Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tales From the Dog Park: This Is All True, Promise

About 10 years ago, Mary Scully was arrested (and acquitted).

Her crime? Loving animals so much, she joined an organized protest over using them for genetic research. ("It was after I saw a dog, a black lab, in a cage, one day without an ear, the next without an eye. She was in such pain."). For this she was fingerprinted and booked (unlawful gathering.)

Several months ago, she learned, the FBI suspected her of harboring weapons of mass destruction (dismissed in January). ("Now what would I do with those things anyway?")

Today, she's at the McAllen Dog Park in Texas, telling her stories while her charges, Princess and Madam, two heavily spotted dogs,  sail around the perimeter of the 12-day-old park in unison, like greyhounds on a racetrack.

"What WMDs could I possibly have? Exploding underwear?" she tilts sideways, embarrassingly, then  giggles with the rest of us. There are six of us sitting near her, some on benches, some on the ground, all mesmerized by her tales. We're like kindergartners at her feet.

It's no wonder. She spent years teaching children with special needs.

Mary's from Minnesota and talks with a delicate lilt. She's tiny, just a few inches over 5 feet and has to sit forward on the bench before her feet touch the ground. 

She's 65, but looks 10 years younger ("oh, ya know, I dye my hair"). She's delicate, soft-spoken and sweet. It's hard to imagine this woman a threat. To anyone or thing. 

But the school system in McAllen, a mid-sized city in southeastern Texas near the Mexican border, felt threatened. It  denied her a job based on the misinformation. This sweet, former nun, from a family of 19, just wanted to continue teaching children with disabilities.

How sad, we all say. Then we sit back for more.

As she regales us with her tales of medical tests on animals, jails and conspiracies, her dogs soar round and round, their feet exploding dust bombs when they chance to touch the ground.

The dogs, she says, belong to her neighbors, a working couple who spend the days away from home. She felt bad for the dogs, cooped up inside. So she asked permission to bring them to the new dog park while the couple was at work.

How nice of you, Mary, we all nod.

She talks on and on about these dogs, about their life in Mexico, before their family moved here, about how one of the dogs, Princess, was abused. There's a permanent lump on her head to prove it.

Mary, you are a gem, we all agree, a great neighbor, a fabulous person.

Her phone rings. 

She answers, then squawks! Albeit, a dainty squawk.

Seems her neighbors, the ones who own the dogs, weren't off at work today at all. They ran an errand and when they returned, they discovered their dogs missing and panicked.

"I have them," Mary exclaims and points to where she last saw them fly.  

She finishes her call, then giggles, just a bit. Her eyes twinkle, because now she can add "thief" to her stories to tell.

And her stories are true. I found them online, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Playdate With The Zoo

We're at the zoo, the Gladys Porter Zoo, in Brownsville, Texas, and we ohh, ahh, giggle and smile at all the babies.

It's sunny and cool, about 55 degrees. Which means nearly everyone mills about. Because they can. (Pics.) Because the normally oppressive Texas heat went somewhere else for a while. The wonderful weather invites the animals to get up and move, and it invites the animal mommas to bask in the sun with their babes.

We see a momma mandrill (like a baboon) tucked up against a viewing window, clutching her infant (I can see just the baby's ear).  A spider monkey lays on a grassy bank with her baby sprawled on her lap.  She picks at the baby's head. The baby reaches up with her long spindly arms and returns the favor.

Around the corner, another baby monkey romps with her siblings, until momma crashes the party and whisks her away, climbs a tall palm and hangs out on top. She glares down at me.

I walk on. Look back at her. She still looking at me. So I walk on, feeling a little intimidated, then foolish for feeling intimidated. 

I see a momma giraffe nuzzle her little one; and at the nursery, a lonely camel baby searches the crowd, probably looking for mom.

It's at the tiger's exhibit we see the most action.

There are no babies here, but the pen is full of big guys who play just like kittens, rolling, leaping, swatting, whacking each other with their hips. One lays in wait behind a big rock and attacks when his "brother" strolls by. Another dances on his hind legs, boxing something (or nothing) he sees (or imagines) in the air. 

We stand mesmerized by their kitty-like antics, a spell broken when a zoo worker heads behind the exhibit, we think to mop out the muck.

Immediately, the curious cats lunge toward a metal grate at the side of the pen, three, four at time, up to six of them jockeying for position at the gate. Feeding time? At 3 p.m.?

Outside, there's more action. Three electric cars pull up and the drivers leap off and run -- not walk -- inside the back of the den.

From inside, where the men are, I hear a growl, then a mournful wail.  From a cat. There's a tiger inside there with all those men.

A car, not an electric car, a real gas-driven car, pulls up on the walkway and stops. THREE men leap out and dash in. They all have walkie-talkies. They  look concerned.

What could it be? I hear the wail again. The cat is not happy.

Is a  baby being born? I wonder I wonder. Of course! I'm sure it's a baby. The zoo is full of babies today. How exciting. A baby!

One last electric car pulls up and the driver, a woman in full zoo uniform, parks and walks in.

We wait. And wait. So do the tigers outside, trading spaces to stare through the grate.

Then one by one, the men leave the den, like bees from a hive. The final person to leave is the woman. She's the one I approach. Because she's lingering, not flying away. 

"What's happened?" I ask expectantly.

Nothing exotic or exciting, she replies. 

The cat didn't eat breakfast; his handler freaked, panicked over the walkie-talkie, making it sound like death was imminent.

But all's well, the woman says. The cat'll eat when he's hungry. And no, no baby's on the way.

At least, not today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tales From The Dog Park: Scarlet, the one with a big heart

Scarlet stays close to Rob Breeze. She's a dog (part-Great Pyrenees, part wolf, part other things) and he's a guy, 40-something.

They visit the Old Pearsall Road Dog Park in San Antonio so Scarlet can play, but she stays close to him, very close. She wants to play with my two Standard Poodles so very badly. But she circles Rob, then sits right next to his legs.

She looks up  at him.

"Go on, girl," he waves over toward where my Poodles play. She instead scoots closer to him,  and stares. She wants to play, but her devotion to Rob is strong, Super Glue strong. So he walks close to my Poodles and Scarlet finally plays.

"She won't go too far from me," he says. She’s protecting him. Keeping him safe.

Rob figures she’s repaying him, because he rescued her from certain death eight month ago.

Her first life was as a guard dog, but her heart's too big to do much guarding, so she wound up at the shelter, where they discovered diseases serious enough to take her life.

Ron ended up at the shelter, too, a month after his 17-year-old lab died.  He wanted a quiet dog. With a big heart.

As he walked the shelter’s chain-link row, little dogs, big dogs, all desperate dogs, woofed and leaped, rattling the chains. Too much for Rob, until the end, the last cage, where Scarlet sat quietly, just, well, smiling as he walked by.

He was smitten, so was she.

After  an extended medical stay, Scarlet came home to Rob’s, where she guards his bed until he falls asleep each night. Just like she guards him now, at the dog park, to make sure he’s safe.

So really, Scarlet, sweet, sweet Scarlet, is a guard dog after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yin Yang in the Natural Word

We're at the World Birding and Nature Center. But we aren't birders.

A guy at the dog park thought we might like this place, and considers it a Must See for tourists to South Padre Island, Texas. It's a world-class bird watching area. With an incongruous neighbor: A sewage treatment plant.

It looks bad (well, not in the picture above, but when you are here, you see it from just about every viewpoint) and it smells bad, too (ESPECIALLY when you climb to the fifth-floor observation deck and stand downwind. PHEW!)

But on most days, it's not so bad, says the volunteer/birder we meet.  Before the center opened in 2009, he'd slog through the dank boggy waters next to the plant to watch his birds.  Now, he sees his birds and stays dry by walking out over the center's mile of boardwalk. The walkway traverses the dank, brackish water and extends out into Laguna Madre (a huge lagoon and the only one in the U.S. saltier than the ocean).

So this Odd Couple is, apparently, good for each other. The water spilled by the treatment plant helps create the center's multiple water environments which attract about 300 species of birds. And an alligator or two. There's freshwater, brackish water, salty water, even saltier water and two kinds of wetlands, a muddy one and a watery one. So birds, take your pick.

Today, there are few takers.

A North Wind  (which means it's a cold wind, I've learned) sends most of the birds into hiding, so we spend more time with the few we see.

We are not birders. So we don't know if this big white guy out there is a heron or egret, or maybe a ibis? It doesn't matter. We stay with him for a while, watching as he walks stealthily though the salty lagoon, dining on little silvery fare he fishes out of the water with his bill.

We spend time watching a blue guy do the same.

We watch a black duck-like bird fly away and a lot of little round birdies with yellow bottoms dance in and out of the fence. We see a lot of white birds with black heads swoop down to the water and slurp? Are they drinking? Dining? We can't tell, but it looks like a ballet.

We watch and hear a black shiny bird (a grackle?) complain when we get too close and a big grey bird take flight.

We are not birders, so we don't know who these guys are or why they behave as they do.

But we're watching birds. So we're bird watchers. Next to a water treatment plant. And by the end of the hike, I don't mind at all.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mardi Gras Fun in Texas

Where are all the cops?

We and maybe a thousand  other curiosity seekers (a gazillion of whom have brought their dogs) mill about the county beach on Padre Island, Texas, just waiting.

We're waiting for the Island's first-ever Mardi Gras parade. Revelers jump up and down in the rear of open-bed trucks, just checking to see if the parade's coming. (They have to jump to see over the dunes.) 

Others (much older than the jumpers) circle up their chairs in the sandy parking lot, partiers, revelers. They raise their cocktails in a unified toast. They laugh, down their swill, then laugh again.

The party spirit flows as freely as the beer and wine and tequila, but there are no cops.  No one cordons off the parade route. No one directs cars where to park, or chases away revelers who've circled up their chairs in the parking lot, hogging six and eight slots.

A truck pulls up onto the beach, skirts the crowd, then backs up almost into the surf. A woman, dressed in all white with a fluffy white boa wrapped loosely around her neck and flowing teasingly toward her knees, hops out. Her guy-friend hops out the other side, shoots around to the back and pulls down the tailgate. And tailgates while the surf gently laps the truck's wheels.

No cops make him move.

Kids run back and forth from the surf to the dunes, criss-crossing the parade route. No one shouts "Stay back."

Where are the cops? 

Oh, I  see one, in a truck. He's just sitting there. Doing nothing. But smiling at the crowd that's already smiling a lot.

And, guess what. Nothing needs to be done.

The parade is coming and the revelers whoot and holler and jump up and down and every one laughs and grins and chases the candy and Mardi Gras necklaces paraders toss our way.

The parade is a tiny beach parade. Two horses, a slew of kids holding banners, a few politicians, a couple of bars, a Save Our Beach float, a mermaid float, a rock and roll band. 

Oh yes, and a cop car. Holding up the rear. And his side-view mirror sports a Mardi Gras necklace.

At the end of it all, no one directs traffic, in or out, and amazingly we all know how to do it ourselves. No fenders get bent. No children or dogs run over. And that truck in the surf? She had to move it before the parade began because a wave tried to steal it away.

And no cops arrest that wave.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tales From The Dog Park: Bullies or Babes?

At the Old Pearsall Road Dog Park in San Antonio, I see six, no, seven, no, six  Pits (two of them puppies and two of them look alike blue fawn-colored Pits), a massive Rottie, two Boxers, two shaggy Goldens and a couple of rowdy mixes.

And that's just the welcoming committee, the dogs at the gate, the ones poking their noses through the fence  waiting to get a good sniff.

Wow. Look at all those macho dogs. Pit Bulls, a Rotweiler and Boxers. He-man dogs. And then I glance at my two newly groomed Royal Standard Poodles (who five minutes earlier still had bows in their hair.) Well, looks are only looks; but my guys look like girls. Because they're poodles, with brand new hair cuts. I square my shoulders. Looks are deceiving. My dogs are all dog, too.

We reach the fence. I peer in. My shoulders sag. Look at them. They are all, well, such massive rough and tumble boys. I notice all of the Pits, the Boxers and the Rottie retain their manhoods (can't tell with the long-haired Goldens).

All that testosterone often translate into lots of squabbling, lots of positioning for power, lots of domination.

My guys'll get squashed under a pile of dog-fighting dogs to be top dog.

How, I wonder, can we slide unnoticed into this sea of machissmo?

We can't.

They're at the gate, welcoming us in, slobbering, leaping and barking. Just being dogs, even though they look like bullies.

One of the Pits, an all-white bruiser, must be a bulldog mix, because he walks on his knuckles, pounds the pavement, sort of threateningly. And he grunts when he walks. And sniffs, "Watch it there, buster."

The Rottie's so muscular, he has no neck, just bulging shoulders and chest.  He wears a Jack Nicholson, "Shining"  grin rimmed in thick silver threads of spit.

I see one of the boxers circling, looking at us sideways, carrying a filthy large rubber toy in his jaws. He won't put it down. Or make direct eye contact. He arches his neck. Was that a growl?

The other Pits, all muscle and jaws, swarm like killer bees.

The potential for disaster heightens when I notice the people attending these dogs. All macho guys. All clean cut, muscular. Wearing hoodies. No doubt airmen from the nearby military base.  Young. Twenty-somethings.

Oh, what do they know about dog behavior, fighting, power plays?

What to do, what to do?

We go in. Because my dogs want to.

Joshua prances to greet each man then fades from the crowd. Too much for him, I suppose. He plays it safe.

Jacob plows right into the crowd  (Oh, Jacob!) and pals up with Rico, a tan-and-white Pit who clocks 0 to 60 just chasing a tennis ball. Rico's a cannonball after that ball, shot low to the ground, if he even touches the ground.

Jacob, to my dismay, can't follow the ball, even with his line of sight. Rico blasts off and Jacob prances, DANCES with his head and feet held high, like he's tip-toeing, or into ballet, looking toward where Rico goes. He meets Rico halfway back and starts nuzzling the dog's neck. NUZZLING! Rico ignores Jacob's advances and drops the ball at his macho master's feet.

Jacob steals the ball and prances around, teasing Rico and his man. This man does circles with Jacob to get the ball back, succeeds, and fires it off again for Rico to chase.

I'm shocked. Not at Jacob. At my own embarrassment. Why should I care if my dogs belly up to the bar or barre?

Then it all happens again. Rico soars. Jacob tip-toes. Rico scores. Jacob steals. The human persuades Jacob to drop the ball and the routine happens again. And again.

Yet when it happens again, I notice, PROUDLY, my boy's winning the race. He's making the score.  He's faster than that speeding Rico bullet.


Time and time again he shoots, he scores!

I get it. Jacob wasn't being a doll baby. He was taking his time scoping things out. Assessing the lay of the land.  Calculating distances, getting the lead out, laying it on.

By the end of this play date, Jacob's covered in slobber. Panting. Ready to run again and again.

But it's time to go. A little dog, a Shitz Tzu, about a foot tall, has entered the fray and wants to take charge. She probably will. But we won't hang around to find out. 

It's time for us to go.

So I collect my dogs like trophies and leave.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Teddy Bears Stuffed With Faith

It sounds so cute. A church in southeastern Texas uses Teddy Bears to cheer up the sad, visit the lonely and  tend to the sick. 

The bears, my friend Carolyn says, have colorful ribbons around their necks and sit around the church sanctuary until they are needed. Anyone can donate a Teddy for this mission. There's a tag on each bear that says something like: "This bear has heard the Word, songs of praise and sermons. It has been given love. Now it comes to you, with the blessings of worship and love."

How cute to give a Teddy Bear to a sick child, a teen struggling with loneliness, a young mom whose baby is ill. Limited in its use, I think, but cute.

Then my friend Louie opens my world.

Louie's a man's man, a former grain elevator operator and manager from Minnesota. He's a member of the Moose  where he's held a number of top positions. He's a guy who's seen 75, but not yet 80. Louie took one of these Teddy Bears to a sick friend of his, also a Midwestern man's man.

This man's man wept. Over the outpouring of love from Jesus Christ. He felt that love through this Teddy Bear and Louie's compassion for gifting it to him.
So today I sit in this church, called Island in the Son, on the Corpus Christi coast Texas, next to these Teddy Bears, who have notes of love and ribbons around their necks. And I honor their mission, embrace their intent.

And also enjoy their undeniable cuteness.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can't Never Did Anything

We know Louie and Carolyn are here because of the sign taped inside the windshield of their Pursuit motor home:  "For handmade cards, see Carolyn." They were here last year when we visited; and we're thrilled to see them again.

"Here" is Padre Island National Seashore, the land the sun forgot about. And their Pursuit is my escape from the cold, rain and wind outside. It's the kind of weather that shoves sand in your ears and reaches inside to rattle your bones and steal your breath.

But inside the Pursuit, it's warm and dry. No wind. And it's big. There's a couch. My motor home (a Navion) has everything I  need, but a couch. So I sit on Carolyn's couch while she sits at the dinette. We talk. Then she invites me to the dinette to make cards.



Not exactly an obvious match. I don't do crafts. I can't. Then I hear my mother's voice in my head: "Can't never did anything."  I acquiesce. And, anyway. Carolyn's a friend and so eager to share her passion with me. I move to the dinette.

In a flurry, she pulls out papers, bling, stamps, presses, glue pens, glue sticks, ribbons, bows. Knives, scissors, magazines, die cuts, stamp pads (in various colors.) Overwhelming.

Carolyn's a pro and talks me through all of my decisions. I make two cards (shown above) and am spent. Exhausted. Neither card looks professional: smeared ink, skewed paper, missing bling, etc.

But I Made Them.

And I Am So Proud.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You have to laugh.

We're on Padre Island in Southeastern Texas, and, now, follow me on this:

It's 40 degrees, and windy. Gusts up to 50 mpg rock the motor home. A cold rain spits and spats, then pours. Is that hail? Thunder?

There's been a red tide, so dead fish litter the beach and the dogs can't be off leash because the fish are poisonous.

Each day, at 7:30 a.m., a payloader gets to work (beep, beep, beep) moving sand around on the beach, I don't know why. And a work crew is rebuilding the showers. Slowly.

At least we have a campfire to warm our hands (see pic).

Hello Muddah. Hellow Faddah, here I am at Camp Granada ....