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Apropos of nothing. . .

August 22, 2009


I have two nearly-grown children who sometimes stay put when I point a camera at them, but generally not. I have beautiful baby shots, candid toddler shots, lovely but subtle childhood shots, and several views of surly teenagers. My high school senior dismisses the camera; the college student pauses patiently while I focus on some new costume she has designed and sewn, and on rare occasions I get a big grin from both when the kids are together.

Cinnamon: sweetheart American Staffordshire Terrier


So mostly I take photos of my dogs. They’re ALWAYS glad to see me, they don’t care if I take their photos, and they’ll keep being affectionate and silly for the camera all day long.

The top shot is of my American Staffordshire Terrier, Cinnamon. It was a lucky mistake and I laugh every time I look at it. To me, it seems to characterize the way people recognize these dogs, by the shape of their heads. This sweet pit bull is likely to wag so hard she’ll break kneecaps when she meets other dogs, and she’s quick to roll over if an assertive dog approaches her.

Cinnamon limped up the driveway one May, apparently (I later learned) chased off for several weeks from other homes by neighbors. She lived in the prairie nearby on whatever she caught. I walked onto the porch and called her, she wagged timidly as she approached. I patted her head, she licked my hand, and we had a contract. The vet thinks she was hit by a car and bounced off of the street with her face. She had cuts, broken teeth, ticks, a possible dog bite, and was grimy.

There is no such thing as a “free” dog. Shots, spay, dental work, and a new fence later, we were set. But she was very lonely for other dogs. After the expense, I wasn’t ready to take on a new one, but then Hurricane Katrina happened.

Poppy, my catahoula mix was a “local dog” who was moved out in a hurry when the Humane Society of North Texas agreed to accept a bunch of Katrina dogs. They put the local animals on a half price sale; I’d spent so much on Cinnamon’s health I could only afford another dog that was spayed and  healthy. Half price was even better.

When I first met her, I wasn’t able to take Poppy home to meet my dog, so I returned later with my 45 pound pit bull (she was a big pup, about 18 months old). A staff member brought Poppy on a leash and the dogs immediately licked faces, wagged happily, and both rolled over on their backs. It was a go, so Poppy went back inside and would stay until they spayed her. Cinnamon and I headed into the crowded waiting room; it was 100 degrees out that day and she immediately lay down on the cool concrete floor. We moved slowly from folding chair to chair along the lobby wall, as many people wanting to adopt Katrina dogs were vetted by the HSNT volunteers. “Do you have a fenced yard? Do you know that dogs require exercise, attention, and discipline? Are you adopting this animal because you want a dog, or because you feel sorry for the animals?” The questions were many and were repeated for the next 30 minutes.  As we waited, people entering the room had three distinct responses: they saw my dog and they immediately moved as far away from her as they could; they came over and asked, hopefully, if she was up for adoption?; or they came over and asked if they could pet her. She waged politely, licked hands, and stayed on the floor. Calm submissive, Cesar Millan calls this. It is the behavior of a well-balanced dog.

A little camera phone shot.When my turn came to fill out papers for the dog I had selected, no one asked if I knew about dogs and their care. Cinnamon was a perfect example of a healthy, well-behaved dog.

Poppy, on first introduction, is an air head. Despite all of the walks and work with her, she’s excitable and jumps on people, she’s jealous of attention that the charismatic pit bull gets, and she’s fiercely loyal. She doesn’t learn things as quickly as Cinnamon, but when she does, she’s usually very good at whatever behavior it is. It took Cinnamon about 2 minutes to figure out the new dog door flap I installed in the garage last fall; Poppy took four days before she would go through it by herself. At night, Cinnamon would hear Poppy barking at the door, exit, walk around Poppy, and then Poppy would draft close behind Cinnamon to get through.

“You mean I have to push this with my FACE?”

If I had to put money on which dog would do the most damage to an intruder if I were attacked, I would put my money on Poppy. Cinnamon loves us but she adores Poppy and is always aware of where Poppy is; Poppy loves people and is always aware of where I am. In addition to her protectiveness, Poppy is singular for the noise she makes (catahoulas are actually bred for their in-your-face barking). These are are outside dogs and they hunt whatever is foolish enough to come inside the Invisible Fence boundary; and they’re partners in crime–Cinnamon may have killed it, but both got skunked last fall. They both guard the yard because it is their territory, and they guard the next door neighbor’s yard because he greets them every morning with dog biscuits. Smart man: cheap protection!

I took this with a long lens; she doesn't lie so quietly when I'm close. You can see she's keeping an eye on where I am, even from across the yard.

On one thing they are in perfect accord: if we go for a walk in that wild prairie, they both want to be wild things, sniffing out every game trail and racing through the grass. I keep them on leash and we zig and zag through the field, watching out for low-growing prickly pear cactus. This prairie is surrounded by city, so we can’t go quite so wild as Ted Kerasote would recommend, but I try not to get in the way of the paths they want to explore while we’re out there. Cinnamon would go every day, so she slows the pace every time we walk near an intersection with a road that goes over toward the prairie, giving me time to consider turning that direction. In this, Poppy is content to let Cinnamon speak for them both.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 22, 2009 12:35 pm

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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