Playing Possum

Some times, when I get up in the wee hours of the morning I find that the dogs have secured some form of treasure. Often these are small treasures in the form of mice and voles. In the springtime the dogs take their toll on the fledglings as well.

And once a year or so this scenario occurs:

Playing with possum

Of course, I went for the artistic soft focus there (yeah - that’s the ticket...), so if it’s unclear, that large white furry blob is a possum. I also really enjoy the long, furtive look the dogs seem to be sharing.

Possums are the type of critter that, until one has the experience, may seem far less prevalent than they really are. I mean sure, you see them as victims of the road from time to time, but they are still pretty rare, right?

And with that, what about that whole "playing possum" thing? That’s probably a myth, don’t you think? No animal would really just lay there to get knocked about, would it? Wouldn't that just get them killed more quickly?

But the thing is, it’s all true. We see them regularly out here, plying their trade in the dark of night. And we see them often enough that I’ve developed a system for helping them out when they venture into the wrong territory.

That system involves a shovel and some leg work.

Fear not - I’m neither hitting them nor burying them with the shovel. Rather, a shovel is a handy way to pick them up but keep them at a safe distance (safe for both of us, I think). And this fella was big enough that I got out the snow shovel:

Possums and snow are both white, so...

I used a second shovel - a spade - to gently slide it into the snow shovel, and then carried it out beyond the dog fence, into a somewhat secluded part of the ditch.

Ditching the possum

The end result is the same - go back and look at that same spot just a little while later and...


...The Opossum is now No-possum.

(I’ll pause here for laughter and applause...)

Either they are really good actors, or perhaps my dogs are just naive, but it seems to work for them every time. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a time when I’ve used this system and not come back to find the possum has scoffered off.

Now, all that said, their commitment to the role is not always as solid as one might hope. This particular adventurer reflexively curled up a bit as I slid him on the the shovel. It was subtle, and the dogs didn’t seem to notice, but it definitely happened. And I had one candidate a couple of years ago who we found laying on the front steps. He tolerated all of the investigation and attention of the dogs, but being lifted into the air on the shovel was clearly a bridge too far, and he suddenly got up and tried to run away. I’d been uncertain about its status - living or no - right up until that point.

As I understand it, these rather fearsome looking creatures are harmless at worst, and can be considered beneficial in that they will eat insects and rodents (and to that I say "more power to the possum"). So unlike some of the other critters in our midst, their presence is welcome. At least to me.

The dogs seem to feel otherwise, but until they choose to express their opinion at a more reasonable time of day (I mean, this was really early) I just don’t want to hear it.

Prairie Yard...

This past Sunday I mowed my lawn for the first time of the season.

Now I realize there will be a subset of you out there who, upon realizing that last Sunday was the middle of May, will pronounce me a monster.

Fine. You’re right. While I desperately love that we have a substantial yard, I do not aspire to the tightly manicured green-striped lawn of suburbia. In fact, that’s part of the reason I do not live in suburbia. But beyond that, there is a school of thought that says that it’s better for bees - which are struggling - if we give some time to let the lawn grow.

Of course, that presumes that you are also letting things that flower grow in your yard as well.

Which we do. Trigger alert here for those for whom a yard means an extended stretch of Kentucky bluegrass and nothing else...


The other benefit to letting the yard grow is the view. It’s not strictly a prairie - the grass and flowers certainly aren’t that high - but you do get a crop of at least the ubiquitous dandelions and violets to pose for pictures before the lawn gets sheared.

Violets and dandelions

But there are limits. I waited long enough that Rosie seemed to be a little perplexed at what I was up to...

Rosie, watchful

Of course, by this point, Calamity could also be in the picture - with her short little cattledog legs, I’m not sure she can see out over the standing grass.

And ultimately, as you are working your way through the taller portions you realize why people started cutting grass. In addition to the occasional opportunistic tree that tries to take root, there are also a small assortment of rodents that scurry away as the mower approaches. There are actual, practical purposes to this activity besides ensuring that your dog doesn’t get lost.

I think we’d reached that limit.

Yeah - it’s a little long...

Snow Days

Our encounter with the Polar Vortex out here on the prairie the week before last offered some opportunities. Since it was preceded by significant snowfall, the combination of cold, wind, and snow made travel out of the home challenging at best, dangerous a worst. In some senses of the word, we were effectively trapped at home.

But another way to look at that is that we got the adult version of one of those things that kids long to hear in the short-day season: snow day!

Last Monday we had some continuation of the struggles with drifting and getting stuck that were chronicled here recently. In this case I ended up leaving a car at the end of the driveway because the volume of drifting in front of the garage was beyond the little vehicle’s capacity to clear, and dealing with it in the dark was competing poorly with the idea of sitting on the couch watching TV.

The following morning though, the snow offering up some time, and the day offering up sunlight and brilliant blue skies to combat the single digit temps and negative wind chillls, it offered a much more attractive option. I needed to get the car in the garage, and besides - I wasn’t likely to get any other exercise, so the snow and shovel could be my equivalent of the gym (isn’t that sort of how CrossFit works? I’m not sure - I may not have a compete understanding of that...).

So I pulled on some (several) layers, and the dogs and I went out to tackle the drift.

Now there are certainly animals that struggle in the snow and the cold - a Chihuahua would be miserable in weather like this (or, frankly, probably anything below 40°). But one does get some perspective when one sees this:

Calamity pic

Calamity close up

That is our Blue Heeler, Calamity Jane, rolling in the snow. Because, you know, the air isn’t cold enough on its own - she also wants the white stuff all over her.

And so, with her help, I gathered up my shovel and started throwing some flakes around.

Yup. That’s what we call snow shoveling around these parts: throwing flakes. Doesn’t everyone?



Uh - anyway... I didn’t have the foresight to get a decent picture of the drift before I started, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say it was monumental. It took me a solid hour to clear a space in the driveway as wide as the garage door, which was my goal - wanted to be able to move both cars if needed. When I was done this is what it looked like:

Garage pile

And this is the pile of snow I created with my shoveling efforts.

Erin’s snow pile

Ok - technically a part of that pile - the part in the back - is from my cousin Glen clearing the entire driveway the day before, but the part in the front is mine.

Erin’s actual snow pile... ...

Ok - if I’m being entirely honest, the top few inches or so of that second pile is mine. But that’s still a lot of snow, and I worked really hard. Shut up!

So maybe this is more true

Erin’s actual, actual snow pile

At any rate, it was clear, and I was able to go get the car and pull it in.

Feeling buoyed by my accomplishment, I walked down to the end of the driveway to see how much work that would be to clear. I mean, at this point I’m a snow moving monster - you saw the mountain I created (err - added to) above, right?

So when I got there what I found was this:

End of driveway

And as I stood and looked at this, leaning against the handle of my shovel, out there in the open wind coming off the field to the west, my hand - in the glove that I’d been wearing while shoveling for the past hour - began to freeze and hurt. And I thought "well, that’s probably enough shoveling for today".

And I went inside and had a cup of coffee. For three consecutive days.

Cat and Mouse

So there I was, yesterday morning, having a private moment in the bathroom. Then I heard a sliding and a clacking of sharp little claws, and a quiet "thud" on the door.

A second later the mouse ran out from under the door.

Under these circumstances one has to make a decision. I was in a compromising position, of course, but the earliness of the hour virtually ensured that I was likely to be unobserved. And I had to think and act quickly. So I did what I think most would under the circumstances:

I opened the door.

The cat came skittering in through the doorway and immediately located the mouse, who (of course) immediately ran behind the decorative storage lockers we have in the bathroom.

This is a scene, the type of which plays itself over and over again across time in our old house. The building is, functionally, a web of open passageways from the perspective of a rodent looking to come in from the winter cold. What looks to you and I like a solid wall made of wood and plaster or brick looks to mousy eyes like a piece of Swiss cheese. So, as the temperature drops, in they come.

Now, our issues with these tiny furry friends has lessened over the years with the help of commercial pest control. Still, the numbers never seem to drop to an absolute zero. And while this is somewhat to the dismay of the human inhabitants of our home, the feline crew seems to prefer the non-zero situation.

The tense and tenuous relationship between cat and mouse is a story as old as time - they say that the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats in part because they kept the rodents from overwhelming their grain stores and protected them from other pests. That relationship has persisted over time, and settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries have also valued feline companionship for the purposes of vermin maintenance.

Within our own home the rodent control team consists of two players - Malcolm and Inara. Malcolm is a largish gray cat with green eyes who would seem to be a Russian Blue but for two tiny bits of white - one on his chest and the other on his tail. He has a delightful, chirping meow. He’s a beefy, strong cat. You can feel the muscle when you pick him up. A natural athelete, he is able to gain the top of our refrigerator with a leap from ground.

Inara is a tortoiseshell with yellow eyes. She is noticeably smaller and more slight than Malcolm, skittish and shy with most members of the family. She has a squeaking meow that is sometimes hard to detect and never pleasant. She is rarely seen to leap, and instead must climb our tall cat tree with claws and effort.

And so of course, who would you expect to have come skittering in to that bathroom? The Adonis, the cat-equivalent of the football player, the track god?

It was Inara.

As is so frequently the case in my experience with cats over the years, it’s the lady who does all the work. Inara parks herself at key points in the home and sits patiently and listens, waiting for the thing she hears behind the wall to peek a whisker out in the open.

Ideally, once that whisker shows, we as the cat owners (owned?) would like to be able to say that the rodent invader is dispatched quickly and efficiently. Those of you with previous cat experience will know this is absolutely not the case. Rather, from the cat’s perspective the catching of the mouse is just the first step in what is about to become an event of extended rodential torture that would make the writers at the Geneva convention add another passage to the rule book if they were to see it.

Apparently the mouse must be made to feel that it has a chance to escape, over and over again, just to discover that there, once again, is a swiping paw to block the way. Periodically one can hear the plaintive squeaks for help that indicate the trial is not yet complete. And apparently there are moments when it has become clear that the current venue is no longer the correct one - that the dining room isn’t the right place any more, and the mouse must be moved to, say, the living room. And so the cat is seen carrying the mouse in that characteristic heads-up position. At these moments the mouse is still and quiet and you think "it’s all over".

Nope - I don’t know why they remain still in that position - if it were me, I’d like to think that I’d be like John McClane surrounded by thieves in Nakatomi Plaza doing everything I could to get free. But no, they hang, still, perhaps hoping that, if they are just quiet enough, the cat will forget they are there... in the cat’s mouth.

This is clear, of course, because once they get to the living room and drop their rodent captive, he starts to move again.

Although he is clearly not in charge of the mousing situation, Malcolm does attempt to cooperate. It would be wrong to describe them as team players - it’s more like rivals working coincidentally towards the same goal. And now might be the right time to mention that we know he can jump to the top of the refrigerator because we feed him up there. We have to because, if we do not, Inara eats all of this big, beautiful athelete’s food.

So you can imagine how well his attempts to participate work most of the time.

There was an event once, several months ago, where he finally got so frustrated that he reached over, picked up the mouse, and simply ate it. If you are picturing the kid who shoves the entire ice cream cone in his mouth so his older brother cannot take it you are right on track.

Yesterday morning, during our bathroom adventure, I was able to move the locker so that Inara could access her prize and scurry with it back out of the bathroom. I’d like to say that I know what happened next, but I had to leave, and so have only the memory of feline and mouse silhouettes against the light of the front hallway to finish that event for me. Sometimes we find the mice later, deposited in delightful locations, once they have lost their interest to the cats due to the no-longer-breathingness they have attained.

Our ancestors valued their feline companions for the perceived assistance in pest control, and understandably so. I’m not certain that, in our situation they truly make much of a difference. The mouse sightings dropped precipitously once we contracted with pest management services. For a while we had a batch of cats outdoors on duty, but honestly our dogs seem to catch more vermin than the cat crew ever did (and the dogs are merciless on that score). But it’s possible that our ancestors also delighted in the joy cats do seem to take in their assigned duties. Setting aside the ultimate outcome, watching a cat diligently at work with a mouse is a little like watching Norm Abrams put together a chair on New Yankee Workshop... in an era absent television and video games a mousing cat would likely be (and indeed, is) quite entertaining.

Winter Warm-Up

As we enter the last third of January 2018 here at the Homestead we are presented with temperatures sitting decidedly above 30°(F). As I write this we have a current temperature of 38°, with a forecast high of 41° for the day. Tomorrow is promising temps in the low- to mid-50’s, and the coming week has highs ranging from the low 30’s to the high 40’s.


People are predictably very pleased about the warm-up, especially coming off of the cold snap of a couple of weeks ago. While, further north, sustained tempatures in the negative single digits are not unusual (and are frankly not all that unusual here), our modern amenities seem to ill-prepare us for the realities of winter at its harshest. As such, the warmer weather is greeted with joy by many.

I am not among them.

When the temperatures rise on the prairie in winter it is warmer, to be sure. But along with it comes several other, predictable effects that, to my mind, do not compare favorably to the features that accompany the sharp bite of the air on a true winter day.

It’s Ugly Out There

Warm winter days on the prairie are typically gloomy affairs. As can be seen on the weather report, above, along with the rise in temperatures comes fog and rain. And the fog, here, she ain’t just-a-kidding. Life in the country is one of isolation by choice, but the degree of that increases markedly as the white wall of cloud descends to ground level.

The view out my back stairwell window looks something like this most mornings:


This is the tableau that greets from the same window today:


Go back to the first picture and count the wind turbines you cannot see in the second picture. Some of them are more distant, of course, but one of them - the largest in the picture - is less than a half mile away. These things are huge, but the fog swallows them up as if they were never there.

As the temperatures rise the snow we were blessed with over the past couple of weeks retreats. It doesn’t go all at once, of course, but pulls back in patches. The braver, heartier, cleverer flakes which chose to fall on to shaded areas remain longer, holding out as best they can. This leaves them transformed, however - like Jeremiah Johnson walking out of the mountains at the end of the winter, they are hairier, more grizzled versions of their former selves.


The melting snow is part of the reason for the fog, of course, and the two conspire to concoct the final, perhaps most objectionable component of this warm winter weather trifecta:

The mud.

A week ago everything was covered in a lovely blanket of white. As it pulls back it reveals patches of brown and black soup lying in wait for an errant foot. And while all mud can be unpleasant, mid-winter mud has the additional special property of sitting on top of the frozen layer below. Instead of simply sinking in, the mud acts as a viscous lubricant on the slip-and-slide that your yard has now become.

As a special bonus, you will find that your dogs will appear to have made a special effort to step in each and every errant mud-bog that the yard offers, just before trying to crawl into your lap.

While you are slipping and sliding, and regretting the attention of your beloved pets, you are also becoming soaked to the bone because the ambient humidity level is nearly 100%. Single digit temperatures are cold, to be sure, but they aren’t generally wet. 35° and damp has a way of cutting through the skin that is differentially unpleasant from a cold day on its own.

A true, cold winter day has a way of inviting one outside - the bright blue skies, the shimmering blanket of snow. It’s days like today that keep me in, away, isolated.

Critter Patrol

When one gets a dog, one anticipates many of the features that accompany such an animal. They offer affection and companionship. They provide warning of new arrivals and intruders (albeit at their discretion). One thing I didn't expect, even with a lifetime of dog experience, was the level of vermin management that our canine team offers - indeed, seems to revel in.

We've detailed some of our issues with the Trash Pandas here, including the roles the dogs have played (and frankly, which we wish they would not play) in rounding them up. But the pest management goes much further than that - our furry exterminators offer more comprehensive services.

It is not at all uncommon for us to find, typically in the grass by the patio and back step, one or more recently dispatched members of the family rodentia, as well as the odd North American marsupial and periodic avian remains. To date, the list of gifts we have been left include:

  • House mice
  • Deer mice
  • Opossums
  • Shrews (I originally had moles on the list, but Wikipedia now has me convinced that what the dogs have caught were actually shrews)
  • Rats
  • Raccoons
  • Various and sundry birds

We have rabbits at the edges of the property - relatively recent additions. Thus far the dogs don't appear to have caught any of them, though it's not for lack of trying. There are no squirrels in our vicinity, but I'm sure they would be a target as well.

For the first few years at the Homestead we had a contingent of outdoor cats, brought in with the explicit intention of pest management. They were a fine batch of felines, as far as it goes, but at this point it's fairly clear that our canine crew is far more effective - perhaps because the cats didn't always see the need to quickly finish their prey off. The dogs are, however, perhaps less discriminating about what they eliminate - the birds are not pests, and possums are not problematic.

All of which brings me to the event that made me think of sitting and writing this post. Almost every morning, when I get up to make my coffee, Calamity comes to the back step to greet me through the window. And when she came to see me this morning this is the view that greeted me:

Calamity Back step

Because of the color of her fur you have to look closely to see it, but sure enough, she has a bird in her mouth.

Calamity the bird hunter

Bird Circled

And one might think: "okay, but she probably found that dead somewhere - a dog can't catch a bird". And that might be true for this particular bird - I can't say. But I can say that I've watched both Rosie and Calamity run into flocks of birds on the ground and scoop up individual birds as they start to take flight. And to be clear, I'm not looking to encourage this - we don't see the birds as pests to manage - but it is both surprising and impressive to see.

When I was very young we had a dog - a male rat terrier named Gladys (thanks Mom) who would routinely bring captured mice to the back step. This sort of thing is common for terriers, as I understand it, but our dogs are not terriers - they are herding dogs.

And they apparently like to herd a variety of critters right off this mortal coil...

All-Too Invisible Fence

I do not usually mow the lawn - often this is a task that others either enjoy (MLW) or have inflicted upon them (LB), but I decided to give it a go today. One of the things I decided I was going to do with my mowing adventure was really cut in close to the edge of the property and trim back some of the tall stuff that tends to grow along the field.

Back in October of 2015 I relayed a situation in which my cousin had inadvertently cut our invisible fence line. After this event I had put in several steel fence posts as markers to provide reference points for him, and for myself, indicating where the fence wire was. I thought myself pretty clever for doing so and, in fact, my cousin hasn't encountered the fence since.

What I didn't anticipate is that I might later be a victim of my own cleverness and drive over one of those fence posts in my effort to trim close to the edge of the property. I was fortunate, however, to only roll over it with a tire as opposed to the more serious problem of hitting it with the blades (did I mention that I do not usually mow...?).

I chalked this up to life experience and largely forgot about it until LB fed the dogs and said "the alarm on the invisible fence is going off".

I'm not sure the swearing was out loud, but the volume of it in my head was considerable.

It could be worse, though. I had a rough idea of where I thought it was (around the aforementioned fence post), and I had purchased a kit to help find breaks in the fencing during the adventure in October of '15.

So I gathered up the items from the basement shelves and got to work. As I started the process of searching I became aware of a couple of things:

  • All of those teachers in elementary school who accused me of not reading all the way through the directions before starting a task were a pain in my ass. And, incidentally, they may have been right; and
  • I get very crabby when I think I'm winding things up for the day and a new problem pops up.

That second item isn't really a revelation, per se, as much as it is a periodic reminder.

At any rate, I gathered up my cheapie radio and telescoping handle and walked out to the area I thought the damage was, only to find it was doing nothing but bringing in local radio stations. I messed around with this for a little bit before finally admitting that it was at least remotely possible that I'd forgotten how the procedure all works since my single experience with it 20 months ago.

Turns out there are several additional pieces of paraphernalia, and some additional setup, that is required before you can detect your break in the fence. It also turns out, oddly enough, that all of those additional pieces were sitting on the shelf right next to where I'd retrieved the first couple of pieces. Who would have guessed?

As I noted back when, the repairs are fairly simple once the break is located and uncovered. Today's repairs, though, were somewhat complicated by the extensive colony of ants that had apparently made their home somewhere in the vicinity of my damaged wire. They were not shy about making their objections known:

unhappy ants

For the record, they were not just crawling, but also biting. As it all went on I'm sure I appeared the monster, since many of them would end up returning home on their shields...

It's all better now, though, assuming there is not some giant ant overlord coming for revenge...


If you have spent any time exploring unmanicured areas in northern Illinois you have undoubtedly encountered Burdock.

The Wikipedia entry for Burdock describes its role as a food item in Asian countries and as the inspiration for Velcro, which is all well and good. What Wikipedia fails to do is to accurately describe this plant as a hateful, invasive weed that is designed to wreak havoc on the coat of medium to long-furred canines passing by.

It's slightly possible that I have not been as diligent as I could have been at trimming around the old barn. One consequence of this oversight seems to be that of allowing a burgeoning colony of Burdock to grow in and around that area. What's more, if I wasn't aware of my lawn care failings of my own accord, Rosie, our border collie/Australian shepherd mix has been helpfully making me aware.

I need to do some further research here, but based upon our recent experiences, it seems quite possible that border collies and Australian shepherds were selectively bred as Burdock seed distribution devices.

Sometimes you can catch the seed pods shortly after they have attached, at which point they can be removed fairly easily. However, miss a day or two of grooming, or fail to detect the presence of one of these things during a grooming session, and it can work it's way into a mat of fur that seems to require divine intervention (or scissors) to remove.

It appears that it could certainly be worse than we have it here, as a quick google image search confirms. Still, this fact does not prevent this plant's placement on my "I wonder if extinction is always a bad thing" list.

Rotties and Woodpiles

In the back yard we have an old concrete slab that used to serve as a floor for a garage no longer present. On that slab we keep a Coleman fireplace for the occasional fire and, not coincidentally, a pile of firewood.

Over the years I have periodically walked past the wood pile to find it in disarray, pieces knocked to the side, bits fallen down. My typical strategy has been to look at this and (at best) sigh, and reassemble the pile. I've always assumed that this was the result of a dog jumping on, or perhaps into, the pile in pursuit of a mouse or similar prey, my wood-stacking abilities not sufficient to construct a pile with the integrity to withstand the errant canine snout poking it in just the right spot.

I had no idea.

This afternoon I discovered mice in my tool bucket (f&@king things). I wanted to dump out the bucket to separate the vermin from my wrenches and other sundry implements of destruction, but I was at a loss as to where to dump it. The driveway and garage floor weren't options, as I had no specific idea as to what was in the bottom of the bucket beneath the mice, but I knew there was a good likelihood that at least some of it was sharp. And I certainly didn't want to dump the mice anywhere near the house.

LB suggested I dump it on the slab, out back. I pronounced this a brilliant idea, and we set off towards making it so.

As soon as the bucket was upended the mice skittered. We'd counted at least three babies and one mother when we viewed it from the top. Once dumped there were at least five juveniles that scurried out along with mom, and most headed straight for - you've likely guessed it already: the woodpile.

All of this happened under the watchful eye of Freyja, our Rottweiler mix. She immediately began sniffing about at, and sticking her nose into, the woodpile.

I have personally long had a bias towards breeds that fall into what one traditionally thinks of as part of the herding group - border collies, cattle dogs, shepherds, and the like. I like those breeds because they are bright, capable animals who work with you rather than just obediently follow. Lots of owners want a lovable dufus, but I am not one of them. Casting them in with that lot, my attitude towards Rottweilers was the same as I held towards most other breeds: disinterest.

Again: no idea.

While Freyja is smaller than a full-bred Rottie, her head is much too big to poke in between the logs, which one would expect to ultimately stymie her attempts at mouse hunting.

One, perhaps, did not expect the problem-solving that followed:

Apparently, when you are a Rottweiler and you cannot get your (huge) head in-between the logs you just remove the logs in a canine game of Jenga until you can.

And she did - she steps away at the end with a mouse in her mouth.

...and left me, once again, to re-stack the woodpile.

Spring Birds

One of the delights of life out on the Homestead is the veritable orgy of birdsong in early Spring. This recording was made yesterday morning, standing in the back yard with an iPhone in the air (you can hear the spring winds in this in addition to the birds).

Joining the array of LBB's and Cardinals that remain year round are the Mourning Doves, Robins, and one of my favorites, the Red Wing Blackbird.

In addition to the delight of the birdsong itself, the sudden preponderance of avian activity whips both the dogs and the cat into a frenzy of activity. Outdoors the herding dogs make great efforts to "guide" the flocks of birds from tree to tree, while indoors Malcolm the cat sprints from window to window (and we have a lot of windows) in an effort to see and, one strongly suspects, in hopes of catching an errant bird that might, somehow, wander in through the glass.

Return to Normalcy

As has been hinted at before, I've reluctantly been party to allowing an animal of the feline persuasion take up residence in our house. What has not been mentioned formally here, is that we now also have a part-time inside canine companion as well.

Let's get something out of the way here: I love animals.

I cannot remember a time in my life when, the opportunity being present, I have not had either a dog or cat as a part of the household. As a child growing up in the country my earliest memories were of a dog - a male dog - named Gladys (thanks Mom), who was my constant companion as I ran around the yard engaged in different outside adventures. There were a series of different farm dogs over the course of my youth and, when we lived in situations where dogs were not an option, typically there were cats.

And this is not to suggest that the cats were merely dog substitutes. We've had a lot of personality in our feline companions, with cats that would fetch, cats that would walk on leash (hiking with a cat on a leash brings much apparent amusement to others you encounter on the trails, I can personally verify; more amusement still when said cat gets startled by something and jumps, claws out, to cling to your leg... But I digress). Our current cat compadre is no exception, frequently, suddenly, running at speeds of 90 mph from one location to another in the house for reasons that are clear to no one except, maybe, himself.

My reluctance has little to do with the animals themselves, and more to do with their potential affect on the home itself. As I've likely mentioned here before, buildings of this era were typically constructed with the materials locally available. The upshot of this, in our case, is that much of the wood in the house, including the floors, is soft pine.

It's lovely stuff, taken from a big picture perspective. It takes both paint and stain beautifully; it feels wonderful under bare feet, both warm and pleasantly textured. The problem is in the operative term "soft". The wood in these floors has a Moh's Hardness rating slightly above that of modeling clay. Have a rock in the tread of your shoe? Now you have pits at regular intervals across the floor. Slide a chair out from the table on to the floor? That action has now been recorded for generations of enduring posterity. God forbid one sits in an office chair with wheels and actually rolls back and forth along this material.

And so our companion animals, it turns out, have claws. The upside with our feline friends is that they are retractable. The canine ones, not so much. Allow a dog to go marching along the floor - especially an 80 LB Rottweiller mix who wants to engage in bounding play with a certain feline - and you end up with fascinating cross-hatch patterns in the grain that will likely entertain future generations for hours as they try to puzzle out their origin. Or so I imagine.


Fortunately, it turns out that there are potential solutions for this sort of issue. MLW researched and turned up...

...drumroll please...

Dog socks.

So here you have a product designed with exactly our problem in mind. They completely cover the dog's claws, up to and including the dewclaws, and as a bonus also have traction areas on them to help the dog better gain purchase on the slippery floor (much to the cat's dismay). And, as an additional bonus, you get to watch the dog struggle with the irritation and embarrassment of having socks on.

Why have you done this horrible thing to me?

Ultimately this solves a couple of problems for us. Aside from the floor issues, two of our three dogs are completely comfortable outside virtually all of the time (fear not - they have shelter available outside and we do bring them in when it's beastly cold), but the third - the Rottweiler mix - has shorter hair, and doesn't seem to have the traditional Rottweiler undercoat (a result, no doubt of the mix, which seems likely to be Boxer) that purebred examples have. Her temperament also makes her much more suitable to extended stays inside. Our high energy herding dogs spend most of each day and night on patrol about the yard, while this one is perfectly content to patrol her dog bed for hours at a time.

What does this all mean? For the moment, at least, it means that we've got a way to have this critter inside, along with our new feline friend, without worrying about the utter destruction of the house. Which means life seems a little more normal for us.

Sudden Cat Toy

As I walk up the steep back steps of our old homestead, as I mount the first landing and turn to make my way up the second, shorter flight, I find myself face to face with a sudden cat toy.

Sudden Cat Toy

When we moved out to the Homestead we had four animals in our entrouage - two cats and two dogs - all of significant advanced age. Three of the four, though beloved, struggled to retain their bodily fluids, choosing (or, rather, not) instead to share them with us throughout the home. Often this occurred in unexpected and intimate places, it becoming not uncommon to find the need to change bedding before going to sleep, a laundry basket now reeked of something more than the human sweat of the day.

The fourth member of the coterie didn't seem to have this problem, surprisingly enough. He, struggling with Canine Cognitive Disfunction, simply could no longer remember his name, and wandered throughout the house following the other dog, often appearing slightly surprised at each location, though they were not new to him.

After these companions moved on I announced, as the man of the house, the king of the castle, that there would be no more inside animals.

As did Henry VIII, I have discovered that, king or not, there is still a parliament to contend with. I have been outvoted. And so there is a cat toy, suddenly there, at the top of the steps.