spreading to the other dogs. So Kirby came to live with me. He was at my house 29 days before he let me touch him. Kirby chooses his own friends in his own time. He will always be shy. but if you’re on his list you must be special!

Lola

"That is one crazy cat"

“That is one crazy cat”

Lola belonged to my nephew Tommy, she was sent to live with Karen for a few years, but now she lives with Paul, an old friend from the neighborhood – he seems to be the only human she genuinely likes. Lola has issues. She’s that cat that will sit on your lap and purr sweetly until you move a muscle – then she will attack you with claws out.

"Lola has crazy eyes"

“Lola has crazy eyes”

I’m not certain that she ever blinks, I have never seen her sleep, she looks cuddly – but it’s wise to keep your distance!

I don’t know if there is such thing as an “alpha cat” – if there is Lola is one. The other cats scatter when she enters a room. She strikes with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. That sweet look lulls you into trusting her, then she strikes without warning. It’s a good idea to keep a supply of band aids on hand for Lola encounters. If Lola cannot attack you she will attack her own back leg, it’s her evil nemesis and it’s always stalking her – day and night. It’s her eternal struggle for victory – victory over her own read leg.

That is one crazy cat.

Cocoa

"The sensible one"

“The sensible one”

Cocoa was my Pop’s Corgi. After Pops passed away Cocoa missed him terribly. Being a herding dog, Cocoa is alway looking for a job to do. She’s the sensible one.

Cammie

"She's not a dog, she's his daughter"

“She’s not a dog, she’s his daughter”

Cambria Louise was a gift from Karen to her husband Max, my brother. Karen and Max have three sons, no daughters. Cammie is not a dog, she’s his daughter. She is a pointer and she is obsessed with birds, this makes for interesting times since Karen raises birds for a living. Cammie has her own couch, her own bed, her own bowl. In a house with 6 dogs, 4 cats, 3 boys, 14 birds, and a turtle, Cammie is the only organism that has anything that is entirely her own.

I went out to the desert with Cammie and Max one day. She was very annoyed that I was permitted to sit in the front seat of the Jeep. The front seat is her seat. If the princess is in the car it’s best to give in and crawl into the back unless you want a fifty pound dog on your lap.

Sunshine

"He believes he is a tiny dog"

“He believes he is a tiny dog”

Sunshine is a rescued goldendoodle. I named him Sunshine because he reminds me of a blonde hippy I met in Oregon with the same name. Sunshine is tall and thin like a standard poodle, and sweet and loyal like a golden retriever. He hides under my end tables, he barely fits under there. He believes he’s a tiny dog.

Sunshine was abused and neglected as a puppy. He is very cautious around strangers, but I have no doubt that he would defend me from any danger.

"He's got crazy hair"

“He’s got crazy hair”

Sunshine has crazy hair, in the summer I have him cut close like a schnauzer, in the winter I let his coat grow out. Right now it’s so long that I cannot see his eyes. I know his coat keeps him warm, but I miss his face. By February all of his hair will be over six inches long. Bringing Sunshine into my home and into my life has required another addition to the household…a Dyson.

Squeegee

"Why is the smallest one always the alpha dog?"

“Why is the smallest one always the alpha dog?”

One summer my Pop came to visit and admired my Jack Russell Terrier. He had always wanted one but they were very expensive back home. Here they are hunters and ratters – work dogs. I found a breeder for him – they showed us two pups. Pops asked which one would be the best and I picked the smaller squarer one. He seemed drawn to the pudgy one with a short nose. I went to the car to get the back seat ready for the ride home an Pops emerged with both puppies. He spent the rest of his vacation in my house picking up puppy poop.

Squeegee is a small terrier – about 12 pounds. She is also very bossy. Why is the smallest one always the alpha?

She was bitten by a rattlesnake when she was six months old, she’s a tough little thing. She dislikes my other female terrier, even so she sleeps next to her each night. She’s a barker – she trees squirrels, chases away deer and rabbits, and sounds the alarm if she spots a snake – but she catches nothing. Squeegee is the very definition of “all bark and no bite.”

Squeegee hates:

Cameras – she always looks away

Snakes – she barks like crazy

Velcro – not the sticky stuff, my other terrier.

Zeno

"King of the dingle-berry"

“King of the dingle-berry”

Poor Zeno is an odd Pomeranian. He belongs to my nephew Brian. His tongue always hangs out over his teeth. He urinates on every vertical surface in the house. He has massive dingle-berries – he’s the King of the Dingle-berry! He’s not very huggable.

Poor little Kingle-Berry.

Charlie

"Massive underbite"

“Massive underbite”

Charlie is kind of homely. She has a short nose and a massive underbite – she looks a little like a tiny boxer. Charlie belongs to Karen. Karen often chooses odd dogs with issues. We sometimes call Charlie “Chucky” like the scary dog from the movies. She looks like him and she is a terror – so it fits.

Charlie often plays possum, she closes her eyes while pretending to sleep. Keep an eye on her and you’ll notice that she is sneaking a peek at you. She’s a tiny spy making sure nothing gets by her. I wonder who she reports to, is she an enemy agent, or just an eavesdropper. I don’t trust her.

Ruthie

"Big personality - tiny package"

“Big personality – tiny package”

Ruthie is a yorkie. You know when you look at a puppy and think, “wouldn’t it be cute if they stayed this small and sweet?” Ruthie did stay that small, and is mostly sweet. She makes the Charlie the chihuahua look like a giant next to her tiny teacup face. She really is all hair, I’m convinced that she is just a hamster with a really long coat. Small as she is, she is fearless. She takes on the cats and the other dogs with no concern for her tiny stature. She is Charlie’s best friend and together they are a tiny, powerful tornado. Ruthie is a big personality in a tiny package.

Anabelle

"Pretty pretty"

“Pretty pretty”

Anabelle is Karen’s Maine Coon. She has paws that look like catcher’s mitts. She is very sweet and loves to sit on your lap. She is a very patient model and isn’t bothered with my camera, even if I am using a flash. She’s a peach.

Whenever Max sees Anabelle he says “Pretty – pretty!” in a high-pitched tone. It’s so unlike his natural voice – this big manly construction worker cooing at a fuzzy cat. Anabelle really is pretty and she is the sweetest cat in the house – no issues, no odd habits, no psychosis, no drama – just pretty pretty.

I don’t own a cat. I’m not a cat person. Anabelle makes me think I could be though. Of course with three terriers at home it would take a very special cat to survive in my household.

UPDATE – since this was in the Sketchbook Project, Max and Karen have taken in a three-legged cat named Tripod that Anabelle does not get along with. He now uses his normal voice and calls her “Crazy Ass Psycho Bitch”. I still like her.

Velcro

"Velcro sticks with you"

“Velcro sticks with you”

Velcro is a rescue, I wrote her story here – she’s a mystery. I have had her for about 8 years and I am guessing she’s close to 14 years old. I brought her home from an adoption fair at the mall. She was scheduled to be euthanized at the pound the following Tuesday. I named her Velcro because she sticks with you – always sitting as close as possible to you. She has gone grey, she is my best pal.

Velcro loves:

Cameras – she loves the attention of being photographed

Wasps – she eats ’em!

Hunting – she is a master hunter – she has killed rabbits, squirrels, possums, pack rats, field mice, snakes, and moles.

Velcro is a champion napper. She could sleep for 20 hours straight. Maybe it’s because she works so hard hunting those pesky rodents and reptiles. Maybe it’s because she’s old. No matter, she deserves a rest.

She’s the best thing I ever brought home from the mall.

iPhoned this one it.