…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Friday, March 23, 2007

a birthday haiku

For Sporks

Thirty-nine candles blaze
Burning bright, oh, dazzling sight!
Mind, don't lose the cake

Friday, March 16, 2007

meet me in el monte

RePete wasn’t the dog we went to see. He was on our list, but pretty far down—maybe seventh—and I honestly didn’t expect to get past number 1. I had constructed a full-figured fantasy around number 1, “Lenny,” in the 24 hours since I had first seen his picture at the Beagles & Buddies Web site.

Lenny, the rescue organization’s site said, is a beagle–Australian shepherd mix, only two of my favorite dog breeds ever! His description also noted that he’s an extremely high-energy dog. And doesn’t it seem that his one blue eye can see right into your soul? He could be my people filter, warning me off the baddies! I had called to ensure that Lenny was still available—he was—and inquire what his adoption donation would be: $150, the bottom end of their scale. What a steal! I shopped him by Sporks and we decided to go meet him over the weekend.

B & B is located in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, the kind of town where smoking toddlers in diapers play in the street unsupervised. We were a little queasy about the n’hood when we drove up, but we got over it. After all, we’re not so fancy ourselves, and it’s not like swank types are clamoring for dog rescues to lay chain-link within their city limits. Besides, my little Lenny was in there; we needed to bust him out so that he could come home with us and be my best friend forever.

At the entrance gate we handed over our application, which I had downloaded and filled out before we arrived, and which a rescue volunteer prescreened to ensure our worthiness as potential parents. Good thing it wasn’t one of those born-again Christian rescues. The only Scripture in this joint was the “Caring for Your New Dog” pamphlets furnished by the makers of Pedigree dog food, who, by the way, have the right food for your dog at every stage of his life.

(Speaking of which, the proliferation of pet food varieties must stop, because I’m a notoriously indecisive shopper capable of entering full-blown catatonia when confronted with too many choices. I understand that today’s range of pet nutrition represents a vast improvement over olden times, when we fed our cats Purina Cat Chow and our dogs Purina Dog Chow. But under the Hill’s Science Diet brand alone, 34 different varieties of dog food are sold, not counting the Prescription Diet line, under the banner of which 39 additional products are offered, including a potato and venison formula, because dogs love them some taters and deer, and—I shit you not—an anorexia-recovery formula. Maybe dogs are hunger-striking because we’re feeding them POTATOES AND VENISON. Seriously, pet food makers, enough with the choices—unless you can come up with a food that makes dogs stop craving cat shit.)

We passed muster and through the gates into a little courtyard area where greeter dogs sniffed us and La Diabla, whom we had brought along for vetting. Lenny was not among the greeter dogs but in the kennels out back. We followed the din of barking and baying until we reached kennel seven, where I saw that solitary soul-seeing eye reflecting the high sun in a moment of halcyon stillness…just before Lenny’s turbulent psyche vomited forth.

This will shock and amaze you, readers, but Lenny turned out to be a very high-energy dog! Like, bowing-out-the-walls-of-his-chain-link-enclosure, on-crack high-energy. That furtive glance at his single blue eye set off his crazy bell and he barked me into the next kennel.

But maybe he was just nervous on first meeting. I decided to wander a bit, give him some time to realize I’m the BFF he’s always wanted but dared not dream possible. In the meantime I’d flirt with some other dogs, maybe make him jealous for my affection.

The first dog to activate my aww reflex was a reserved-looking lemon beagle. As instructed by those who know such things, I took care to introduce myself properly, with relaxed body language, no direct eye contact, and the back of one hand extended ever so casually for sniffing. The little gal approached shyly and sat quietly on the other side of the fence, wagging her tail. So far, so good. I inched my hand a bit closer, whereupon she lunged, gave it a quick nip, and ran away, barking ferociously to alert the others that something wicked their way came.

Put off the lemon beagle’s scent, I sidestepped back over toward Lenny to give him another shot at recognizing our love match. Results were consistent with initial findings.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you again—don’t you know I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt? Fool me three times, and I’ll call you Chelsea.

As I said, we had jotted down a few other dogs we liked from the Web site, just in case Lenny turned out to be, well, Lenny. But we quickly dispatched the list: Midnight the whippet mix was doing vertical flips in her run; Jake the basset mix didn’t have enough energy to keep La Diabla and her ADHD company; Jolie the coonhound mix, we were told, “just isn’t ready to meet people yet”; and Rosie the beagle, it turned out, had revealed a talent for climbing six-foot fences without breaking a pant.

The last dogs on our list were littermates Pete and RePete the mixed-breed mixes. Pete had been adopted that morning, but his bro RePete was still there.

RePete evokes for me generic dogdom, the sum of all dogs, every breed and no breed at once. I thought I had a dog aesthetic—a visual one—that forbade terribly ordinary-looking earth-tone dogs, but as I got to know RePete, he seemed perfect. He and La Diabla took to each other like Dick and Jane. He was curious, calm, and playful—and kind of beta without being a pushover. And that face, that black-spotted tongue, those soft floppy ears, those winsome eyebrows, and look at the way he sits sidesaddle!

Anyone who reads Sporks’ blog knows that we brought RePete home a couple of weeks ago: I’m a little behind on the blogging front. And since then we’ve been trying to suss out his heritage.

Shepherd, for sure, but certainly bred with smaller sorts—Chihuahua? And there’s that black-spotted tongue, so maybe we can throw some chow in. Sporks suggested shar-pei as a possibility.

Then she said something I’d been quietly thinking myself, that the way his forehead wrinkles and his tail curls is suggestive of the devil breed: basenji, as in “destructo the wonder dog” Carter and her nervous bladder.

Did saying it aloud make it more real? He barks, so how much basenji—“the barkless dog”—could he really have in him? There are some folks, Sporks noted, who breed basenjis and Chihuahuas together: Maybe he has a bahuahua parent?

I like this notion of mashing names together such that every dog, however mixed, has a breed identity. The American Canine Hybrid Club lists dozens of them: the giant schnoodle (giant schnauzer/standard poodle), the dorkie (dachshund/Yorkshire terrier), the bagle hound (basset hound/beagle).

So I have to be ready, when approached at the dog park by fascinated onlookers who want to know all about my beautiful boy, to say, without a hitch, “Oh, yes, he’s a bahuashepchowpei. It’s a rare breed, especially in this earth-tone variety.”

RePete is now “Scout,” which I know may be confusing, that being my blog nick and all. It’s the name I chose for my child, girl or boy—should I ever have one—after I read To Kill a Mockingbird in junior high. It’s so coolly androgynous, with implications of both daring individualism and ethical humanity—the kind of child, or dog, I’d be proud to call my own.

Maybe I should change my name here. But there are a couple of folks who link to me who find it tiresome to type “neurotranscendence”—I can’t say as I blame them—and therefore link to me as “scout,” so changing my blog name to, say, “myrtle” would be confusing to new visitors, whom I don’t want to alienate. (Shout-out to new visitors!) Then again, visitors reading future posts who are unfamiliar with all the fascinating details of my life may think I’m referring to myself in the third person when I mention Scout, which can be not only irritating to readers but embarrassing to me should I write something along the lines of, “Scout’s been eating cat shit again.” Clearly the name problem is not something I’ll resolve in this post.

At any rate, I am completely smitten with my boy. I think about him at work, I can’t wait to see him when I get home, and everything he does further goes to prove that he is—objectively—the sweetest, smartest, cutest dog in the whole wide world. Even his penis is cute!

So, no, Scout isn’t the kind of dog you go to see. He’s the dog who romps into your life when you’re pretty sure you’ve struck out. My best relationships have always found me, and always when I’ve least expected them.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

about a dog

Her name was Chelsea. Not my favorite name, too post-Clintonian trendy, Gen Y’s “Lisa.” I briefly changed her name to Scout—need I say a name I’m fond of?—going so far as to make a tag for “Scout” with our address and phone number, thinking, of course, that she would be our dog in the long term. Funny how quickly animals can worm into our lives and seem absolutely right for us, even when they’re absolutely wrong.

I’ve always considered myself more of a cat person, though I think such distinctions are overrated as predictors of human personality. I gather I’ve been what you call a “cat person” all these years largely due to my exposure to such piss-poor models of the caninus family, from the antisocial dogs of my youth to the curly tailed terror visited upon me by my life partner, Sporks, who 12 years ago came into my life bundled with “Carter,” a destructive overachiever given to fits of separation anxiety most explicitly expressed via nervous bladder. I’ll never again be able to look at basenjis without wincing.

After Carter’s death, and not by my hand, we took in Sporks’ parents’ Welsh springer spaniel “Red.” Red was nice enough, but he came to us in declining health, with eight years under his coat, and ours was more an assisted-living relationship than a lesbians’ best friend kind of thing.

Soon after Red died came Biscuit, a magical entity inasmuch as she’s the dog who made me love dogs. She’s a cocker mix from the south central L.A. shelter, and while she fails factorially short of the “perfect dog” appellation thrust upon her by Sporks—via phone from the shelter, seeking my approval to go ahead with her adoption—she is preternaturally cute, proving a timeworn principle: The cuter you are, the more crap you can get away with. La Diabla, née Biscuit, is the least well-behaved member of our household, but she loves us, and she really works that cute angle.

Perhaps La Diabla’s greatest fault is that she’s cat-aggressive. Being a “cat person,” I have two feline space heaters—not counting the strays who live in our yard being that kibble is known to spring magically from a well on our property twice daily. La Diabla chases all equally, the outdoorsy types from their font of food, the indoorsy types from wherever they are. My eldest has grown accustomed to such dogergy and barely reacts anymore, which bores La Diabla, consequently diverting more of her restless energy toward Halo, our mutant five-year-old calico who, at six pounds, is as close to a perpetual kitten as nature allows. Both her teeny size and her fear of La Diabla make her just about the funnest quarry ever!

It may surprise you to learn that we were surprised by the cat aggression. Neither of us had ever experienced anything but mixed-use dog and cat households—without incident—though we do both know, abstractly, that dogs chase cats: See Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier, Sylvester’s Looney Tunes nemeses:

On the other hand, our childhood was rife with examples to the contrary: See Marc Antony and Pussyfoot:

Or how about Chance, Sassy, and Shadow:

To bottom-line it, dogs who get along with cats and cats who warm to dogs are more winsome mammals for their harmony.

We’ve made every effort to break La Diabla’s habit of chasing Halo on sight, and to both her and Halo’s credit, they’ve managed occasionally to settle territory within several feet of one another for dozens of seconds at a time, like Israel and Palestine, though La Diabla hums like a power cut all the while, twitching with the readiness of a soldier at her checkpoint, ever ready to fire.

So it was that last weekend, while watching a Dog Whisperer episode in which Cesar Millan recommended and procured a second (perfect!) dog for a family whose first dog was out of control, I casually mentioned my own openness to the concept.

“Now, I don’t want you calling me Monday saying you’ve found the perfect second dog,” I clarified. “Let’s take this slow.” Sporks tends to get a bit obsessed with focused on fun new projects, and she doesn’t always think through the consequences. Meanwhile, I’m the sensible one who positively obsesses over consequences, and I worry about the expense of a second dog, not so much in terms of food as in boarding fees, vet bills, and net destruction to the household (i.e., unforeseen damages should we adopt a chewer, a scratcher, a digger, or a nervous urinater).

“Monday’s Presidents’ Day,” Sporks reminded me. “The shelters won’t even be open.”

That was Saturday. On Sunday we were driving by a park where, it happened, the L.A. city shelter was having an adoption fair. I impulsively suggested we stop.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sporks asked. “They bring their most adoptable dogs to these kinds of things.”

“Yeah, let’s just have a look,” I said.

When I first started chatting up the shelter folks, they said they figured Chelsea was three or four: good teeth, no gray on her muzzle. A little later they offered as how she might be five-ish, and they mentioned that she had been surrendered by owners who claimed she was “human aggressive.” Hah! People will say anything to allay their guilt when surrendering a family pet to the shelter. Look at this sweet face and tell me there’s an aggressive bone in her body!

Chelsea proved her former caretakers wrong again and again, suffering attacks on all sides by adults, children, and other dogs. If you had a free hand to pet her, she was yours for the stroking. How could her people have been so cruel to saddle her with the taint of “human aggression”? Didn’t they know that was tantamount to a death sentence for a dog? She’s lucky to live in Los Angeles, where animal shelters citywide are working toward achieving a “no-kill by 2008” goal, the only way a three- to four- to five-year-old mutt suspected of human aggression would be allowed a second chance.

Make that a third chance. On closer inspection staffers found paperwork showing that Chelsea had been surrendered earlier by another owner, in 1999, when she was two, making her 10 years old today. Reason given: “human aggression.”

My therapist is fond of saying that all those red flags I see aren’t there to cheer me to the finish line.

By this time I had already spent several hours with Chelsea. We were resonating, she and I. Senior dogs need love too! And re: aggression, she had been misunderstood, or mistreated, or they just flat-out had the wrong dog. Maybe she’d been set up by some no-account presa canario friend.

In the meantime Sporks had fetched La Diabla to see how they got on—well—and I had taken Chelsea through the cat area to see if any aroused her ire—they did not.

We adopted Chelsea.

Two hours later she bit Sporks’ forearm. Hard. Like, chomped down and shook her head back and forth. It was an unprovoked attack that required an emergency room visit, seven stitches, and a tetanus shot.

When we got home several hours later I slipped a leash over Chelsea’s head and we took her back to the shelter. We didn’t feel we had much choice, but in bringing her back I felt that I acquired a taint of my own: the surrendering owner, a burden on the system, the kind of person who buys a cute little baby bunny for Easter only to cast it aside by Administrative Professionals’ Day. At least I had Sporks’ bruised and bandaged forearm to back up my story.

The shelter officer took down my information as I stood there with Chelsea, who was busy looking all doe-eyed and docile. We emphasized to the officer that all of our animal companions had come from L.A. shelters (we’re good people, really!) and that every one, until now, had become a permanent family member, practically living a life of luxury in our benevolent home! The shelter officer was kind but disinterested. She noted that our adoption fee was transferable to another animal within 10 days. I told her we were probably a little gun-shy to adopt again within 10 days; consider it a donation.

I went to bed Sunday night feeling embarrassed both at my impulsiveness and poor taste in animal companions. I was sad for Chelsea—I really wanted to give the old girl a better life—and also sad for myself, that my first foray into dogdom had ended so miserably. Maybe I was a cat person after all.

Coming soon: “About Another Dog”