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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dog news and Mr. Bobcat

We've had a "normal" day, after what feels like quite a few abnormal days with quick trips to the vet thrown in to keep me on my toes. Shyla has been getting her morning hikes, and she's a super happy girl. Doesn't she look fetching as she did a down stay on top of Hug Hill?
We also practice our recalls on our favorite hill.
Yesterday, we went to training class and did socialization work. Shyla continues to stun me with how smart she is. She's learned to touch my shoe with her nose so easily! I must get a video of it soon because she's such a puppy about it. She throws in all sorts of cute little motions as she crosses the room to poke my shoe with her nose. We haven't yet tried it with other people - the ultimate goal is that I'll say "shoe" as she meets a new person, and she'll touch their shoe rather than jumping on them. Jumping is not a big issue yet (fear inhibits her) but my trainer thinks that it may become one because she's begun jumping on people who she knows.

After Shyla and I did our morning hike, it was R's turn. He seems almost normal now, after a week of stomach upset. He's still taking Cerenia, an anti-nausea drug, and we'll stop it tomorrow. That will be a big test. The main news on his health is that his blood work has returned to being as messed up as it was at the beginning of this whole episode 5-6 weeks ago. He has a "marked" population of damaged red blood cells (acanthocytes) and "reactive lymphocytes" in his blood. My vet feels 90% certain that a toxin in his Natural Balance Limited Ingredient food caused all of this. We are home-cooking for him now, and I'm working hard to figure out a long-term plan. In the short-term, we just want him to recover from the damage done to his body by the bad food.

I took this photo today. He's such a wonderful dog...
After exercising both dogs, it was time to keep my spine happy by spinning on my mountain bike. This is a daily necessity for me. Otherwise, the back spasms and the sciatica become too overwhelming. When Shyla's body is mature enough, she'll join me on some of my mountain bike rides.
It was during one of my solo rides to a very lightly traveled part of the forest that I saw a bobcat last week. As I rode along on a faint path, I spotted him on the trail 30 yards ahead of me. He trotted quickly to the side of the trail. I assumed that he'd vanished, like bobcats usually do. Despite my expectation that he was gone, I stopped to scan for him, and he was not far away! The photos are in chronological order.

He had taken cover behind two boulders but I could easily see him. He wasn't looking right at me at first.
Indeed, something to his right had his attention. That worried me a little. I wondered if a bigger and fiercer animal was hidden over there but I didn't see anything.
Finally, he looked straight at me. He didn't seem afraid but didn't look particularly thrilled to see me either.
He began alternating between looking to his right and at me.
He squinted a lot, to the point that it looked like his eyes were closed. But, he was looking directly into the sun, and his eyes are specialized for nighttime vision. Thus, the sun might have been too bright for him.
He checked on me again. At this point, I realized that I could see the rise and fall of his chest. I watched closely... He and I were breathing in almost the same rhythm.
He seemed to contemplate the situation, looking like his thoughts had turned inward.
Then, he looked at me again with those squinted eyes. I decided that I'd disrupted his life enough for one day. I hopped on my bike and left him alone.
I was riding an "out and back" route, which meant that I passed the same area again on my return. I watched closely as I approached it, and there was the bobcat on the trail again! He trotted off, this time into some yellow leaves.
I was beginning to worry that this cat was too unafraid of humans. Although almost no one else visits this part of the forest for most of the year, hunters go there in the fall. I didn't want this beautiful cat to be shot because he didn't hide from hunters. So, I made some yelling noises and walked directly toward the cat. My hope was that I'd be showing him that us 2-leggers can be dangerous and unpredictable.

He turned and walked away into the gold grass.
Just before he disappeared, he stopped and scanned once more with the white underside of his tail showing.
Then, he was gone...

I felt very lucky to have "met" a bobcat in the wild. At the time, I wondered if there was a large prey item that he was feeding on near that spot on the trail, explaining why he didn't want to flee when I arrived. I plan to look around when I return there again to see if I can find anything.

Thank you, Mr. Bobcat, I loved seeing you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Better Day

Finally, a normal day. The meds that the vet gave R worked, and he didn't barf this morning. So, we could have a nice and relaxed day.

I exercised the two dogs separately. In the mornings, we try to give them each individual attention. Then, in the evenings, we all hike together.

It's amazing to see Shyla get physically stronger by the day. She sprints and leaps with such grace.
This leap didn't seem to have any particular purpose. She landed in the deep grass and then stood up looking a little confused. It made me laugh!
When we made it up to Hug Hill, we saw the result of the past two days of rain at our elevation. It was snow, and lots of it, up higher. Shyla and I hiked in the mountains behind her last week. Some years, the first snow on the high mountains will melt away, and we can sneak in one more hike. We'll have to wait and see if that happens this year. Regardless, I love the combination of the yellow and red areas in the forest and the white mountains.
Shyla is doing a sit-stay in this photo. Her traditional training (sit, down, stand, stay, come, target, leave it, etc) is going stunningly well. The harder part for her is the socialization sessions in town but we are slowly but surely seeing her become more comfortable with strangers and the bustle of a town.

One of the fun training games that I'm playing with her is teaching her to poke a person's shoe with her nose. It's a good way to teach a dog to approach a stranger without any temptation to jump on the person. We're finding that she can very rapidly transition from being afraid of someone to jumping on them but we don't want to do anything negative near a stranger since it's taken a month to convince her to approach any strangers. So, my trainer suggested the "substitute behavior" of poking a stranger's shoes so that Shyla won't become a habitual jumper.

I've never worked with an older pup like Shyla who has never navigated the real world (that's why I'm working so much with a great trainer). I'm finding it to be incredibly rewarding. She's learning so fast, and she looks to me for guidance all the time. I think that this process will make our bond very strong.

Today, after I took Shyla for her hike, I took R out for some exercise, just a short session to let him have some fun. He visited Hug Hill too!

Soon, very soon, I want to tell you more about seeing a bobcat close-up in person. He was so close that I could see his ribcage rise and fall with each breath, and I could see the details of his pupils. I was glad that he was a small bobcat (30 lbs, maybe) rather than a mountain lion!
Have a great weekend! And, thank for all the well-wishes for R. I hope that he doesn't need them anymore sometime very soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Today was one of "those" days when nothing went as planned. I woke up to the sound of R vomiting. This is not the first morning this week that he's been sick so I decided that it was time to get him to the vet (for the umpteenth time in the last month). So, Shyla and I missed our morning hike. It's incredible how quickly she has learned to love our routine. She seems already addicted to galloping through our forest every single morning, just like the rest of us. She was disappointed this morning - but I can't do everything!
Alas, R's sickness seems like it may be a continuation of whatever has been going on inside him for the last 5 weeks or so. He had tests today, and we'll get the results tomorrow or the next day. He's taking anti-nausea medicine, and if he gets sick despite it, he'll have the honor of spending tomorrow in the hospital for some more tests.
In between his bouts of upset stomach, R has been playing with his sister almost non-stop. In the photo above, you can see how he "self-handicaps", flopping over on his back to let Shyla win a round. Then, as you see in the photo below, he comes roaring back to win the next round.
Since we didn't have our usual fun times today and I'm feeling a little down, I went through some recent photos of "beauty" to share with you and lift my spirits. I love Shyla's fur and eyes with the golden aspens as a background.
I love seeing her romp in the sunrise light.
I love the late season purple asters that are blooming among the yellow aspen.
I love the clover that is also a late bloomer, brightening the world with it's brilliant purple flower.
But, what I'd love most of all would be for R to magically get all better and be able to romp with his sister through the aspens!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bobcat and Kitten Wednesday

Shyla and I have been enjoying our hikes in the autumn colors and cooler air.
Shyla's training is going stunningly well. We practice her everyday cues during our hikes. Here, she is doing a down-stay on top of Hug Hill. She is so "zen" about "stays" that she's already letting me go out of sight.
On our hikes, I have certain places where I take dogs and certain places where I don't due to wildlife presence. I don't take them to the area where the bears and mountain lions abound for everyone's safety. I must admit that my friends chuckle at the notion that I go to those places by myself but never take my dogs. I am very careful when I'm alone there... and I trust that the animals don't want to come near me. But, I don't trust that my dogs won't sniff out the animals, thereby getting us all in trouble - so that's my reason for not taking my dogs with me.

In that area, mountain lions seem to be multiplying! I have lots of photos but here's just one (wearing a radio collar for a study in our area).
In the same spot where this mountain lion stood, I've captured many photos of an adult bobcat who I believed was raising a kitten over the summer. I think that the mountain lions have caused her and her kitten to move to a different area, where I also have trail cameras. I captured photos of the two of them for the first time the other night.

The mother bobcat walked into the clearing, sniffed around, and then sat still for almost 2 minutes waiting for her kitten to catch up. Here is the first appearance of the kitten.
The kitten was very curious. Look at mom's eyes glowing in the background.
Full view of kitten's face.
Mom decided that it was time for the kitten to move on and walked toward the kitten. You can see the back of the kitten's black and white striped ears as s/he looked to mom.
The kitten bowed down to mom and then the two interacted for a bit.

The best portrait of the two of them...
Then, the kitten exited to the left, and mom peered up into the tree canopy above my camera.
I'm fairly certain that she climbed the tree based on the next sketchy photo.
Then, a while later, she walked in front of the camera carrying a tree squirrel who must have been sleeping up in the tree. I had no idea that bobcats would hunt down animals high in the tree branches.
I think that mom was heading off to share the meal with her kitten.

Believe it or not, shortly after I checked this camera, I saw a bobcat in person a few miles away. I believe that it was a male, based on his size. He was as interested in me as I was in him so I captured a whole series of photos of him. Here is one. I'll share more in the coming days.
These mountains are an incredible place to live for someone who loves wildlife.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Celebration

On Sunday, we visited our pack's favorite lake. It's a small lake in a very popular hiking area but it doesn't appear on any recreational maps. We have to bushwack to get to it, and we always have it entirely to ourselves. It's our tradition that we go there for K's birthday. We did last year. This year, of course, we have a newly configured pack. Shyla was with us for our celebration of life this year.
As soon as we arrived at the lake, Shyla was excited and curious. It was special to see her there. All of our Labs, except our very first one, have played at this lake.
Shyla wanted to try the water, so we let her go in by herself for starters. It's a shallow and warm lake so it's a good place to learn about swimming. She churned and created lots of splashes but didn't swim very efficiently. We've seen this style of swimming in every single one of our Labs when they were first introduced to water.
By comparison, R was flat in the water and made no splashes. We remember when he swam in Shyla's naive style as a puppy. She'll learn with time, and I'll try to take her to another easy lake by herself before winter freezes them all.
We played fetch, throwing sticks into the water. Just like all our young labs in the past, Shyla decided to take the role of waiting on shore and then "helping" with the last bit of the fetch through the shallow water. Indeed, last year, K was still winning many of the water fetches, and R played the role of "spoiler". It's ironic to see the cycle repeat itself but with R as the older sibling.
But, every now and then, R would turn on his turbo jets and escape with the stick all by himself, evading Shyla.
He'd start shaking the water off with the stick still in his iron jaws.
And then, he'd do K's favorite thing, rolling in the soft vegetation of the alpine world.
Sometimes, he'd taunt Shyla with the stick after he arrived on shore. She stole it from him a few times. You go girl!
Our vet likes to say that R is the "Lance Armstrong" of dogs. He has an incredible cardiovascular capacity (a huge heart with a resting heart rate of less than 28 beats per minute) and can also sprint like the wind. He's the most amazing athlete of any of our dogs.
He sprints at top speed when an object is thrown into the water for him to retrieve. I could watch this boy run all day long. He is so graceful and so fast.
It was a fun day with a tinge of sadness. As I said to the Runner, last year on K's birthday, it never occurred to me that she wouldn't be here this year. Yet, it did make us smile to see that our puppy is becoming part of our pack's traditions. She's also becoming part of the fabric of our hearts. Shyla is so loving - just like our K was.

I can't help myself - here is just one nostalgic photo from last year of R and K... the Labraduo.