Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hazard of being a beagle

Diesel has a sore French moustache. You know that cute little dark bit just under his nose on his upper lip? That's his French moustache, and typically it's black and covered in peach-like fuzz. He wore it out on our Tuesday morning walk though and now it's hairless and sore.

It was strange really. We were just a little way into our walk when we stopped to investigate some brush on the side of the road. The beagles sniffed and sniffed some more – and then there was a shift in Diesel. We carried on, but he had his nose to the ground persistantly sniffing in a very direct path. He didn't stop and start, he didn't swerve from side to side – he kept a steady, straight-as-an-arrow path ahead sniffing the ground at the pace we were walking. Even stranger was the fact that he kept doing it once we were back in the house. The kitchen floor, the hallway floor, my shoes. I was puzzled.

He must have been following the trail of a creature that had taken our path before. I suspect a coyote, as we had actually seen one in the neighborhood in the last two weeks. But I won't know for sure because Diesel didn't tell me.

What do you mean … "sore French moustache"?

Hey, is that a fettucini alfredo noodle you have in your hand?

Can I have the noodle please? Why don't you just give it to me?


Diesel tried every trick in the book to get that noodle … everything from sit-ups, to left and right circles to targeting the camera. After I got my photos he had the noodle. And then another.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Notes from another Week 8

"Week 8"s are rather exciting in our little world of agility adventures. Each session at our training hall is eight weeks long and the last week always holds extra challenge and excitement. As a result, big smiles and feelings of accomplishment abound.

This session I've been assisting the beginner agility class the hour prior to Diesel and my intermediate class. My assisting evolved out of the idea that I can't really afford to have both pups involved in agility classes on an ongoing basis. As an assistant I receive a 50% discount on our agility classes which is wonderful, but, even more so, it feeds my addiction. Seems I can't quite get enough and it doesn't matter if I'm running my dogs or not. I just like to be around dogs, especially in an agility setting. And new situations are always an opportunity to learn.

I will admit, as an assistant, I stand on the floor feeling a bit like an impostor at times, mainly when I'm playing more of a teaching role as opposed to merely setting bars or helping set up/take down the course. But here's a cardinal rule to comfort the new assistant: I will know more than someone just starting out in agility so I will always be able to help in some way. Besides, I'm
assisting an instructor, therefore part of a team hopefully providing well-rounded instruction. And it's not like anyone is going to get hurt following my advice. I have a friend, Jen, who teaches novice motorcycle racing classes. We compared notes on how sometimes we feel like impostors – enthusiasts posing as people who know what they're doing. Obviously, since we are doing what we're doing (Jen teaching/me assisting) we've been considered qualified by someone who is qualified. It's tempting to be hard on ourselves though – to feel we need to know everything. Of course Jen does have the added pressure of someone potentially getting hurt. Agility, while it is an adrenaline rush, just doesn't have that kind of risk thankfully.

After just eight one-hour sessions I've seen dogs in my beginner class go from being terrified of a tunnel to running through it with gusto. I've seen new handlers allow themselves to trust their dog's abilities off-leash and beam when they complete 12 obstacles together as a team. It's that stuff that got me addicted to doing agility in the first place and it's heartwarming to watch that come alive in the students, both human and canine.

Another eight week session starts this upcoming Monday. This time I will be assisting both beginner and intermediate (while Marvin and I take our first advanced session on Wednesdays – Diesel is taking a session off). The thing I'm most looking forward to, besides seeing a new round of beginner dogs, is watching how "my" first set of beginners moves into the next level and watching their enthusiasm and confidence grow.

I owe a big thank you to Dave,
my instructor who's now retiring, at least for now, from teaching. If it weren't for his knowledge, enthusiasm, and gentle, confidence-building style, I may not have become as hooked as I am. If I can bring even a little of his gift to my assisting, I know my students will be okay and I will always credit him for that.

As for Diesel and my Week 8 intermediate class – what a blast! The boy was on fire! We ended the session on our highest note as a team. Diesel was motivated and stayed with me, enjoying what the course had to offer. He took the A-frame in a style he created a couple weeks ago ... ran up the up,
jumped the peak, and ran down the down. I was satisfied with my handling after a couple runs (and the addition of a crucial front cross, thanks to the advice of instructor Melissa) and the course felt smooth and efficient. Our last of four runs we ran at breakneck speed :) leaving both Diesel and I panting and smiling and wanting more.

Again, here I sit, glowing at the thought of it. Agility class just has that effect on me.

("And guess what?", the new assistant whispers, hoping no one will hear, "Thoughts of entering a trial keep popping back into my head ...")

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recap: BREW Beaglefest 2008

Earlier this summer, June 7 to be exact, Diesel, Marvin, Mark, and I drove to northeast Illinois to attend BREW Midwest's annual Beaglefest. BREW is the rescue group we adopted Marvin from just over a year ago – on what day, you ask? June 7! Which means this year's Beaglefest was held on Marvin's one-year adoption date. What a way to celebrate his first Gotcha Day! A happy coincidence indeed.

Last year, Beaglefest was held in May and we had just become an "approved family" through BREW's home and phone check program when we attended. We had seen Marvin online and thought him a handsome boy. We met him for the first time at Beaglefest, and, well, once meeting him, how could we resist? He worked his magic and came to live with us less than a month later.

Beaglefest this year was a much-anticipated reunion for us. We caught up with Nicole, the BREW volunteer
(now my friend and fellow Whole Dog Journal enthusiast) who did our phone interview; Kate, the volunteer who came to our house for our home check; and, of course, Toscha, Marvin's foster mom. The following photos are a brief recap of this year's festivities …

Diesel is never completely comfortable in large crowds, whether they be crowds of people or dogs. He was our little shadow for the day.
(Please note the lovely collar, handmade by Patience!)

Marvin, on the other hand, can't get himself in the middle of the action fast enough. Who owns who here?

Just when Marvin thought he had one pinned, he gets charged by another.

And the motive here is …?

Checking in. Good boy.

Under the picnic table, hoping we drop our hot dogs.

Time for a stroll and a sniff.

Marty – a lovely beagle/boxer blend.


A tender moment between Diesel and dog dad.

Marvin, captive at last.

Diesel found a quiet haven in the climbing gym.

And then it was time for agility practice!

Diesel surveys his surroundings.

Marvin – now you see him, now you don't.

A family photo with Toscha, Marvin's foster mom (and BREW Midwest's co-director). Marvin is named after Toscha's grandpa and I think our bluetick boy will always hold a special place in her heart. We love Toscha.

This photo, taken on our drive back to Milwaukee, was just the beginning of a really long night. We arrived home in the middle of a storm that would bring us five inches of rain in three hours, with about the same amount the following night. For the first time in the ten years I've owned our house we had water in our basement. We were up all night both Saturday and Sunday nights wet vaccing to keep the water in check and moving all that stuff I should have thrown out years ago. We were very fortunate compared to some, especially since it initiated a good basement clear-out the following weekend (with more yet to go!).

If it weren't for this little blip on the screen I would have posted our Beaglefest photos the day after the event. I apologize for the delay. ;)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sun spot snooze

Two-on-a-mat doesn't happen often at our house, but it looks like a thin sliver of sun and one bed was enough to push them over the edge to snuggling.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

National news

Another happy NBC Today Show feature that made the application of my eye make-up rather difficult this morning (original story and video can be found here) …

Dog gone! Lost beagle back after 5 years, 850 miles
Rocco’s owner is now 11;
‘I was scared I’d never see him again,’ she says

By Bob Considine / contributor

Five years ago, a heartbroken 5-year-old girl from Queens, N.Y., was hanging posters for the return of her lost beagle. Today, after years of wishes, little Natalie Villacis has been miraculously reunited with her beloved dog Rocco after he resurfaced some 850 miles away in Georgia — proving that every dog owner can have their day.

“I was actually scared that I was never going to see him again,” the now 11-year-old Natalie told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Wednesday. “I literally said, ‘I will probably never see him again.’ ”

Cristina Villacis, Natalie’s mother, said the family was shocked to get a call last week from a shelter in Hinesville, Ga., informing them that their long-lost pup had been found after half a decade. Thanks to a microchip implanted in the dog, an effective form of permanent identification, Natalie’s greatest hopes had been realized.

To help fill the aching void left by Rocco, the family got another dog a year after the disappearance — Bonita, a poodle from Ecuador. But even another wagging tail in the household could not fully erase Natalie’s heartache. “She got over it, but she was always wishful that he’d come back,” Cristina Villacis said. “She’d always make wishes.”

A surprise call

Although she was barely a pup herself at the time, Natalie had no problem remembering the joy of getting a new puppy named Rocco. “I was really excited,” she told Curry.

But one fateful day in 2003, after just two months in the Villacis household, the beagle slipped under a fence and ran off.

The family searched high and low, checked with neighbors and local authorities and posted flyers. But the only thing that remained of Rocco was his little red toy — and the memory of the joy he brought Natalie.

“She was very devastated,” Cristina said. “She kept his toy. She had a scrapbook with his picture.”

Then, on July 5, while Natalie was at a block party, the family received a call from Liberty County, Ga., Animal Control.

“We were so surprised,” Cristina said. “At first, of course, we thought, ‘It’s the wrong dog. It can’t be.’ But I think the turning point was when they said, ‘His name is Rocco.’ Right there, we said, ‘OK, it’s ours.’ ”

When her mom told her the amazing news, Natalie just “cried hysterically,” Cristina said. “She actually wanted to go to Georgia to pick him up, but the ride back was too long.”

A long leash

Natalie’s father, Jorge, and older brother, Nick, flew down to Georgia to pick up Rocco and drove the dog back home in a rental car.

“I was so choked up when I saw him,” Nick said. “It was a very nice moment, just to see him. He was doing well. He looked well-kept.”

Randy Durrence, supervisor at Liberty County, Ga., Animal Control, said Rocco had only a cut under his left eye and a spot behind one ear to show for his years on the road when he was brought in by someone who found him at a local military base. After the dog was scanned for a microchip, which Durrence says is “normal procedure,” he gladly made the call to the Villacis household.

“[Jorge] said he had been missing for five years,” Durrence said. “My understanding is that [Natalie] ran off into the bathroom and started crying right away. She is a real animal lover.”

How Rocco actually got all the way to Georgia from New York remains a mystery.

“Somebody must have taken him there; I honestly don’t think he walked there,” Cristina said with a laugh. “It’s OK, as long as we have him back.”

Durrence said no one came to claim the dog before the Villacis family, and that no one called to report this type of dog missing. But whoever it was that looked after Rocco over five long years has the lifelong gratitude of a little girl in Queens.

“Too bad we couldn’t meet them or see them,” Natalie said wistfully.

The New York Post also did a wonderfully sweet story and video covering Natalie and Rocco's heartwarming reunion, followed by an appropriate message regarding the importance of microchipping.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In a single bound

Marvin is always up to something. What is his newest exploit?

He's gotten himself expelled from doggy day care.
Yes, expelled!

While we were away in Door County, Diesel and Marvin spent a day and a half at day care while Wendy was at work. When I saw her name on my cell phone's caller ID Friday afternoon, I knew it would be a beagle update since she would have just picked them up.

"We have a situation." (Insert two-second pause which felt like five minutes.) "Don't worry, everyone's okay," Wendy said. (Insert huge sigh of relief.)

"The day care people don't think Marvin should come back anymore."


The first thing that crossed my mind was that he played too roughly with the other dogs. He is a rough and tumble kind of animal ...

But that wasn't it at all.

Marvin, our vertical dog, figured out how to jump the four-foot gates! He jumped the gate to the enclosure that he and Diesel were in and then proceeded to jump the gate that separated the lobby from the front entrance. If someone would have entered the front door he could have run away ... and that is where the problem lies.
They don't feel that they can ensure his safety if he can so unexpectedly hop the gates, therefore Marvin and the day care are no longer a good match.

When Wendy told me that was the reason I just had to laugh, although I was a little shocked. So entirely Marvin!

The owner of this daycare is very nice – in fact I haven't spoken to her about this yet and I would like to hear her take on the situation. What I especially liked about this place was that you could check on your pups via web cam. One day, while at work, I captured this screen grab.

Note the speckled beagle practicing his vertical techniques at the back gate. It was only a matter of time.

Dramatic pixelized close-up of offending speckled beagle.

In all honesty we don't use doggy day care on a regular basis anyway so we weren't stuck in a tight situation. The good news is there is a brand new day care opening up next Monday right between my work and home. Actually, it's an overnight pet service that is expanding to day care and the owners of this place are very nice as well. When I tour their shiny new facility next week I will be sure to keep them well informed of Marvin's talents. Hopefully they are equipped to handle a pogo stick type of dog!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The best of times

The last two weeks were a whirlwind of excitement and happiness as Mark's Mum and her boyfriend, Kim, flew over the big pond from England to visit us! It was hard for Mark and I to believe they hadn't met the beagle boys yet, but the last time they flew over the pond was September 2005 – a whole three and a half months before we adopted Diesel. Marvin was a just a twinkle in our eyes way back then.

Mum and Kim very much loved their beagle dog grandchilds and the dog grandchilds very much loved them. There were extra morning walks to the gas station to get a newspaper and lots of extra pets and kisses between the eyes.

So Mum and Kim arrived two Sundays ago and, since that day, time flew and so much fun was had. We did more in those two weeks than Mark and I attempt in six months!

We had a grand reunion dinner with my mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law, and niece and nephews at a favorite new restaurant we discovered on the river.

We explored Door County for four days. This time the beagle boys stayed home under the loving care of their dog aunt and uncle, Wendy and Shane. They were very happy boys.

In Door County, we lounged and shopped in Fish Creek.

Contemplated what to do next in Baileys Harbor …

Took a ferry to Washington Island for the day …

where we spent time with ostriches …

said hello to a brown bear named Honey …

fed adorable goats …

had coffee at our favorite island coffee house, Red Cup …

skimmed stones and posed for photos at Schoolhouse Beach …

had lunch – and of course beer – at historic Nelsen's Hall …

followed by a chaser of Bitters – oooeeee!

We are now officially members of the Bitters Club and are recorded in the book.

After the Bitters, we climbed 156 stairs to the top of the lookout point before heading back to the mainland.

Once back in Gills Rock at our friends' wonderful cottage we rented, we toasted Door County with red wine.

On our return to Milwaukee we continued to eat, drink (including a brewery tour), and be merry. This sorbet Mum and I had for lunch one afternoon was unforgettable!

We also had visitors – Wendy, the beagles' dog aunt, and her mom, Nancy.

After some talking and laughing, the girls did a silly dance.

Fourth of July weekend we spent in Chicago. The first night we stayed in Elmhurst, outside of Chicago, enjoying an evening with a friend of Kim's and his family. Kim and Colin did a four-mile run on the morning of July 4. To our surprise, the family had a beagle so we felt right at home!

And then on to Chicago where we walked all around …

as well as soaked our feet at Millennium Park …

and napped under skyscrapers.

And then the visit was over as quickly as it began when we took our beloved family back to O'Hare for their long flight home.

On to looking forward to our next visit – this time Mark and I going to England.

Thank you, Mum and Kim, for making the trip. We loved having you! xxx