Wednesday, February 13, 2013

First Trip to the Beauty Parlor

Gertie and Della, the two poodle pups who came into our lives last Thursday, made their debut at Waggers grooming salon this morning.  I picked them up at three o'clock, and Kathy knew we had to grab photos of them before they lose that "just brushed" look.  So here they are, looking somewhat intrigued by the array of strange sounds Kathy made to arrest their jitterbug motion and make they look her way.

Gertie's on the right with the gray lead, G for Gertie, you know; and the smaller Della's on the left with the bright blue lead chosen because it's not pink and not black.

The intelligence of poodles is some kind of wonder.  They already know the phrase, "Kennel up!"  That means it's time for another blissful rest time in your cage.  Last night Gertie walked right in on her own.  Della didn't but she did hang around nearby so that I could nudge her in.  Then, as I reported earlier, I read them more Swamplandia! and heard not a peep nor a whimper, and they slept through the night again until the reasonable hour of 6:30.

Their potty training is short of complete, but we're doing better, and one or both of them appear to realize that if an accident is to be had, it is preferable to have it on the hardwood floor rather than on the oriental rug.  Accidents, however, are on a sharp decline as trips outside are more frequent.

They are thrilled to have been provided with an indoor racetrack for their war games.  They love the long shot from the refrigerator all the way down to the end of the hall at the far end of the house, and the big loop through the living room is almost as much fun as the obstacle evasion course we set up for their enjoyment in the dining room.  We know this course as a table with four chairs and a glass top, but to them it's more of a playground, sometimes with an unexpected cat.

I can't say that I'm getting very much done, other than studying my new kids.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bedtime Story

Last night was our third night with the poodle pups, Gertie and Della.  We put them into cages at the foot of our sleigh bed, and then I climb into bed and read a bit before turning out my light.  Kathy is a night owl and comes to bed an hour or two later, after the mournful howling has ceased and the dogs are quiet.

It's Della who is the howler.  Gertie seems confident enough about going to bed in a cage.  She may be aware that I'm in the room, or she may not care at that time of night.  But Della, oh, Della!  She feels abandoned when I am out of sight.  I've let her cry herself to sleep the first two nights, but last night some new idea came to mind.

Translation: "Cease from trembling; prepare yourself to live!"  That's a quotation from the fifth movement of Mahler's second symphony.  Several years ago the St. Louis Symphony Chorus sang this.  Our Music Director, David Robertson, stepped in as a last minute replacement for an indisposed guest conductor.  It was Robertson's first-ever performance of the Mahler 2nd, and he led it as if he'd written the piece himself.  During rehearsal, he told us the first line of this quotation is a common Austrian parental comfort phrase to a distressed baby.

So I said, "Hoer' auf zu beben, go to sleep now" the first few times Della was about to launch her epic wailing, and each time she quieted down.  It is not surprising that she has picked up some German even before I began her lessons.  Poodles are smarter than people sometimes.

Then I remembered telling Kathy that puppies are like human babies in the crawling stage.  They must be allowed to explore their environment, but they must be watched with vigilance.  And so it happened that I drew on my experience with babies and decided to read the puppies a bedtime story, and the story at hand was Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

This is one of the best books I've read.  I could use a sappy word and call it "magical," but that would actually devalue the book, as "magical" is so overused as to induce nausea.  It is also "enchanting" and "spellbinding" and touching.  It is funny and (here comes another terribly overused word in advertising blurbs) "wise."  Whenever I hear a book being described as "wise" I resolve not to read it.

Lately, Swamplandia! has been the book at my bedside, so wherever I was in the story, that's the part I began to read aloud.  Della never even began to wail once I began to fill her environment with the sound of my reading the story.  She began to imagine Ava and the Birdman putting in at Stiltsville, and Ava's brother, Kiwi, trying to get the hang of a placement exam from hell for a night school G.E.D. class at the Community College.  She wondered if Ava's sixteen-year-old sister Ossie was dead or alive with the ghost she had eloped with.  And she was fascinated about the red foot-long baby Seth, a mutant alligator Ava carried as a pet in a wooden box, Ava being a Seth-wrestler, even at her tender age, at Swamplandia!

Here is a photo of the author who comforted my Della and Gertie last night, Karen Russell:

Thank you, Karen, for such imaginative, funny, brilliant writing.  Thank you from me, from Della, and from Gertie the two poodles in a new home.  I hope things come out well for Ava, Ossie, and Kiwi.  Gertie and Della hope so, too!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gertie and Della

Keb and I are parents.

 Thursday we drove to Little Rock to meet two standard poodle pups, female, aged sixteen weeks.  They were bred at a kennel named Renowned Poodles, located within a bird sanctuary 15 miles west of town in the mountain wilds.  Getting non-blurred pictures of puppies is a challenge!  Here they are in a typical "jump up and kiss me!" attitude with Kathy.  She was about to decide that the smaller one on the right is Della Street and the stockier one on the left is Gertrude Lade.  Their mother is the white dog on the left.  The dad isn't black, either.  The girls show their parti-color heritage with little white patches and a white toenail here and there.

Friday morning we returned to the kennel to pick up the girls and bring them back here.  They traveled well, with Gertie taking constant interest in the potential to jump up front and see better while Della hunkered down and bided her time.

We chose these names because of our enjoyment of the Perry Mason TV series.  We've been collecting DVDs of that series and have eight of its nine years on hand.  Della Street is Perry's legal secretary.  Gertie is the receptionist in the outer office.

Kathy had ordered crates for the puppies so that they could sleep in our bedroom without getting into the million varieties of puppy trouble while we slept.  Puppies of all varieties take lots of attention and vigilance, but poodles distinguish themselves by a trickster trait.  They are so smart they need to invent games that involve blitz-theft.

 There's Della yesterday afternoon during a 30-minute free play time in which I served as the Watcher and Alpha Male, barking "OFF!" whenever I saw tooth-testing of rugs, leather furniture, and the many house plants in the area.  Della is testing the tensile strength of a Christmas cactus with a view to carrying off a piece to nibble on.  Behind her on the hearth is a little arrangement of stones and driftwood found on the Oregon shore years ago.  That is now up on the mantle, as the pieces of wood seemed great chew toys for a few seconds.  OFF!

We bought two litter mates so they would have a familiar companion before meeting our two cats and possibly freaking out.  Here they go into Kathy's office to explore all the old dog smells on the rug she brought here from West Plains when we combined households and lives four years ago.

The kitchen is proving to be a very interesting place.  The door they use to go in and out is there.  Their food and water is there.  Even more interesting, there are dish towels, hand towels, and many counters at a good height for thievery.  Gertie-with-the-big-white-patch is measuring the distance to my banana peel this morning.  Too far, alas!  OFF!

This is Della, smaller of build, with a smaller white patch, looking for another fun opportunity.

This is Gertie, trying out her "who, me?" expression after a minor transgression, such as testing the dining room seat cushions for chewability.  We've given them chew toys, which are the hit of the party, briefly, until other things come to mind.

Neither likes the nose leads we use instead of "choker chains" or leather collars.  After two days of trying to rub them off while we go "walkies," they are figuring out that heeling in the perfect position results in no bothersome tension on the loop around the snout.  They are adapting to what feels best, and I am heaping praise on them in my baritenor range, "GOOD GIRL!"

I am sure they will easily learn the Latin names of all our plants in the coming months.