Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tommy's Endorsements

We here in the household of Tommy Lee Jones the pit bull mix value living in harmony with all peoples of different persuasions and opinions. And we know that peaceful coexistence sometimes requires keeping our ideas to ourselves, especially in these polarizing times when sensitivities are heightened. But when something as critical as the fate of our planet is at stake, we feel compelled to, well, put a stake in the ground and voice our beliefs.

We stand behind clean air, clean energy, and jobs that come from commitments to those values. It's pretty simple: we believe in protecting the environment for future generations. And we believe these candidates give us the best shot at doing so.

We believe in a lot of other things too, but we don't want to forcefeed you our opinions. We don't want to turn this blog into a bully pulpit. But if you like what you see here, you may want to check out the endorsements of the Sierra Club and NRDC, two environmental organizations we support.

Tommy got so excited for this shot, his snoot loop came off.

We respect other people’s opinions, too, even when they differ from ours, and we welcome civil discourse. That’s what democracy is all about, right?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Good Yard is Hard to Find

Last week I met my realtor, Luis, at an Altadena house. As I tied Tommy to the fence, I caught a glimpse of an orange tabby sliding into the crawl space under the house. I registered a hint of trouble that I chose to ignore.

Inside I quickly walked through the house, snapped a picture of Luis and Lucas in the kitchen (if there’d been more light I would have captured Tommy bucking up in protest through that window)...

and summed up my assessment: It was a fixer and out of my price range but oh that yard!

The house was on a quarter-acre lot, and I intended to take full advantage of it.

Luis was happy to oblige. He unlocked the gate, and, when he and Lucas were safe inside again, I unhooked Tommy's snoot loop.

I love when he tears off but instead he got sidetracked by a scent, sniffing the ground like a hound. I did my version of giddyap. I clapped my hands in quick succession, shouting in staccato fashion, "Go Tommy! Go! Go! Go!" and slapped my hands on my thigh.

I'm not proud of this image but it works. Tommy shot off like a greyhound.

When he got to the other end of the yard, I clapped my hands and yelled, “Come, Tommy!” And he thundered back toward me.

Janine from J9's K9s taught that you always use the recall command in a happy, upbeat tone, and everytime your dog responds, you shower him with praise and treats. It doesn't matter how upset or pissed off you may be, whenever he responds to the recall command it's a party. Tommy learned this command well.

What a good boy, Tommy.

While I gloated over his athletic prowess and exemplary behavior, Tommy ran directly into the crawl space after that orange tabby’s scent.

I shouted, "come!" Tommy ignored me.

I ran to the crawl space entrance and tried to keep the strained panic from my voice, "Come, Tommy! Come boy."

And how was the recall command working now? As if it were swallowed by a dark hole, as if it fell on Tommy's deaf ears.


I feared Tommy would tear that cat to shreds; I feared I'd have to crawl in that dark, dirty space with god knows what down there; I feared rats and snakes and giant bugs.

I ran to the house and called again.

Tommy shot out of the crawl space, saw me standing by the door, and ran right back under the house.

I imagined the neighbors peeking out from behind a curtain shaking their heads and saying, "There goes the neighborhood."

Eventually I lured Tommy out, wrapped that snoot loop around his snout, said goodbye to Luis and Lucas and left.

Tommy was blissfully exhausted that evening.

The next day I put an offer on the house. The neighbors needn't have worried. By the end of the week I got the news that I'd been outbid. The search for a good yard continues.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Young Buck

Monday morning as I drove along La Tuna Canyon Boulevard on my way to drop off Tommy at Starcrest Kennels I hit a deer. He suddenly appeared, seemingly out of thin air, like a ghost, though his massive body hurling against the right side of my car was certainly of the corporeal world. Stunned, I pulled over to the shoulder to survey the damage and get my bearings: The windshield was all in one piece. The only problem I could see was the side-view mirror smashed up against the passenger window.

With trepidation I looked behind me to see what had become of the deer, but then caught a glimpse of him loping up the hill to my left across the road. There were two of them, each with a young set of antlers. I wasn’t sure which one I had hit. They both seemed to be fine, although I couldn't be sure. I didn’t stay long as Tommy, tethered in the back seat, went berserk at the sight of them. I continued onto Starcrest.

Just last week I’d seen five deer running up the same hillside. It was a beautiful sight but I worried then about their fate traveling along such a busy street. In the three years I’ve been taking Tommy to Starcrest, I’d never seen a deer. My theory is that the devastation from the Station Fire that burned thousands of square miles of the Angeles National Forest forced the deer down to these hills, the Verdugo Mountains, to search for food.

I felt shaken up all that day, awakened to how unpredictable life is: you step out the door and go about your daily mundane business and a deer flies out of the sky and smashes into your car.

But I know I was lucky. It could have been much worse. He could’ve slammed into my windshield. I could have been impaled by a rack of antlers.

These are humbling thoughts. I’m grateful I wasn’t hurt. I’m also really, really sad. Animals don’t stand a chance having to share the planet with us. It’s heartbreaking.

Whenever I contemplate the problems that weigh heavy on my heart, my impulse is to go into fix-it mode. What can I do to prevent deer from running onto a road and getting whacked by a 2-ton barrel of steel? The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing.

A few days after I found the Hahamongna Chihuahua, I had dinner with a friend in the Franklin Hills area of Los Feliz. As I drove down St. George Blvd, which runs along Marshall High School, I saw a dog up ahead in the middle of the road. Not again! I spewed out a string of profanity. It was late. I was exhausted and had to work the next morning. Did I really want to stop and try to catch another stray dog? As I reached the intersection, I saw that the dog, who had run up Griffith Park Blvd and now stood motionless in the middle of the street, was in fact a coyote. He looked frightened and confused. I kept driving. My brain kicked into problem-solving gear as I considered how I could help him: maybe I should go back and try to shoo him toward the park or into someone’s yard away from traffic.

Then I thought, really? You think there’s something you can do to help this lost coyote?

And the young buck and others like him?

Some believe the decision to hold off on stopping the Station Fire within the first 24 hours was motivated by the desire to save money. I don't know the truth, but I hope it's not that.

The past year has been filled with depressing news of environmental catastrophes: the Gulf oil devastation, the orange sludge poisoning communities in Hungary killing everything in its wake. Last night The Story featured Echoes of Kentucky, about a town where, ten years after coal sludge poured into their community, they still can’t drink the water.

On a positive note, a lot of people are working hard to change the destructive path we’re following. Today is Blog Action Day, and the 2010 theme is water. It’s the kind of thing that gives me hope: thousands of people around the world writing about a critical issue, millions of readers participating in the discussion.

Here are a couple of participating blogs as well as a charity that provides water to children in Africa:

Blue Kitchen

Pasadena Daily Photo

Drop in the Bucket

"The good Earth—we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy."
— Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. "
— Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Imagination Sure Can Run—Part Two

A couple of months ago (that went fast) I mentioned two recent experiences had reminded me of my active imagination. I wrote about the first experience: how I feared my neighbor was in danger (or worse, dead) when I heard her dog whining all day. Thankfully, it was just my imagination.

I’d intended to write about the second experience soon after, but that plan got waylaid by the Hahamongna Chihuahua (otherwise known as Grandpa and Ponchito the Fierce Warrior), then a trip out of town, then a litany of other excuses, including the recent sweltering heat. Now this story feels dated, but one shouldn’t suggest a part two without delivering. So, here it is.

Veronica was driving a transport of about 40 dogs to a Tucson shelter, and I agreed to take care of her pack while she was gone. It was a quick overnight trip. I only needed to let the dogs out for a break that evening and then again the following morning.

You may recall that Veronica has a pack of 10 mostly large dogs. I love hanging out with them when Veronica’s around but I was a bit intimidated by the thought of doing it without her. So we hatched a plan: Veronica would separate the dogs into 3 different groups in 3 different rooms, and I would let them out in shifts.

I got home early that day, changed and went right over.

I approached the door behind which pack 1 barked ferociously (except for little Lola).

Pack 1: (from left to right) Lola, Zoe, Cooper, and Shiloh
I opened the door and quickly turned toward the yard so as not to confront the dogs head-on. They charged at me, the intruder, but then greeted me with sniffs and licks and wagging tails. They ran around the yard and did their business.

I put them back in the house.

When I opened the door for pack 2, they flew out thrilled to see me. Even Blondie, who barked at first, warmed up to me. That was a wonderful surprise.
Pack 2: (from left to right) Domino, Babe, Blondie, and Glory

Blondie’s owners had tossed her out of their car as they drove past a pet adoption event run by Downtown Dog Rescue. At first she'd been tense and lifeless, spending her days hiding in the closet. She soon bonded with Veronica, but she didn't trust me. When I'd visited to pick tomatoes, she barked and growled at me no matter how much I tried to convince her with soothing coos I wasn't a threat.

Now she wagged her tail and jumped up to greet me. The transformation made my heart sing. She’s such a beauty, with one blue eye, one brown; I’d adopt her in a second if I didn’t have Tommy.

Pack 2, the wildest bunch, was ecstatic to be outside. I felt bad putting them back in the house after only a few minutes, so I let pack 3 out with them.

Pack 3: Kurt and Lily

But that wasn't fair to pack 1, locked in the house while the rest were outside, so I let them out too.

So much for shifts.

I hung out under the canopy while the 10 dogs wandered around doing their doggie thing. And it was fine.

But it was time for me to go. I had a deadline looming.

I corralled almost all the dogs back into their rooms (no small feat), except for Lola. I couldn’t find her. I walked all over the yard calling her. She’s so small; she could be anywhere. Eventually I found her curled up under a bureau outside. I coaxed her out and shooed her back into the house in the room with pack 1 and headed home.

Back in March I’d gotten a speeding ticket and I had signed up for online traffic school. I’d already extended the deadline once, and the second deadline loomed. It was due to be completed the following day, and of course I'd left it till the last minute. I still had hours of chapters to read and tests to take. If you attend in person, the class takes all day. If you take it online, the lessons are timed and you can’t forward ahead until the clock runs out: 45 minutes for one chapter, 30 minutes for another chapter, etc. I had a long night ahead of me.

Veronica hadn't expected me to let the dogs out again that night but I wanted to give them a second break. The hours flew by. When I shut off my computer (with still some traffic school chapters to go), it was after 11 pm.

To save time, I discarded the shift idea; I opened the door to let pack 1 out. As the dogs charged out, I went right over to the sliding glass door to let pack 2 out, and then quickly did the same for pack 3.

It was dark. I stumbled through the yard, trying to keep the dogs quiet so as not to disturb the neighbors. When all was calm I sat at the table under the canopy and let the dogs enjoy the night air.

There’s only so long you can sit outside in the dark with a bunch of dogs. It was approaching midnight: time to go home.

I herded Zoe, Cooper and Shiloh into room 1. I didn’t see Lola, so I moved onto the other dogs. I coaxed Kurt and Lily into room 3. After a few tries, I managed to herd all 4 dogs into room 2.

Now, where was Lola? I looked under the bureau where she’d been hiding earlier in the day. Nope, she wasn’t there. I walked around the yard. She was nowhere in sight.

I went into the main part of the house, where pack 1 hung out, and fumbled to find some lights. When I could see, I looked in each room, under the couch, under each chair, in the closet. No Lola.

I went back outside. Where could she be? I called in my sweetest, softest voice, “Lola, Lola girl,” to no avail.

I replayed earlier events. Had I put her back in the house? I could’ve sworn I had. Hadn’t I opened the door and watched her run through it? I certainly thought so, but I started to question my memory.

Did she run outside with the big dogs a few minutes ago? I hadn't seen her but I had turned away to open the door for pack 2, so I couldn’t be sure she hadn’t.

I assumed she was back in the house so I went back inside and retraced the hiding spots I had just checked. No Lola.

I started to panic.

I couldn’t stay there all night with 9 dogs waiting for Lola to show up. I needed to get some sleep. But what if she were still outside? She was so small and fragile. She’d be eaten by a coyote. Or she’d sneak through a little hole in the fence and end up down the street, squished by a car. Or she'd just disappear never to be seen again. Should I call Veronica? She’d had a long day. I hated the idea of waking her. On the other hand, if I didn’t call her, wouldn’t she be upset with me if she got home only to learn that Lola was missing? She’d never forgive me. But what could she do in Tucson to help the situation?

I walked across the street to my house, wracking my brains over what to do. The clock ticking toward midnight, I picked up the phone.

Veronica's voice was drenched with sleep. I rambled on about how sorry I was to wake her, that I’d felt bad for the dogs, that I’d gone back to let them out again, that it was late because of traffic school...

She interrupted my babbling.

V: Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.

S: I can’t find Lola.

V: Did you let her in the house earlier today?

S: Yes, I think so although I can’t be sure.

V: She likes to hide in the laundry area. She must be there.

S: Are you sure?

V: Yes, don't worry about it. She's fine.

S: I’m so sorry to wake you.

We hung up.

The next morning I let out pack 1 first. The 3 big dogs ran out, and little Lola pranced right out after them. All chipper, she wagged her tail, and I squealed with delight, "Lola!"

She looked at me, and her spirit instantly deflated. 

Dejected, she turned and went right back in the house.

I try not to anthropomorphize. I try not to tell these dog stories with a cloying sappiness. But if Lola could talk, I swear I would have heard her say, “You’re not my mommy!”

Damn, I was glad to see her even though the feeling wasn't mutual.