Category Archives: pets

Common Ground: Bird (dog) is the word

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Communication is key in training bird dogs — once you learn to speak their particular language.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Communication is key in training bird dogs — once you learn to speak their particular language.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Bird dogs are sophisticated in the way they understand words. Just as the ancient Greeks recognized six different varieties of the word “love,” a bird dog recognizes many different meanings for a number of simple commands. They will sometimes cock their heads when “No” is yelled because they are not sure which of the word’s 126 meanings is intended.

“How,” they muse, “are we supposed to know how to satisfy a command when humans have not moved beyond their limited vocabulary?” Trans-species communication can transcend many barriers, but the biggest hurdle identified by eight out of 10 bird dogs is “multiple word meanings.” The other two dogs identify “overuse of the exclamation point in basic dog commands.” This survey was performed using homemade ginger treats and may not reflect the views of all dogs.

“Sit,” the first command taught to many dogs, comes from the Old English “sittan,” meaning “to occupy a seat, be seated, sit down, seat oneself; remain, continue; settle, encamp, occupy; lie in wait; besiege.” It can also mean to be inactive, withhold applause, to do nothing or to sit pretty. It’s no wonder the word causes confusion.

Many dogs will lie down and fall asleep in order to demonstrate the word’s Proto-Germanic origins. The word can be frightening, as it involves a lack of action. It would stress me out to be commanded to, “Do nothing!” while my back end was pushed down and I was offered a treat. Given the word’s etymology, I wouldn’t know if I was supposed to put my butt on the floor or run for office.

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Common Ground: Always on the Hugo

Photos courtesy of Christine Cunningham.

Photos courtesy of Christine Cunningham.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

There’s something about Hugo that is ancient and spirited at the same time. He even has an old, sagging right eye with white lashes and a young, daring left eye with brown lashes. When he stares out the truck window, he hunts the ravens flying down the road and the songbirds bursting from the bushes. He is hitchhiking across the Alaska roadways even before daylight because he believes there’s a chance in every moment. While my mind drifts and describes the things I see, he goes to them directly with eyes, nose and body, until he is pressed against the windshield as a grouse flies low across the highway.

“Spruce grouse,” my partner says.

He’s driving and more aware of the road and its travelers than I am. If a dog could talk, he might be the same kind of conversationalist as my partner. Especially a pointing dog, I imagine. They would tend to point things out. As a backseat passenger, Winchester might be the kid who reads signs along the highway. His black-and-white coloring and stylish repose give him the smart looks of a dog that might read. He might peer up through his bifocals and say, “Spruce grouse.”

While the younger, more enthusiastic Hugo would vault over my seat just the way he did, slamming into the windshield. “Spruce grouse!” he’d yell, like it was Bigfoot in the flesh or a woman in a red dress. He’d walk smack into a light pole just to have a look.

Steady to wing and shot Hugo was not. His pointing technique was to pin his quarry into the ground. “It counts,” he seemed to think.

“He’s road hunting,” I said. “We’ve never had a dog that hunted the road before.”

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Man’s best friend to the end

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia. Cyder doing what he loved best — running through the snow.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Robertia. Cyder doing what he loved best — running through the snow.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

I lost a friend recently. Fall is when I miss him the most. We saw each other daily in the summer, but interactions were always more brief than I would have liked. We spent more time together as the cottonwood leaves began to dapple in gold, the fireweed’s cottony-white puffs were carried on the winds of change and the lead-gray sky washed us both in cold rain.

It’s never easy to bid farewell to those close to us, particularly after sharing so many years and surviving some pretty harrowing experiences together. You’d never know about those difficult times from him, though. He was the quiet, stoic type, especially about his athletic feats and acts of heroism.

He had rust-colored hair, glacial-blue eyes and a build like a brick outhouse, but he never used his size or muscle to intimidate others. A true gentle giant, he preferred to use his physical talents for chipping in as part of the team, helping others less able-bodied than himself.

The love of the outdoors is where we bonded, probably because that’s where we both were most at peace with the world. Journeying together by dog sled, we traveled hundreds to thousands of miles a year through the backcountry. Even as the winter weather arrived and the landscape became draped in a thick white cloak, his enthusiasm never seemed to fade. His spirit always howled, “Let’s head out to where we belong.”

No matter how cold or tired I felt, no matter how steep the mountains we climbed, no matter how dark the night seemed when we camped out miles from civilization, he never complained. We both were in our element.

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Common Ground: Duck disdressed — Don’t let bird brains use long johns against you

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Two widgeon with one shot is a far sight better than the view from a lawn chair.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Two widgeon with one shot is a far sight better than the view from a lawn chair.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

The weather was the worst I’d ever seen it — blue skies and warm enough to get a fall tan. That might be good for the complexion, but not for duck hunting. Even worse than the magnificent weather was the fact that the flats were dry. There weren’t any ponds, and ducks like ponds.

I was on a three-day hunt at a remote duck shack where I was supposed to be wet, cold, miserable and so exhausted by the end of the day that a cracker with butter on it would taste like a New York steak. Instead, I was hanging out on a lawn chair by a tidal slough in my long johns with the overly optimistic hope for a shot at passing ducks.

“This kind of sucks,” I said to my hunting partner. It had been two hours of walking and then two hours of sitting with nary a duck in shooting range.

“Yep,” my hunting partner said.

“I’m going to walk up to the shack and get another snack,” I said. The last time I’d left for a snack, ducks had flown by. It was a phenomenon. Or, if it wasn’t a phenomenon, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that the ducks were waiting around the bend laughing at me.

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It’s Clear: Cats need more than nine lives — Rescue organization takes on challenge of finding forever homes for felines

Photo courtesy of Clear Creek Cat Rescue. Harrison is one of several cats available for adoption through Clear Creek Cat Rescue, a nonprofit volunteer organization trying to find homes for cats so they aren’t euthanized. It relies on a network of foster homes until adoptions can be arranged.

Photo courtesy of Clear Creek Cat Rescue. Harrison is one of several cats available for adoption through Clear Creek Cat Rescue, a nonprofit volunteer organization trying to find homes for cats so they aren’t euthanized. It relies on a network of foster homes until adoptions can be arranged.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Despite that last fall voters approved the borough to exercise animal-control powers and intervene in animal rescues, funding for the measure was not approved and borough-wide animal control remains in limbo. Animal shelters in Kenai, Soldotna, and Homer serve their respective cities, but they can’t do much for cats and dogs outside city limits, and their space and financial resources are stretched thin managing the animal intakes they deal with annually.

“I wanted there to be another option,” said Julie Furgason, of Kenai.

Six months ago, Furgason created a local branch of the Clear Creek Cat Rescue organization. In that time her new branch has found homes or staved off euthanasia for 25 cats and 12 kittens.

Originally begun six years ago to help find homes for cats of the Mat-Su Animal Shelter, the organization has grown to rescue cats in need on the Kenai Peninsula, giving them care and rehabilitation, and working to find forever homes.

“We needed more options for shelter and feral cats here,” Furgason said. “The city shelters do a great job, but they’re limited to working in city limits. There’s no boroughwide animal control to help cats in need or to enforce spaying and neutering outside the cities,” she said.

The Kenai Animal Shelter will take in animals from outside city limits, but doing can mean an overcapacity of cats. When that happens room must be made, through euthanasia or, now, by placing cats with rescue groups like CCCR.

“The shelters are great at working with rescues, and we take in cats from both the local shelters, as well as those from Homer, Anchorage and the Mat-Su,” Furgason said.

Jessica Hendrickson, chief animal control officer at the Kenai shelter, agreed that rescues like CCCR help when the numbers swell.

“We had seven kittens brought in today alone and we have three litters of kittens — 14 total — here already, so rescues do serve a purpose, and it’s great when people will come forward and foster. We have a good relationship with (CCCR) and other rescues and we’re fortunate they have the capabilities to do what they do,” Hendrickson said.

But CCCR doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar facility. They are a group of individuals facing the problem of having more cats in need of homes than there are fosters with which to put them.

“We don’t have a building. We operate by signing up foster families for the cats, and we desperately need more. We have six right now, but some of them can only take in one cat at a time or will only take in kittens,” Furgason said.

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Anniversary party pooper — Going for the gold can trip up on the runs

Photo courtesy of Jacki Michels. Spoiled or soiled? Jacki Michels’ pup took the stuffing out of a pillow, feathering her outdoor nest with the mess. But that was nothing compared to the anniversary present left by her brother.

Photo courtesy of Jacki Michels. Spoiled or soiled? Jacki Michels’ pup took the stuffing out of a pillow, feathering her outdoor nest with the mess. But that was nothing compared to the anniversary present left by her brother.

Hunting, Fishing and Other Grounds for Divorce, by Jacki Michels, for the Redoubt Reporter

One of my most prized possessions is a fine China plate embellished with genuine 24-karat gold paint and the number 50 displayed proudly in the center. It’s not really my style, but I cherish it like no other thing. It was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary gift — their golden anniversary.

For me, it’s rock-solid proof that love endures. Theirs was a true love story. It also serves as a perpetual reminder that love is an intensively fragile thing, something to be carefully cherished and protected. To make sure the plate isn’t accidentally broken, it is tightly clasped to a sturdy wire plate hanger that embraces it tightly. That hanger is secured to one of the thick logs that make up our home with a three-inch metal screw.

This year was our silver anniversary. With all my heart, I aimed to celebrate the anniversary with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance such an event deserves. The thing is, who celebrates anniversaries anymore? Back in the day when we had cable, there were plenty of shows about weddings. Entire magazines are devoted to weddings. Cards, gifts, parties and showers are dedicated to weddings. Sure, there are a few cards for the anniversarial occasion, but I can’t remember the last time I bought one for someone else. And as far as I know, there is no prime-time programming such as, “Yay, Rah, You Endured Another Year.”

Yet I have noticed a few Hallmark cards dedicated to divorce. It made me wonder what happened between the two big events.

I let my mind ponder that when last week’s memories resurfaced like a bad case of food poisoning. Hubs was at work until the next week. How am I? (Insert crazy-woman rant here.)

The proper answer: Like everyone else at end of a whirlwind Alaska summer — busy. Exhausted. One stuffed pillow short of a matching set. That is because the dog ate the other pillow. Ate it. As in she completely obliterated the outer shell that contained what was at one time an entire heard of feathered friends.

Poof.

When I opened the door to let her in I shrieked (insert soprano scream here). “Something died in the driveway!”

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Common Ground: Don’t mind man’s best friend

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Remember — man’s best friend doesn’t have the mind of a man, though he won’t mind of you forget the distinction.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Remember — man’s best friend doesn’t have the mind of a man, though he won’t mind of you forget the distinction.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Dog behaviorists caution us not to assign human thoughts and feelings to our canines. It’s dangerous, they say in books on the subject, to treat dogs as if they have human reasons for doing things.

As I read the examples recently, I realized that a dog behaviorist could get a lot of material at my house. Not only did I practice all of the examples, I had a few more that were even more ridiculous. My anthropomorphism (the projecting of human characteristics on nonhuman entities) was difficult for me to realize at first. Ironically, I had to think like a dog in order to not think my dog was thinking like a human.

My favorite motive to falsely assign to my unsuspecting dogs is revenge. If they do something bad, such as poo in the house while I’ve been gone too long, it is because they want revenge. Upon further investigation, it turns out that dogs do not think of poo as a disgusting tool of revenge. They think of it as a wonder of nature, a secondary food source in survival situations, and an object of fascination for dogs and humans alike. The fact that I go into their yard and collect poo tells them that it is highly valuable. What I think of as a disastrous mess, they think of as presents. I do not know what to do about this revelation.

I also tend to think my dogs feel guilt when they do something wrong. Why else would the guilty party make the classic guilt face when I ask, “Who ate the entire ham?”

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