Thursday, February 24, 2011

By the sea

I'm going through one of my BBC radio phases at the moment and listening to talk radio on the internet almost non-stop. This is partly because I find it by far the best source for information on world news, and partly because I've noticed too many Americanisms creeping into my northern brogue of late!
While I finished some bits and pieces for work tonight I was listening to "The Strand", an arts program on the BBC World Service. The final piece of the show was about folk singer, Julie Tabor's, new album. The longer I live in the States, the more I seem to be nostalgically drawn to British folksongs, and I just couldn't resist a melancholy album full of sea tunes. I'm listening to it now courtesy of itunes and of course the wine that accompanied dinner tonight, weakening my usual resistance to impulse buys.

I grew up by the coast - by which I mean, when I go home it takes barely 5 minutes to walk from my mam's house to the clifftop. There's a reason Tabor's latest album is so achingly doleful. The sea around the British Isles is often grey, glowering and unkind. My favorite folk group, The Unthanks, (who we've had the good fortune to present a number of times at work, though they happen to be from my part of the world), perform a haunting wintry song called Sad February about the fate of drowned sailors off the coast at Teesmouth.

Who would have imagined I'd miss it so much! On my last trip home early last summer my sister and I took advantage of a sunny evening to borrow my Uncle Fred's dog Balto and go for a stroll over the cliffs.

Em & B, looking across to Tynemouth

I wish I could take Bilbo to the seaside! There are no leash laws in the UK so Balto had a good run over the leas and across the beach.

Of course, the DDA makes it too risky to consider taking him home at the moment. While American Bulldogs are legally permitted, the law allows police to seize any animal they consider (regardless of their qualifications, or rather lack thereof, to make that judgement) to look like a pitbull mix and it is extremely difficult at that point, even for owners with breed papers, to get a pet back.

In all fairness, even without leash laws it's highly unlikely that you'll see Bilbo running unrestrained any time soon. He's not quite as well behaved as Balto yet!

For the majority of my life no one in my close family had a dog so our clifftop games were of a different nature.  I'd bet my pooch that no one outside of the family could guess what we're doing here:

I particularly love the way we've plonked grandma off in the distance to judge. Especially as she's the only one who doesn't look like she dressed out of the rag bag. Then again, it was the 80s.
Of course, despite the fact that it's clearly none too warm, we're all still wearing shorts in true Williamson fashion. I'm not sure where the fascination with baring our legs to the elements originated - we wore similar outfits whenever we went trooping round the fells, often in typical dripping British weather...

Anyway, back to the game at hand. Clearly we were lining up for the Wellie-boot-throwing component of "Annie's Olympics":

Well, for now, Billy and I will have to make do with tromping round the park and I'll look forward to a date with Balto and the sea this spring.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Project redirect

We're having a great week for door manners at the moment! I'm very pleased that Billy is catching on to the idea of going straight for a toy or bone when I come through the door. There was no jumping again tonight, although the furniture suffered somewhat as he took flying leaps at the bed and couch with 3 feet of knotted rope trailing behind him. I think this redirection plan is the way to go.

It was a very long day for me so I was dismayed to realize that I'd forgotten to defrost Billy's evening meal (his daily allotment is divided into three because of his stomach problems) in addition to being pretty much out of kibble. So Bill had rice, eggs and pumpkin for his evening snack and I had cereal for dinner! It would appear that he ate better than me tonight. 

He's clearly hoping for some more rope tug now but it's lights out time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

BAD owner

Today was sopping wet, grey and generally dismal. A perfect day for warming up from a rainy walk in the park with some homemade soup and then catching up on DIY projects. However, I had to go to work.

I took Billy for a mini-trek in the morning and we both came back soggy, dirty and chilled. On a mostly white dog you can really see the dirt so I spent quite a while scrubbing him off before heading to the office while he snored on the couch. I ended up leaving work almost an hour later than expected and had dinner plans with dogdad's parents so he swung by and took Bill out so that when I finally got off the train I could just jump straight in the car and we could go eat. When I got home it was raining even harder and I simply wasn't in the mood to get back out there and go for a proper walk. So of course, I procrastinated.

And Billy annoyed me.

In the end I pretty much spent all evening just tossing toys around the apartment and playing tug trying to get him to settle down for a while. We had one quick trip out into the yard (I should add that Bilbo doesn't like the rain so he won't stay out in it if he can help it) and eventually he settled down for the night. So where am I going with this?

Ultimately this evening was a bit of a waste for both of us. Billy didn't particularly want to play games, he wanted to go check out the neighborhood and stretch his legs. And I wanted to read and get some chores done. If I hadn't been so lazy at the outset we could have gone for a half hour walk, Billy would have done this for the rest of the night...

...and I would have had about an hour and a half to myself before bedtime. Instead, we spent two hours getting frustrated at each other (and probably annoying the downstairs neighbors).

That's the thing about dogs, you generally get what you give. Billy's barking and pawing and jumping are all naughty behaviors but it was a very clear-cut case of BAD owner! Another case in point is the scene I came home to earlier in the week.

I can't feel even mildly annoyed at him because it is so blatantly my own fault! I'd put some tortilla chips in a bowl and not finished them all, so I popped a cover over them to keep them fresh and left them on the countertop. Running late a little while afterwards I didn't properly Billyproof and forgot that the bowl was within sniffing distance. Of COURSE he pulled it down as soon as I was out the door and wolfed up every last morsel.
I didn't Billy-proof, I haven't managed to train him to leave food alone when I'm not in the house and I haven't managed to crate-train him (he doesn't just complain, he literally breaks out, his crate looks like a bus ran over it). The worst part of this owner-delinquency isn't the demolition of my stuff, but the fact that I'm putting my pup in danger. If I'm not careful he's going to swallow a big chunk of tupperware and we're going to end up in the emergency room.

Safety is the concern in many of the training endeavors that I'm currently not succeeding in - dog reactivity? Well, some dog is going to take him at his word and bite a chunk out of him. Poor recall? one dropped leash, one squirrel and a busy road and squish. Jumping at the door? Which visitor is going to be the first to get a black eye or a loose tooth?

To be fair, in the past month we've at least made some progress everywhere except dog reactivity (that's a discussion for another day). When I got home tonight all four paws stayed on the floor and he immediately headed for his bone so he could do his happy dance. Victory!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Time to fly

I received a very exciting delivery this morning.

Yip, I've been scouring craigslist for a while trying to snag a second-hand Radio Flyer Wagon. I finally managed to find one at a decent price within the city limits (ie accessible via public transport as I don't drive) and, luckily, with a seller who was willing to deliver. No, I don't have some secret toddlers stashed away somewhere, this is destined for Bilbo use of course!

Though I have still to buy a harness and DIY a set of traces, I'm hoping that within a couple of months, Bilbo will be a cart-dog! He responds well to having a job to do and he's a strong boy with oodles of energy so he's going to help with the shopping.

"Weight-pull" is a fairly popular choice for ABD owners looking to work or compete with their dogs and there are some pretty extreme records out there, with dogs around Billy's size pulling 3500lbs or more! I find some of the videos a little intimidating as those dogs have serious loads strapped to them, though the waggy tail and bountiful praise makes me squirm a little less at this one:

However, my goals are much more modest and I don't think Me and Bill will have a problem working up to pulling a 35lb Radio Flyer. Then we'll see about adding a little more weight in (ie. picking up dogfood from Soggy Paws) as we go along. Bill is due for his annual vet visit early next month so he'll be having a full physical before we get started.

On the flipside of his excitability ("ooo is someone coming through the door, is that a dog across the street, hey have you got food, SQUIRRELLLL, did you hear that phone ringing, PEOPLE, WOOF WOOF WOOF!!!!!") is the bombproof side of him that just doesn't mind loud noises, being poked and prodded or things falling on his head ("hey, that thing I pulled off the counter almost... oooo chicken on the floor"). So with his favorite treats to ease him in I think he'll take to pulling a cart fairly easily.

Watch this space!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gigantaturkey and the three day weekend

This week I actually had a REAL three-day weekend. Generally I have to work on Sundays so even when we get a Monday or Friday off I don't get the full whack, but I had a reprieve this week and got to work tackling various projects.

Friday started with a thrift and craft store tour during which I picked up some fabulous fabrics and a copy of a great book full of sewing patterns. As I'm attempting to give up chainstores in favor of independent or homemade, this is now my go-to for inspiration for all the babies that my friends and family are growing at the moment. I tried out a couple on Friday night and the wonderful Maggie was kind enough to test out the giraffe rattle for me at brunch on Saturday morning!

Her fabulous mom cooked up a storm and I need to get the recipes for pretty much everything I stuffed my face with. It's almost unfair that the quiche she made was so delicious given that it was the first time she'd tried one.

That afternoon I finally tackled the sewing chair that's been sat in the corner looking ugly. I got about 1/3 of the way through because I spent almost an hour grappling with 50 year old screws that started to disintegrate as I started to remove them.

I have a ludicrous nail collection but apparently I'm short on screws so instead of an after photo, here's a midway photo to remind me to actually finish this!

Incidentally, how yummy is that fabric? My partner in craft-crime, B and I discovered a store in my 'hood called The Needle Shop which stocks a fabulous collection of fabrics. LOVE.

Lacking in energy/ time to get to Home Depot for supplies I went out for girly drinks and dinner instead.

Which brings us to the final project of the weekend - the monster turkey!!! I'm not going to get into exactly how I ended up with a 24lb turkey in the freezer. Let's just say there was a little miscommunication between Dogdad and myself. However, it's been defrosting in the fridge all week so I popped to the trusty co-op for ingredients this morning and got to work turning the big beast into food. Seriously, until it's all broken down and staring up at you from the kitchen counter you just don't get how much meat comes off a bird that large.

I didn't do too bad of a job jointing it (although you can see that Bilbo tried skulking under the table in case I dropped some). I toyed with the idea of letting the dogs have the raw neck but to be honest, even if I was 100% sure that was ok, we'd just end up with a trail of meat-juice all over the house which would be beyond ick so it got popped into the stock pot instead.
6 hours of cooking later and this is what the freezer looks like:

And that's a double row of tupperware in there, not to mention the homemade turkey dog biscuits and two huge tubs of sliced roast turkey (sandwiches anyone?!) in the fridge. Of course, after spending all day cooking the stuff, I'm not sure I want any turkey. Ever again. And did I mention Dogdad is vegetarian?

Of course, I do have willing volunteers to help me out.

Don't let that sad puppy eyes expression fool you. They got PLENTY of treats today.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Last night's visitors included a reunion for Billy with one of the One Tail board members:

"If I could con this lady into rescuing me I can definitely con her into sharing that cupcake"

All that excitement really tired him out

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday's baby step

Today's mini-step to becoming waste-free: opting out of yellow pages. You can visit to find out which directories you're eligible to receive and to opt-out of them all in one fell swoop. I don't know how effective it will be and since I live in one of three apartments in the same building maybe my neighbors will continue to get them and leave them moldering on the doorstep. (But to be honest, I didn't type in an apartment number hoping that would make it stick for the whole house...)

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Spending an afternoon with other pups usually guilts galvanizes me into making more of an effort with my own hound. Chicago winter tends to interfere not only with the chances of taking a long walk but also with training efforts, since it just gets way too cold to be fumbling around with treats outside. However, yesterday was a gorgeous day so as soon as I got back from CACC, I leashed up Billy and headed out to Humboldt Park with a pouch full of kibble. We had a great time in the sunshine and worked on loose leash walking, basic obedience and a few tricks as well as running through all the undisturbed snowdrifts that still smothered the park after Tuesday's bit of weather. As a result, Billy was so exhausted that he zonked out on the bed straight after his dinner (around 6:30pm) and didn't move again until 9am the next morning!

Encouraged by yesterday's trek, I popped my camera into my pocket and we headed back out to the park this morning. Another 2+ inches had fallen in the night and the snow was still coming, so it felt like rather a winter wonderland outside, as well as being about as silent as a city street can possibly get during the daytime.

Once we reached the park, I sneakily sought out the deepest patches of snow for us to wade through. 

Admittedly that tired me out too, but it's just so incredibly exciting to find a winter activity that wears out the beastie in less than two hours that I just couldn't resist! Sometimes he needed a bit of encouragement:

But when he found rabbit tracks there was no holding him back:

He was pretty patient posing for photos in the snow while I fiddled with my camera and big gloves, although admittedly, white dog + white snow + white skies + incompetent photographer don't make for the best shots.

My neighbors were out tackling the new snowfall as we made our way back home for breakfast. It's a bit like wending your way through an obstacle course at the moment. Someone had even dug under one of the really big mounds to make a little urban igloo! I thought about sending Billy in to pose for a photo but realized that it was probably none too stable and didn't want to run the risk of burying my hound. Which of course begs the question, who let their kids climb in there?!

It's early to bed for me again tonight as we did more snow-bounding this afternoon when I got back from work. However, I'll leave you with the real reason for this post's title...


Yesterday I joined a team of One Tail volunteers at an orientation session down at Chicago Animal Care and Control, learning about the dogs in Safe Humane’s Court Case program.

It was my first time at CACC and I definitely came away with mixed feelings about the facility. I was steeled to expect the worst but I’d been well-prepared by my trip to AWL a couple of weeks ago (which was even more depressing, truth be told). On the plus side, CACC came across as well-organized and the large lobby area was quite pleasant and thoughtfully laid out. The walls throughout the center are decked with bright signs sharing fun facts about pets and over the front desk was the quote with which I ended this recent post. The shelter manager, who kindly gave us a tour, seemed well-informed and invested in his job. The current Commissioner of ACC, Cherie Travis, is working hard to turn around her predecessor’s poor record on adoptions and has clearly made it a priority to find homes for pets rather than just euthanizing. (NB. Since it’s been quite a while since a new mayor came in I’m sure many people out there aren’t aware that all commissioners are required to hand in their resignation when there’s a changeover. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this one is reappointed by whoever succeeds Daley…)

That said, as I walked past people waiting to give up their pets I did find myself wondering whether they were given the same tour of the facilities or allowed to casually hand off their pets in the cheery waiting area. There are between 300 - 500 animals housed there at any given time and I wouldn’t wish it on any creature for as much as 10 minutes. The cages are small, crammed into long barracks without daylight. With so many dogs in a cement-walled room the noise is such that there’s a sign on the outside requiring employees to wear ear protection. The sad howls and frantic barking echo through the corridors and I saw many of my fellow-volunteers wincing at the sound. There are barely enough staff to meet the basic needs of the animals housed at the shelter so the only chance they have to get out of their cage is through volunteers. That however, applies only to the “adoptable” dogs and there are many dogs who, for various reasons, aren’t accessible to regular CACC volunteers. The court case dogs we were working with fall in the latter category because of liability issues. Visit Safe Humane’s website for more information but to summarize: court case dogs have been relinquished (voluntarily or by court order) by people charged with abuse or neglect. They then sit in a cage for months or years at a time while awaiting the conclusion of their owners’ court cases. Previously, the vast majority of these dogs were euthanized but a new program, spearheaded by Safe Humane Chicago, is giving them a second chance.

So, to recap: dogs incarcerated for up to two years, almost all pitbulls/ pit-mixes, forcibly removed from abusive or neglectful situations, barred from interaction with volunteers without a community training partner in attendance because of liability issues. What was our experience with these dogs?

Well, of course, there was a whole lot of lovin' going on!

Now, I don't mean to be flippant of course - when interacting with any strange dog, regardless of the circumstances, it's important to be smart, sensible and cautious. All the dogs that we dealt with yesterday had already gone through rigorous temperament testing and there was an experienced trainer on hand at all times to guide us through the afternoon. However, I can't help but poke fun at the media hype that would condemn these dogs out-of-hand as dangerous and unfit to be a family pet.

OTAT has already taken four Court Case dogs into their adoption program (Pudge, Dimple, Raisinette & Sandy) and are currently looking for a foster home for a fifth, Olive, one of the dogs we met today:

If she's this happy about a tummy rub, just imagine what she'll think when someone offers her a couch to snooze on. And, as I've mentioned before, the best thing about fostering is FREE PUPPY LOVE. She clearly has plenty to share around so I'm hoping that someone emails very soon to offer Olive a home.

P.S. the title of the blog refers to the British slang term for doing jail time, “doing porridge”. These wiggly tails are doing the time for crimes they didn't commit...

Friday, February 4, 2011

The little lady who started it all

Just over 4 years ago my friend M received an unexpected New Year's Eve phone call. It was a typical frigid Chicago winter night and while at a party some friends had discovered a little pittie puppy abandoned on a back porch. Wrapped in a blanket covered in faeces, the starved nine-month-old was freezing. But in true pitbull fashion, she came running for a chance at some attention. Soon this stinky, crazy, little bundle of energy was firmly ensconced in her new home. Many, many baths, plenty of food and a trip to Anti-Cruelty for some shots and their free spay program and Clover was all set.

And of course, with that way that pitbulls have of converting everyone they meet into dog lovers, Clover led to Buster who led to Bilbo who led to fostering and volunteering...

So, you see, it's very important to meet the First Lady of our trio, the one who started it all!


Today I intended to write about little brown dog:

But instead I did this for about 16 hours:

Except for the times when I was stumbling around looking for painkillers and heatpads. Or crawling to the bathroom to vomit. That said, Bilbo was a great nurse and even trotted along to the bathroom to sit on the floor next to me.

Aren't you pleased I shared? I think that's the double dose of Aleve talking...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day

Now I'm not saying that it's a bit drifty outside or anything, but...

We made an expedition to stock up the bare cupboards for snow day. Thank you Dill Pickle for being open and within easy walking distance. Dogdad and Bilbo blazed a trail through the drifts.

But first we had to dig our way down the front steps!

And all that snow-bounding tired out the pooch so much that he didn't run up the stairs (for the first time since the cold weather started) and he's been doing some serious snoring on the couch ever since.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thundersnow and Lightning

Crikey Moses, the Snowpocalypse is here.

In case you hadn't heard, there's a bit of weather going on in these parts, and the "Blizzard of '11" is in full force. Lake Shore Drive was closed down a couple of hours ago, part of Wrigley Field blew off and landed on Clark Street and even the snowplows are getting stuck. Apparently this is the worst storm in 30 years, due not to the amount of snow that we're expected to get (only 20-22 inches) but the 60 mph winds that's driving it.

Now, I hate ice and I'm not a fan of frigid temperatures, but wind and snow I can get on board with. Bilbo loves the snow and the cold and had a great time on our walk around 5pm. However, I'll admit the storm has stepped it up a little since then. Typically enough he was totally unfazed by the thunder and lightning (though I was seriously impressed!) and did his doggy business in his usually leisurely fashion. He even started to do a bit of a snow prance but then the full power of the wind clearly filtered through to his doggy brain:

At which point he made Billy history with the promptest response to recall EVER and an unprecedented eagerness to get back through the door. Any storm that convinces Bilbo that the couch is better than outside is undoubtedly the storm of a lifetime!

In the meantime, Frankendog is definitely perking up. He's got a new "Comfy Cone" for when he's left alone but is behaving well enough to leave it off when there's someone in the room to keep an eye on him. So he's been happily chewing away at his deer antler from Soggy Paws.

However, his internal clock is still ticking away as normal and when 9pm hits he starts to glare balefully from the crate, wondering why he's not allowed to head to a proper bed at bedtime...

Baby Steps

My two main sources of inspiration at the moment are holding me to some pretty high standards that I am currently miles from meeting. However, since there is no fixed end-goal, the journey is kind of the point and each step along the way is an achievement. My aim is to live as "greenly" as possible and my guides of the moment are How green are my wellies? (by Anna Shepard) and the Zero Waste blog.

So far I'm doing pretty poorly but the trick is to just keep taking baby steps. My kitchen blackboard currently carries a reminder of the steps to reducing my own personal waste (hopefully I'll have downgraded to a smaller trash can by next year).

Tomorrow's baby step is buying cheese without bringing home any wrappers. I've already got my tupperware in a bag by the door so I won't forget it in the morning and I'll be popping out to the land of ridiculously tasty cheese at lunchtime to see how many funny looks I get when I hand my little plastic tubs over the counter.
I don't have much free weekend time coming up any time soon but when I do I'll be off on a thrift store adventure to see if I can find some of the yummy french glass jars lining zero-waste's shelves. Not only will that save me from having to buy more plastic but they'll hopefully look an awful lot classier when I start pulling them out of a tote bag at the grocery store.
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