Today is Rain’s birthday! We’ve been keeping a low profile the last couple of years, but rest assured that Rain is doing well and getting lots of love and treats today. Last month we discovered another recipe for birthday pupcakes that we’re liking a lot.
One interesting development that has happened in Rain’s life as we’ve been waiting out this pandemic is that she has now officially joined the Dog Aging Project (DAP) “pack!” The Dog Aging Project is a study involving research universities in Washington State and Texas, seeking to study aging in dogs. They recruited a huge cross-section of dogs, varying in age, size, breed, geographic location, and more. After waiting through some project updates the onboarding process got rolled out last summer, and Rain officially became Pack Member 1750. Woof!
That onboarding process required answering some lengthy questionnaires to get Rain’s health history, describe her physical and behavioral characteristics, complete contact information and consent, and more. At the very end of that epic morning, just as it looked like it was done, a final assignment: requesting complete charts from our veterinarian!
Since Rain was born at home and my family had her mother as well, I thought she could be academically interesting to the researchers but I was a bit sheepish about contacting the vet for all the records. It worked out though, with some patience. A few weeks later I was able to upload Rain’s complete vet charts to their website (except now they’re technically out of date, as she has had a check-up since then). I also couldn’t help but have a peek at them myself for a little trip down memory lane.
The vet charts were fairly pedestrian, aside from noting the switch from hand-written to computerized records in 2017. One golden nugget from Rain’s early puppyhood stands out though. On Rain’s very first vet visit separate from her littermates, our vet described her thusly: “Spunky but sweet.” This is possibly the best-ever description of Rain’s personality I’ve ever read…in three short words!
Meanwhile, over at the Dog Aging Project website, I got a behavioral chart after completing the behavioral questionnaire:
That’s Rain! Of course some (many?) of the levels Rain excels or underperforms in are part of the fact that Australian shepherds are bred to be a certain way. Rain is arguably spot-on if you read the ASCA breed standard, aside from what I think would be some fault in her markings.
A few months ago the Dog Aging Project also opened the Dog Park, a forum where DAP humans can connect to ogle cute photos of participants’ dogs, console “pack” members who have had what DAP calls a life event (major illness, lost limb, death), or argue about things that dog nerds like to argue about. I logged in the first day and haven’t been back.
Will Rain ever be selected for a smaller study in this project? Will they scrutinize her records behind the scenes for their needs and we’ll be none the wiser? Only time will tell, but since we can’t volunteer for Yale’s Canine Cognition Center, and Rain’s too old to donate blood through the DoveLewis blood bank, this is what we’ll have to settle for, at least for now.
There hasn’t been a lot going on for Rain over the last eight months, but Rain is still happy and well. Rain’s people are all healthy and well, too. Even though her life has changed a lot this year, we had some minor adventures over the summer and still get out for a long walk or park visit most days.
This morning’s walk was perfect—we encountered ankle-deep fallen leaves, the world was damp, and the temperature was warmer than it has been the last few days. Most important, things were pretty quiet out in the world, so it was about as stress-free as our outings get. Rain stopped for a moment next to a traffic-calming sign to monitor the situation (above). Fortunately for us, today on this long street the only cars that passed us were traveling at a reasonable speed. Over the summer a young child was killed in nearly the same spot.
Even though there’s little to tell, there is still some to tell. Rain hopes her human will do better in the coming weeks at sharing her tales with the adoring public on the internet!
CW: Murderous cat—includes graphic imagery.
It has been a pretty long four months mostly cooped up at home with Rain and Roy. We’ve been coping in different ways. One of Roy’s coping mechanisms has been pretty unique to him: going on a killing spree.
Once the weather warmed this spring Roy started hotfooting it outside again after breakfast. On several mornings the next time I’d see him he’d have a bird in his mouth. He’d want to come inside the house, possibly to deliver it to me or to eat his bird in a safe spot. I would shut the door before he made it inside.
Highly recommended comic: How Much Do Cats Actually Kill? by The Oatmeal
In prior years Roy has killed far more rodents than birds. My theory about why this shift happened has to do with the poultry enthusiasts who used to live across the street. Chickens tend to attract rodents, so when the neighbors and their flock moved back in March, it’s possible the rodents moved on to new food sources in other yards. Or Roy might have lost a territorial disagreement with the younger feral kittens that live next door to the ex-chicken house.
Either way, for a few weeks there Roy was regularly coming home with birds. One morning, he showed up with two different birds over a couple hours! And these weren’t all invasive species or small birds, sometimes these were scrub jays, juncos, and towees. The second bird he ever brought in the house, a few years back, was a hummer.
People cheer a lot less for a cat killing songbirds compared with a cat that kills rodents. When Roy was having his spring killing spree, we looked into the BirdsBeSafe collar, scientifically proven to thwart cat predation of birds.
While I was mired in indecision about which pattern to get, the dead bird parade just stopped.
After Roy stopped killing birds, things were completely quiet for over a month. Then we got a couple summer days with warm enough weather that I left my front door open at night. I was up late when I heard an urgent-but-muffled meow in tandem with a soft thud coming from the front room. It was about midnight, and Roy had a tiny little mouse that he released in the kitchen but wasn’t quite dead. He soon fixed that situation and had himself a midnight snack.
After a big breakfast the next morning, he came in with a northern flicker—his biggest bird yet. He brought it into the kitchen and released it from his jaw. After the bird took two seconds to regain cognition, it started flapping, flying from the kitchen around the living room a bit before landing on the floor. Roy was on it, and captured the bird again. I shooed him out and closed the doors.
After properly killing the flicker he took it to the back door, where eventually he had a nibble and just abandoned the prey after. It wasn’t too long before flies and yellowjackets discovered the bird, and I decided to move it to a place where scavengers could enjoy the bird. It shouldn’t have died in vain, right?
Rain and I were watching a movie around 11 PM that evening when I barely noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t until the movie was over that I discovered Roy had once again delivered the bird carcass to the living room! It was returned to its prior resting place before we went to sleep, and after witnessing a bit of crow interest a day later, the carcass seemed to disappear.
Roy is starting to show some age. Just when I think he’s becoming a mature old cat who is more interested in hanging out with Rain and I than prowling all night, he’ll prove me wrong by bringing me a cavalcade of prey. He’s a mighty hunter, I always tell the vet when I take him in, but I feel like they don’t understand just how much. Usually it sinks in when I tell them that he has brought squirrels into the house a couple of times.
Audubon and other bird organizations say that educating cat owners about their cat’s damage doesn’t do any good. Why don’t I do much in this situation, as a bird enthusiast? Roy came to us unintentionally—his house was originally across the street. I’ve been very careful to not be too possessive of him, or at least in a way that’s visually obvious. Putting a bright clown collar on him might spur a neighbor confrontation I don’t really want. If the cavalcade of dead birds picks up again though I might be forced to take riskier measures.
Rain and I were about a block from home one morning when she stopped to sniff a spot in the grass. Rain lingered a little too long, and I got curious about whether she was sniffing another dog’s odor or was now munching on someone’s cast-away Ding Dong. I fought to pull her back slightly, and spotted some tiny lumps of fur in a depressed area of the grass.
Looking around for more clues, I noticed there were four tire divots in the dirt around the mashed-down grass. Since it was Monday morning, I pieced together a theory that the kittens had been born under the car over the weekend, then the car had rolled away to work Monday morning, narrowly missing the litter.
I took Rain home and returned with my mom and a box, but the kittens were gone—perhaps moved by their mother. I put a note on the doors of the neighboring two houses and waited.
In the evening I was briefed on the whole situation: one of the women has been taking care of a small feral cat colony. One litter had already been born, this was the second, and there was probably one more due at any time. She talked about saving up for live traps so she could pay to get the cats spayed and neutered: she didn’t know about the resources that Feral Cat Coalition has to help people in this situation. I wanted to help and ultimately agreed to take this litter, and that’s how we got four new tiny housemates!
Rain was particularly excited by our new guests. The first evening especially, she whimpered and whined and paced around, wanting to say a better hello to them. I put them in a box inside her rarely used dog crate, which lives in the back room of the house. I blocked access to that part of the house using an expandable baby gate.
Over the next few days we all adjusted to our new situation. Getting up every two hours to bottle feed the kittens was tough, but the lack of sleep wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The kittens got used to bottle feeding, I got used to bottle feeding the kittens. Rain supervised everything from the other side of the baby gate.
As for Roy, he never did quite get used to having four kittens in the house.
During this time I pored over information about taking care of neonatal kittens, including but not limited to The Kitten Lady’s website. When the kittens seem to be having digestive problems, they got a trip to the vet, and sent home with some Fortiflora. When one of the kittens had really bad diarrhea, I got some unflavored Pedialyte to mix in with their formula, helping with dehydration per Kitten Lady.
Over the first few days I had to figure out how to tell them apart visually for the purposes of recording their weights correctly each day. Three of them were dark tabbys, so that was especially tough. Soon I figured out their small differences to come up with their names: Darkest, Light Paws, Dark Paws, and Grey [or Lady Jane Grey].
Things seemed to be going acceptably okay until the weekend, when I started noticing stranger digestive issues than before. One or two of the kittens would alternate between eating ravenously, their belly so big I was afraid it would burst, and the belly deflating back to normal but they wouldn’t want anything to do with the bottle. Even though I was stimulating their genitals after their meal, they wouldn’t reliably defecate, but then I’d come check on them and there’d be fecal matter smeared on their legs or behinds. None of the kittens was really gaining as much weight as might be typical, but one was struggling more than the rest.
Sunday evening, Darkest—who had been struggling—seemed to be crashing. She died overnight, and that’s when I really started getting worried. After much fretting, Monday afternoon I took them to DoveLewis, worried that I might lose all of them, one by one, if I didn’t. Light Paws was starting to look bad too, after all.
I ended up relinquishing them as strays to DoveLewis, in hopes of giving them all the best chance. The process of doing this was especially awkward, since vet offices are now holding clinic out of cars in parking lots rather than allowing people into their building. Before I left they had secured a potential neonatal foster placement through Oregon Humane Society (OHS). The plan was to observe them overnight, then ship them off to OHS in the morning. I was given a case number so I could call back and check on their progress after leaving the hospital.
Unfortunately the kitties never made it to OHS. After I got to enjoy a couple nights of sleep uninterrupted by bottle feedings, I called DoveLewis to make sure the kitties had been transferred without incident. They asked me to hold for a doctor, and we ended up having a pretty lengthy conversation about the whole situation. Her observations about their GI problems echoed what I had seen, and she told me that none of them had made it. Fortunately they were able to provide euthanasia when it was needed, so their suffering wasn’t longer than it needed to be.
Do I regret getting mixed up with the kittens? Not at all! Even though it was tough, I’d like to think I made their short lives better than they would have been under a car a mere four feet from a relatively busy roadway with no curb or shoulder. Rain really enjoyed having them around—she made sure Roy never got too close to the baby gate and she alerted me a couple times when they had managed to crawl out of their little box. She acted as if they were her babies, and I’m sure if they had gotten old enough she would have taken great care of them.
Has it really been two and a half months since Rain’s exploits have been reported to the internet? Rain hasn’t just been sitting around—at least most of the time. We promise to bring you some big tales in the coming days.
It’s Rain’s TENTH birthday today! She’s a decade old!
The day promises to be a good one, which is good since we’ve been counting down for the last few weeks now. The weather is beautiful and Rain will get to enjoy hanging outside with one of her people for most of the day. Tonight Rain will get a special pupcake and maybe even some human food with dinner to celebrate.
Rain’s birth story is an interesting one—she was the surprise puppy at the end of a tough birth. We reflect on it regularly, and many of the other milestones in Rain’s life.
Help Rain celebrate by giving your own dog or cat some extra love today.
Rain has been thinking about baseball lately.
Not only has she noticed the lack of weird smells and abandoned snacks around the baseball diamonds at our neighborhood park the last several weeks, but she has been dreaming about running the bases herself, chasing balls while being cheered by the crowd, helping out with baseball bats, and eating hot dogs. Lots and lots of hot dogs.
Rain’s favorite team is the Portland Pickles, a neighborhood favorite. Each year they have at least one Bark in the Park event where doggos are allowed to come watch a game with their people! Rain knows that she can bark the longest and loudest, so she’d win the game. [Ed. Note: This might be why she hasn’t been to one of these yet!]
Rain’s favorite major league team is the Houston Astros, who also host a Dog Day each season. She doubts she’ll ever make it to Houston to show them how she can fill Minute Maid Park with her Texas-sized barks.
Rain is sad about all the fun games that have been cancelled this year, but is glad the teams that are playing haven’t forgotten about their canine fans.
In an effort to give Rain some fun each week, to keep her nose smelling new odors and her eyes seeing new sights, over the last five weeks I’ve been getting up early on Sunday mornings and taking Rain out for a long walk before most of the world is up and at ’em. We’ve headed out from our house in a new direction each week. Here are some photos from our outings!
A few days after our last buzzy buster, the world started screeching to a very weird halt. Our nosework class was cancelled as panic started ensuing about the novel coronavirus hitting Washington state, and by the end of the week I was showing signs of illness. Instead of heading out on a buzzy buster with Rain, I was on the phone seeking medical advice.
It turned out I just had a cold, which I suspect I got from someone at nosework class. There was one day I had low energy and decided to just lie in bed watching movies most of the day, but that decision had at least as much to do with hiding from the world as much as feeling ill.
As I recovered from my cold, Oregon’s governor officially announced social distancing measures in our state. After crowds flocked to the Oregon coast, national forests, state parks, and other natural areas during spring break, the authorities officially closed access to those places as well. That’s when shit got real for me—how do you expect an Aussie who needs daily physical and mental work, to fare in conditions like this?
Fortunately we’re doing okay. What routines we haven’t been able to keep we’ve adapted a bit, and we’ve got some new business in the works.
Clackamas County closed their parks, including but not limited to dog parks, but we’ve still been able to visit the park by our house each weekday morning, which is just on the other side of the line with the City of Portland. I’ve been trying to avoid the play structure, but otherwise doing my best to work Rain each day. Since we typically visit early in the morning, my thinking went, any lingering virus would have a chance to die off overnight. I’ve got procedures for putting things away and washing my hands well when we get home.
Oregon State Parks closed the system back in March, so Rain and I clearly haven’t been on any buzzy busters to state parks since Champoeg. We had generally covered most of the roomy state parks within a reasonable drive though, if the parks hadn’t closed we might have found ourselves traveling to the coast just to keep Rain’s brain smelling novel things. (What dog isn’t enchanted by the smell of dead fish?)
Nosework classes have been cancelled, although Kristina was offering some remote options. Nosework trials I had been signed up to volunteer at even got cancelled months ahead of time! Plus of course we had already been suffering through the loss of agility late last year.
Strangely enough, Rain has been taking things pretty well. It even seems like she has suddenly taken another step toward maturity! At the park each morning she has been less excited about running and playing ball ad nauseum, and more satisfied by sniffing around in the grass. One recent morning we pressured a group of geese to leave (on leash) so we could play ball, then after one throw Rain seemed completely happy to sniff around in the grass and eat goose poop for the rest of our visit. When she does get excited, she seems to recover relatively quickly.
It’s not all good news, though. Rain got a bit of an ear infection and at times has been appearing to baby her front right shoulder. I can tell that Rain is jumbling things up a little bit at times too, like when I’ve signaled an agility move from further distance from an object and she does something different than what I’ve asked for. Last month I started teaching her a new trick and it seemed to take her a bit before her brain started thinking about what I wanted.
Rain and I have started a new weekly outing in place of the buzzy buster. On Sunday mornings we’ve been getting up early and going for a long walk from our house, exploring a new way each week. It’s an attempt to avoid people but still get some better exercise each week. Rain usually arrives home happy and relaxed for the rest of the day. In the next couple of days, look for some short reports with photos.
In an effort to work Rain in some novel ways that we can do at home, I also signed up last week for Home School the Dog, a program put together by online trainer Susan Garrett. Molly suggested signing up for one of her programs during our agility summer break last year and I did, but I was so overwhelmed by the information that I never really progressed. This time I’m putting in the effort to work through the roadblocks from before, and we’ll see how it goes.
Other than that, Rain, Roy and I have been spending The Inside Times about like everyone else:
We’ve just been hanging around…
Snacking too much…
and wearing our masks.