The problem with having a small, observant dog in a houseful of cats is that their behaviors sometimes rub off on him. For example, the cats are alone most of the day with the run of the house, so it’s hard to keep them from being places I don’t want them. Which is probably why I came out one morning to find this:
Anyone with cross-species behavioral quirks to share? I’d love to hear them!
The man hadn’t been over to the house for a few weeks. As far as I could tell, no one had. This would have been a death sentence for Marsha if she hadn’t basically been living with me. It got to be such a long time that I was becoming concerned As I said, he was rather old.
The only relative of his that I’d met was his son who lived about an hour away. We had exchanged phone numbers after the break in, and I’d called him a few times to discuss Marsha. He was unhappy with her situation as well, and he had even tried to discourage his father from getting a dog in the first place.
So I called, asking after his father, and learned a bit of what had happened. It turns out there had been a death, just not the man’s. The woman he had been living with died, suddenly and unexpectedly, from what I understand. I also came to learn that most of the people who I’d seen with him at the house on occasion had been her relatives, not his.
This put him in a predicament. Apparently none of his wife’s (Or maybe girlfriend’s? It never was very clear) family felt like keeping him in the style to which he had become accustomed (If he treats people the same way he treats his animals that isn’t surprising). So it was decided (again, apparently)* to have him live with his son.
So they started to move all of his stuff out of the house next door! Sad, I’m sure, for this man, who had held on to this house for so long, but a great opportunity for Marsha! A clean break! I called the son again and made it clear that I’d keep her. Well, I tried to.
They brought her over to her old yard again, a day or two after I’d talked to the son. There was, perhaps a lack of communication, between the son, father, and others. After that I made it a point to keep her in the house while the man, and the people who were helping him move out. She was mine, she had been mine for a long time, but she was officially mine, and I wasn’t going to give her up!
So he’s an hour away now. I’ve seen him and the son over there a couple of times in the last year. Marsha is officially mine, with shots, tags, and vet appointments, and officially home, with buddies, a warm bed, and someone who give a damn.
A few weeks after she was first left next door, I came home one afternoon to find a third dog in my back yard. It hadn’t been a difficult thing for her to do. No one knows when the fence between the two properties was built. Some say there’s a painting of it on the walls of Lascaux. Some say it’s obviously the work of trilobites. Some say the early Earth coalesced around it. Anyway, it’s old, it’s rotting, and it was easy for a determine young pup, or even one that wasn’t trying that hard, to get through.
The process of Marsha becoming (spoiler alert!) my dog was a gradual one. She came over to visit several times. As the man next door realized she was getting out, her escape routes started being patched up. I soon started loosening fence slats at the bottom so that she could have hatches to come through to my side when it was safe. Naturally I had to seal these hatches up during the day in case the man came over.
I gradually learned his schedule: He, and sometimes his family, would come over for an hour or two about three days a week. During that time he would putter around the house and yard, but paid little attention to the little dog who was so desperate for it. When Eris (before she was mine) had her kittens on his property he had had a bag of cheap cat food. My Marsha-To-Be warranted no such expenditures, and greedily ate whatever table scraps were thrown on the ground for her. If anyone HAD broken into that house again, she probably would have shown them where all the good stuff was, and then gone with them.
So visiting my side of the fence regularly became eating regularly, which became coming inside, which became staying the night. Part of the reason she got to stay was selfish. If I hadn’t she would be up all night barking. The other part was sympathy for a cold and lonely little dog who I was getting increasingly attached to.
I kept up this Stealth Fostering for many months, many nerve wracking months. I was worried that I would be found out, and get in legal trouble. I was worried that if I found a forever home for her the guy would just get another dog. I was worried she would be put on a chain, or taken away. Worry, worry, worry.
But there were some joys and milestones in there as well. She quickly became housebroken (yay!)
She had her first (and only) heat before I had her spayed, probably because she was finally getting enough to eat.
She was (and still is, every day) deliriously happy to see the cats.
She got her own pretty blue collar and leash and quickly learned the joys of taking her person for a drag.
She was a joyous, and playful little dog, and it was increasing awful to have to put her on the other side of the fence to keep up the illusion that she was anyone’s but mine. Then tragedy struck, and with it an opportunity.
The fact that Marsha lives with me, and that her life turned out much different than intended is a tale of crime, neglect, and late night barking. To explain this I’ll have to diverge a bit and talk a little about the neighbor situation.
As is typical for the Western U.S. my back yard shares fences with the houses next to us. The house to the north of mine has been owned by a man who doesn’t live there. In fact no one lives in there. For reasons I’ve never been privy to (but have speculated about) it remains unoccupied. This lack of occupation invites trouble.
The uncharacteristic barking frenzy Hershey engaged in one evening was a result of that trouble, though I didn’t know it at the time. I figured a cat, or possum was doing catty/possumy things, and called her in and went to bed. It wasn’t until the next morning when I notice the next door gate was ajar, and the back door was left wide open.
Not having anyway to contact the owner, I called the police who responded with unusual speed and numbers. It took a total of four officers about 20 minutes to determine that yes it had been broken into and that no one was in fact in the house. They wired the back door shut, left and contacted the owner.
I was on a nodding only acquaintance with this elderly man for several reasons. The first of which was we didn’t speak each other’s language. The second was he was only at the house occasionally, and usually not when I was at home. The third (and most important reason for this story) is that I didn’t like the way he treated his animals.
Over the years, there had been a string of benignly neglected animals there including one I had the vet put to sleep on my own; as well as a mama cat who’s kittens I found homes for and who I adopted and named Eris.
So in April of 2014, several months after the break in, when I heard unfamiliar barking from that back yard, my heart sank as I looked over the fence to see the new dog he’d bought, presumably to guard the place.
That was the first meeting I had with the dog who would become my Marsha.
In Part Two of “The Stealth Foster,” we actually get to the stealth fostering!
Given the rumored El Niño that’s supposed to wash California into the sea (still waiting, Kiddo!) and the satanically hot summers the San Joaquin Valley endures (I’ve witnessed many a squirrel burst into flames*) I thought it would be a good idea to install a dog door to the back yard.
The installation early last year went off fairly well (I still have all my thumbs), and the dogs learned to use it in short order.
The complication has been with the cats.
I can’t leave it open all the time as the solely indoor cats, who in truth are more like furry filter feeders than mighty, wild hunters, will slip outside and make themselves confused and panicked indoor cats. They have their own access to the outside anyway in the form of the cattery I spent way too much time and money building for them. So the dog door spends most of its time closed and is only open when I’m away and the weather is inclement. It that case the cats get about a third of the house (my bedroom, the work/cat/junk room, and the cattery while the dogs get the rest of the house and the back yard. That is, if Eris cooperates.
She is a Former Feral (or at least semi-feral) and is highly disinterested in being picked by stinky humans with their spindly, bone paws (and honestly, what would you do if you saw THIS coming at you?!) If she deigns to grace your lap with her presence be honored, but Do. Not. Pick. Up.
So the strategies I have used to get her where I want have been the following:
Wait until she goes there. This is the least traumatic for all involved, but involves waiting for her to go eat in the cattery or lounge on the bed. This often isn’t an option with my complicated “having to be at work on time,” problems.
Coaxing her. This has never worked.
Picking her up suddenly before she knows I’m coming for her and hoping she doesn’t send me to the emergency room. This has never worked. She ALWAYS knows I’m coming for her.
Chasing her around the house until I have her cornered, pick her up, and hope she doesn’t send me to the emergency room. This works occasionally, but is time consuming, and nerve wracking for all involved.
Chase and barricade. This is relatively new, has worked a few times, and is relatively untraumatic. I pursue her into the kitchen, block off the door to the rest of the house and pick up or herd her into the cat room. I’m thinking it will be viable until she realizes that she shouldn’t run into the kitchen. Then I’ll be back to options 1 and 4.
As is often the case, I have what seems like a great idea, spend a good deal of time, effort and dinero on it, only to have the actual operation of said great idea made more complicated by cats.
*This statement is what the French would call “merde du boeuf.”**
**So is this. They’d actually say “C’est des conneries!”
When I first saw Marsha, she looked pretty much like this:
This was because she was on the other side of my fence sticking her little black snoot through the numerous knotholes. This earned her the highly original moniker “Nose,” which I called her for many months.
As she transitioned from neglected guard dog to a member of my herd she was labeled Marsha(mellow) to complete the S’mores theme begun with Hershey and Graham. However, her essential nose-ishness never really went away.
Many of my animals have a signature problem solving style. Hershey’s is chewing, Morph’s is soul piercing yowling, Graham’s is whining. Marsha’s, as has been true since I’ve known her, is using her nose.
Door to somewhere interesting slightly ajar? Shove it open with nose!
Covers too flat to get under? Nose around until she can get her whole body under!
The human of the house playing too much damned Fallout 4? Bop him with nose until he pays attention to her!
Marsha’s nose is the swiss army knife of her universe. Anyone have any unique ways their critters solve problems?