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Monday, September 30, 2013

Shyla's Socialization

Our lives continue to be very disrupted by all the flood damage. Getting to town and our normal vet, doctors, physical therapists, and dentists is a several hour ordeal of driving bumpy dirt roads that take a long route around the worst damage.

As a side note, national workers, like the National Guard, are doing yeoman's duty for us right now, and they won't be paid if our government shuts down tomorrow. I sure hope that doesn't happen. Many emergency workers have given weeks of their lives to help us with our flood disaster. I, for one, would feel horrendous if their pay was cut off.

After all these weeks of us being almost cut off from town, I finally decided that Shyla had to see a vet for two small lingering problems. My regular vet hospital had no appointments for us so I took Shyla to a vet who we'd never met before.

Many of you know how fearful Shyla was when she arrived about a year ago - I would not have ever considered taking her to this new vet a year ago. She was too terrified to go near any strangers. All sorts of everyday things, like strollers or canes, paralyzed her with fear. I've worked very hard on socializing her over the past year, and she's made amazing progress. She isn't a "normal" dog by any means - she's still much more nervous about the world than most dogs. However, she can live her life happily and without daily fear now - which was my biggest goal.
Despite her progress this year, I was a bit worried about taking her to a new vet. Moreover, he was a male vet, and males are scarier to Shyla than females. But, much to my happiness, all of our hard work shined through. Despite being in the smallest exam room I've ever seen, Shyla wasn't excessively nervous. When the vet came in the room, she planted her hind feet as far away from him as possible, and then she stretched her body so it was super long and she nudged him with her nose. After a little bit of petting, she let the vet look in her ears and even sample the discharge from them without flinching.
Before having Shyla as my dog, I would not have understood how happy someone could be about having their dog have a fairly "normal" visit to an unfamiliar vet. I was overjoyed!

When I first realized how fearful Shyla was, I joined a discussion forum for owners of fearful dogs. I am frankly appalled by how often owners decide that it's not "worthwhile" to try to teach their fearful dog how to meet strangers. I will admit that it is a *very* long process. My trainer and I didn't let strangers approach Shyla until about 9 months into the training process. However, I always thought that being somewhat comfortable around strangers was an important goal because our dogs do have to interact with vets, vet technicians, visitors to the house, and other random people in the world. It would seem unfair not to try to teach them that strangers are not as scary as they might think.
I am glad, in our case, that Shyla has been able to come so far. I think that she has the potential to continue to grow, and there's a chance that, someday, she'll meet strangers with nothing but happiness.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn and Bears

Our late autumn is truly here. It's very cold in the mornings, and the aspen leaves are turning. Shyla adores the cool weather, zipping around effortlessly.
It is the season when my favorite animals, the black bears, start to wind down. I am getting fewer and fewer photos of them on my trail cameras, as the aspens change color along their favorite paths.
It is also a sad day, for me, and even sadder for others. I have been an ardent supporter of a pair of Minnesota bear researchers, Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield. I took one of their field courses this summer and learned a tremendous amount about bear behavior. I had the opportunity to observe their research bears at close quarters. Their single most important research bear was killed the other day.

They've faced a lot of opposition to their research over the years because their research is based on building trust with the bears so that the bears will allow the researchers to observe their daily lives. The researchers have literally walked and lived with their research bears for days on end, observing every detail of the bears' daily lives.

Sadly, the rhetoric against the researchers has skyrocketed this year. Thus, I suppose that I should not be surprised that 3 of their research bears have been shot this year - 2 died instantly and 1 is a "walking wounded" bear. On Friday, a gentle giant mother bear, who had two young cubs with her, was shot to death, probably by a hunter.

In memory of that bear, I bring you a few photos of "my" bears, the ones who roam the forest near my house. This is Cinnamom, the cinnamon-colored mother bear who has two cubs. She visited a bear marking tree. I suspect that her cubs were nearby, as she frequently looked off to the side while at the tree. By this time of year, cubs are getting more adventurous and are not always right next to mom.
Then, as sows tend to do before denning, she marked the tree. Apparently, female bears have a flurry of tree marking just before they go into hibernation (this is one of the things learned by the Minnesota researchers). As she stood on her hind legs, her two lowest teats were obvious, still filled with milk.
After marking the tree, she paused. She's a beautiful bear who looks healthy and fat this fall. She'll den with her two cubs, and then will stay with them until the start of mating season next spring - around June or so.
She prepared to depart. I suspect that this might be our last glimpse of her before next spring. But, I'll keep watching, just in case my trail camera captures her image again.
I've never seen Cinnamom in person. She lives a bear's life, deep in the forest away from people. Most of my neighbors know nothing of her. But, I've followed her for a few years (via my trail cameras), and I am honored that she shares her forest with us.

Our world is a better place for having black bears in it. I hope to keep observing ours, using trail cameras, for many years to come.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Mountain Lion Walked Here

Our glorious world - some trees are in all their autumn glory while others are still green.
On a different note about the beauty of our world, I found an interesting series of photos from two trail cameras very close to each other more than a week ago.

First, a big bull elk passed a camera in the wee hours of September 20th.
A little while later, a mountain lion passed the same camera, looking like he was tracking something.
Then, about 12 hours later, the mountain lion passed another trail camera about an eighth of a mile away. I wonder if he killed something in the area, and that's why he stayed nearby for those 12 hours.
Here's a second photo as the lion moved rapidly past the camera. It illustrates the raw power that this lion possesses.
I'm pretty sure that he was a male, because he left "scrapes" in the ground all around the area, a territorial marking behavior.

I haven't gone back to the area yet because I wanted to give him time, just in case he had a deer or elk carcass cached in that area. Winter is coming. The lion needs to fatten up without my interference.

The mountains that Shyla and I visited the other day were very wintery today! Winter is creeping down the mountains toward us...

Friday, September 27, 2013

A tough, but beautiful, alpine hike

Shyla and I were out for a bike ride early yesterday, greeting a sunny and chilly morning. The air at sunrise is now down around 40°F, telling us that winter cannot be stopped.
When I saw the sunshine, the clear sky over the Divide, and a forecast that included no chance of rain, I decided that we had to seize the day. And, we did.
My girl and I did an easy hike, a hike that climbs only about a thousand feet up to a beautiful torquoise lake. Along the path to that lake, small ponds dotted the autumn gold landscape.
I knew fairly early in the hike that my spine was not happy - in fact, it was downright furious. I remembered that this was one of the first "real" hikes that I attempted after I had a three-level fusion in my lower back a number of years ago. I can't remember exactly what year it was but we had K and our yellow lab, S, with us on the hike.

Knowing that more surgery-induced lay-offs are probably in my future, I decided to ignore the pain, and I climbed. I feel so free when I'm up high in the mountains that it is well worth it. (I also know from experience that pain doesn't mean I'm doing any additional permanent damage.)

The lake that we were seeking was below the furthest peaks in the next photo.
Shyla had a fabulous time during the hike. She was fascinated with this new place that she'd never visited before. In this photo, her head was swiveling from side to side as she heard the sounds of marmots whistling from the mountainsides. Fortunately, she has a rock solid "stay" so I could trust her to be leash-free for photos.
As we approached the lake, the intertwined streams draining it were frozen in some spots. Winter is winning.
When we crested the rocky ridge above the lake, I saw that we had the whole huge lake to ourselves! That is a truly rare event. The solitude was due to the flood-destroyed roads that make it almost impossible for city-dwellers to drive to the trailhead. In contrast, we can easily access the mountains right now (but getting to the flats is a heinous drive).
I was mildly disappointed to see the murky water. Of course, it makes sense - we've had "Biblical rains" in the past few weeks. After flooding rains, I shouldn't have expected that the water would be pure, clear, and turquoise like usual.

And, yes, Shyla swam. But, she swam only a tiny bit. She let me know that the water was nearly freezing after her first foray into the water.
As we turned to retrace our steps back to our vehicle, a wind kicked up from the east, and suddenly, the air was cold too.
I'd carried a lightweight down jacket and a stocking cap with me, feeling silly about lugging them as I sweated during the climb upward. I was so glad to snuggle into that jacket and hat for the descent.

On the way down, my spine pain escalated to the point that my eyes brimmed with tears at one point. I sat down on a rock feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, asking the unanswerable question of why a person who loves the mountains has such a terrible spine that visiting the mountains will someday be impossible. As I mulled over those dark thoughts, my sweet Shyla leaned solidly into me while licking my face with concern. She's a special one. I hugged her.

We watched the sun set on our valley.
One thing about the flood disaster all around us is that it's pretty tough to feel sorry for yourself for long. Then, the stories of the loss and devastation endured by others hit me full force. Heck, I can hike with a pain. I'm one of the lucky ones compared to so many others.
It's snowing on those lakes and mountains today. It will be too snowy for hiking very soon. I'm glad that Shyla and I visited them yesterday.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thankful Thursday: Laughter and Love

I had the idea that I should take a few photos of Shyla in the green grass, since it is long overdue to become brown and then be covered by snow for months. She gave me a warm look.
Then, she noticed the green grass next to her and quickly snarfed a bite. The look on her face made me laugh!
I asked her to stop, and she quickly recomposed herself, adopting the "noble looking-off-into-the-distance" pose.
There was just one problem... the grass was still hanging out of her mouth, negating the "noble" part of the look! Shyla makes me laugh almost every day.

Shyla has been the greatest gift in the world since K died. I am so thankful.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shyla's Agility!

Shyla and I have been working on agility on our little homemade course since the snow melted in late May. She was a total novice at the start of the season. When we're not out of town, we spend about 10 minutes a day practicing.

She's mastered all of the obstacles pretty well at this point. We've worked all summer on the weave because it is conceptually the hardest to learn. I used a "shaping" technique pioneered by Susan Garrett (in her book Shaping Success), where I started by having Shyla learn to go through a "gate" of 2 weave poles. Gradually, I oriented those two weave poles so that Shyla essentially "weaved" through them.

Then, I added another pair of weave poles. I started with them set up like 2 sets of "gates" that Shyla ran through. Then, I again gradually rotated the "gates" so that they were oriented like a line of weave poles in agility. Since then, we've gradually increased to 12 weave poles! The set in the video is 12 although you can't see them all.

Shyla is not yet very fast but she completely understands what's expected. I suspect that speed will come with time. In fact, she's usually a bit faster than in this video but R was barking like crazy from inside the house which seemed to distract Shyla. Her reward for a good weave is that I throw a special squeaky ball out ahead of her as she exits the last weave poles.

The other very tough obstacle for Shyla was the teeter-totter. We started with it propped up so that it was horizontal (parallel to the ground). Shyla jumped on it and walked across. Then, I made the props slightly uneven so that it teetered by about an inch as she walked over the fulcrum. Very gradually, we increased the teetering until it now goes through its full range of motion! Shyla loves it! I am working on teaching her that she is only allowed to do the teeter-totter when I ask her to, not at any random time when we're on the course!

Here's the video. Sorry about my whooping encouragement to Shyla. It's a little embarrassing!


Shyla says "Give me Five"! I'm learning fast!
I'm so proud of my girl!
P.S. Some have asked if R does agility. Alas, he had elbow dysplasia surgery at 1 year old so he is not allowed to do it. It frustrates him so I usually try to practice with Shyla when he's distracted by other things, unlike today.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Winter, Autumn, and Summer- All in One Day

Yesterday evening, the clouds lifted ever so briefly, and we saw winter in the mountains.
I believe that it has been snowing up high all day. I captured a brief glimpse of the mountains today, and it looked as if the snow was down to 9000' or so (getting close to our elevation!). I am so glad that we went to Dog Leap Lake a few days ago rather than waiting!

This morning, Shyla and I went to Hug Hill. No mountains were visible but the winter wind had kicked up. I love watching her ears flap in the wind.
I took a moment on Hug Hill to remember K, because today is her birthday. I feel peaceful - and so thankful that I knew her love.

Then, it was time to let Shyla have some fun. As my friend said today: "You and Shyla saved each other" (after K's death). I do believe that having this new girl in my life has helped my heart heal more than I could have imagined.
After Hug Hill, I pedaled further through pine trees swaying in the winter wind. On the other side of the pine forest, I spotted an autumn sight on the floor of an aspen grove. It may be winter in the high mountains but it's still autumn here.
When I headed out on my solo ride, I also spotted a summer sight - Lupines blooming, probably prompted by all the rain we had in the flood storm. Miraculous!
The lupines were next to an aspen leaf quaking in the wind. It took a long time to capture this photo, waiting for the wind to pause so that the leaf would stop moving.
When I arrived home after a windy ride, I found Shyla snoozing with her head on my pillow. K used to do that all the time but it was a first for Shyla. It warmed my heart.
Perhaps my two girls are more connected than I know.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Living in the Moment

Tension levels are rising up here in the mountains, with everyone feeling disbelief as rumors circulate that our normal routes to town might not open before winter. Presently, people are driving about 4 times as far as normal to go around the flood damage and down to jobs and appointments in town.

Yet, no matter what happens in the human-created world, time marches on, and the season is changing. Just in the past day, the aspen leaves have morphed to brilliant gems up here in the mountains.
Each leaf is like a unique work of art.
I feel fortunate to get to witness this autumnal transformation once again. I was forever changed by losing my mother to cancer when she was young. It makes me ask, each year, how many more times will I get to see the glory of a changing season? I don't know. No one knows - but I think that losing a parent young makes a person more aware of the uncertainty.
One of the things that I love most about dogs is that they don't dwell on worries like how fast time is going by. They simply greet each day with wide open eyes, embracing it with enthusiasm and joy.
They gallop through tunnels of changing leaves without worrying about how many autumns they will see.
Quite simply, they live in the moment, making as much fun as they can.
Happy Autumn to my Northern Hemisphere friends and Happy Spring to my Southern Hemisphere friends! I hope that we can find ways to enjoy the beauty around us despite the incredible difficulties, of all sorts (not just floods but other hardships), that life can throw at us.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Celebration of Our Dogs

There is no "upside" to the flood devastation in our area. But, we took advantage of one feature yesterday - the disconnect between town and the mountains. I've mentioned that "we can't get to town from here", at least not easily or in any remotely reasonable drive time.

Well, the opposite is also true. People from town can't get here - and it's even harder for them to make the trip than for us because the best routes are limited to mountain residents only. In fact, the National Guard has checkpoints where every driver must show ID, with a mountain address, to pass through.

Thus, the trails, forests, and mountains are empty of people, one feature that I have to admit is nice.

Yesterday, we did the hike that we called "K's Birthday Hike" over her lifetime, because we love doing it in September. Due to crowds of hikers that are usually visiting from the flats, we normally grit our teeth and power hike through the first mile until we reach the point where we branch away from the crowds. Yesterday, over the entire hike, we saw three people - total.

We had a popular alpine lake all to ourselves!
And then we hiked off-trail in search of "Dog Leap Lake", our favorite destination. As we hiked upward, I thought of all the dogs we've brought to Dog Leap Lake. Including R and Shyla, we've had six Labs in our family who have visited this lake. Sadly, one of our Labs died before we moved to Colorado, so he never leaped into this lake.

Our off-trail navigation was not perfect so we ended up traversing a high alpine slope that looked down over a huge basin of lakes on our way to Dog Leap Lake. It was glorious to be so high in the sky even though some of the hike was precarious.

Eventually, we found Dog Leap Lake. We've never seen another person at Dog Leap Lake.
Due to our navigational diversion onto the high alpine slopes, we didn't arrive at the lake until it had fallen into the shade. Because yesterday was cold, the dogs' swimming time was limited before they started shivering. But they had a blast for their short swimming time!
Shyla was still reticent about competing with R for actual water retrieves. He'd bring the stick toward shore after swimming out to fetch it.
Then, Shyla would meet him to "help" bring the stick the last few yards to shore.
I don't fully understand the dynamics of their relationship when it comes to water retrieving. In all other situations, Shyla is willing to compete and play at full effort with R. I've seen her retrieve from lakes by herself, and she's fast enough to win some of the races in the water. I guess she's still a bit under-confident.

Our annual visit to Dog Leap Lake near K's Birthday is a wonderful family tradition. R is our link to our past generations of dogs, so he understands what's going on as soon as we arrive at the trailhead. He is earnestly intense about the hike and the swimming!
In many ways, playing at Dog Leap Lake is a celebration of all of our dogs and the love that they have brought to our family. That's why we'll keep doing this hike every September for as long as we can.