Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Shown here are some of my favorite pictures of the babies. Both of them were taken during one of Abby’s birthdays, one when she was four and the other when she was ten. I’m not sure what spurred this tradition, but I’m pretty sure it started when Abby was three. I’ve always loved baking, and of course I’m crazy about my dogs. Who else would dedicate a whole blog to his pets? Once this started, I continued it not only for Abby, but I’ve extended the birthday party celebration for Pandy Please on his birthdays. When I gave them cupcakes, Abby loved it. But Andy really loved it. I think that Andy believes that cupcakes are dog food and are made just for him. Sure, I have made cup cakes for the dogs’ birthdays, but now Andy thinks that whenever he sees a cup cake, he is supposed to get one too. He will jump up and down and stare me down until he gets his cuppy cake. There have been times on days not on their birthdays when I’ve purchased some cup cakes from the store, and Andy has thought they were for him. It was so funny to see his cutey-pie face gazing at me in his pitiful attempt at begging.

The recipe I use is from a Hershey’s pamphlet that my relatives purchased when they visited central PA many years ago. The recipe is a favorite, but there are many other good recipes in that pamphlet that have yielded some impressive dishes that family and friends have loved. By now, some dog lovers reading this will be screaming “You can’t give chocolate to a dog!!” Maybe they are right, and maybe we have beaten the odds, but we have never had a problem with the babies eating chocolate. Granted, they are big dogs and they only received 6 cup cakes over the span of three days. Possibly I was playing with fire when I had my birthday celebrations with the babies. Fortunately nothing ever happened to them.

Some reading this may wonder why I’m delving into my eccentric tradition describing my celebration of my dog’s birthdays. Today is Pandy’s 12th birthday! In many, many ways I’m so happy that my baby boy has made it this long. Last year at this time, he was partially paralyzed in his back legs, could not walk and had to be escorted in and out of the house with a special device to help support his back legs so he could propel himself with his front legs. A year ago, had I given the nod to have Andy put-down, no one would have faulted me for it. The vet would have understandably euthanized Andy without second doubting me. I would not do that, but instead spring for the thousands of dollars needed for the surgery needed to make Andy better.

When Andy was younger, he was the model of good health. He ate right, kept active, ran and swam every day. He was always fit and trim without having the weight problems Abby did. I thought he would live forever. We did everything right with him. We fed him well, but not too much. We walked him at least a mile a day, and let him play fetch outside for 30 min or more day. When his back went out and he almost died, it was a kick in the teeth. We were not prepared for his death. Abby, on the other hand, had slowly slid into poor health. Her arthritis limited her mobility. And let’s face it; she was a lazy fat baby that loved to eat. It was a miracle she made it just eight days shy of her 13th birthday. Andy’s rapid health decline was so stunning for us making the likelihood of his dying hurt a whole fucking bunch. Later, I’ll describe the events leading up to Andy’s partial paralysis. But today, I’ll celebrate his being here and how much we love him. Of course, Abby will be with us in spirit. Had it not been for her, Andy would not be here now. On this day, Andy’s 12th birthday, a year after he almost died, I’ll borrow the words of Vice President Biden to note this occasion: this is a big fucking deal.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Another False Alarm

(Pictured above is the remnant of the security control panel in my mom’s room. Sometime after the incident described below, my mom experienced yet another security system malfunction herself. In a rash and hasty state, she took a blunt object and knocked the shit out of the panel.)

I have yet another ‘false alarm’ story. This happened sometime in the summer of 2005. I remember this well. Even though I was living in my condo at the time, I was doing my mom a favor by house-sitting for her while she was spending time with her ailing sister, who lived in Knightdale. I often house-sitted for my mom, but when I did so, she was usually she was out of town vacationing at places such as at her sister’s condo in Little River, SC. In this situation, my mom was still in the Raleigh area but she was helping take care of her sister who had been afflicted with a host of health problems that her doctors could never get a hold of and effectively treat her. It was a long slow steady decline that was painful for all those in my aunt’s life to see.
Some people may rightfully ask why I didn’t take the dogs over to my condo. After all, having two pets was within the homeowners association by-laws, and I did keep the dogs at my condo for a while in what is best described as ‘joint custody’ that my mom and I had with the babies. (Father had died by this point.) Unfortunately, Abby was no longer able to stay at my condo because of the extensive walking needed to get in and out of the building due to Abby’s limited mobility from her arthritis.

One night during this round of house-sitting as my luck would have it, the alarm started beeping in that high-pitched shrill pitch that woke me up and was going to keep me up unless I deactivated the alarm. It had been a while since my mom told me the alarm code. It had also been a while since she told me about the ‘fake alarm code’. For those not aware of the ‘fake alarm code’, the code will silence the alarm but will notify the security company and 911 dispatch that the homeowner is in trouble and needs help. The reason for the silent feature is that in the event a robber has set-off the alarm and physically forces/demands that the homeowner turn off the alarm, the robber will believe that the alarm has been shut off since the siren will turn off, but the security company and 911 will be alerted nonetheless that the homeowner is in trouble and needs help. This allows the police to sneak on to the premises and neutralize the situation.

At 3am, my judgment is clouded. I entered the correct code but as luck would have it, it was the ‘silent activation’ code. Of course I had thought I punched in the right code because the alarm noise stopped therefore reinforcing my false sense of security. I went back to bed, but 5min later, the phone rang. It was the security company. I told them about the alarm malfunctioning and how I most likely entered the wrong code. The security officer accepted my story, but the officer did ask a ‘security word’ or something like that in the event that the security company has to call the house after the alarm is activated and needs to verify that the homeowner is who he says he is. I didn’t know the verification code. (I still don’t.)Fortunately, the security officer didn’t harp on the issue. She did want to know where my mom was. I told her that my mom was at her sister’s and that is about where the conversation ended. About a minute or two later, the 911 dispatcher called. I had to explain the whole story once again. This person, too, accepted my story but said that a police officer had been called out to the house to check out the call, and that I should go outside to meet him and explain the story. Once I put down the phone, I did as the dispatcher had said and went to the front door. Just as she had said, a cop was on his way up the driveway. It didn’t take much convincing that I was not a robber and that a false alarm had been called. For some reason, a shirtless, sleepy-eyed man with ‘bed head’ didn’t fit the profile of a cat burglar. The cop didn’t take up much of my time at all. He didn’t even ask for my ID. It didn’t hurt to look contrite. Embarrassed was more like it.

Finally, I could go to sleep. Five minutes later, the damn phone rings yet again. This time it was my mom. Unbeknownst to me, the security company had called my aunt’s house to verify if what I said was true. My poor sick aunt had answered the phone and in a zombie like state, handed the phone to my mom who was sleeping in her room with her. Of course the story checked out and my mom, unlike me, knew the ‘verification code’. My mom was on the other end of the line when I picked up the phone and was laughing. She knew the drill about such false alarms and thought it was funny the ordeal I had to go through in the late night. She knew the calls that were made, the cops visiting, and my grumpy demeanor when I am aroused from a deep sleep. She could have been mad and chewed my ass out for causing this mess, but she has a deviousness in her and found the situation amusing.

In the three o’clock hour that night and in a span of 15 minutes, I heard the alarm malfunction, received three phone calls and was paid a visit by one police officer.

What were the babies doing this whole time? As I’ve mentioned before, my mom’s room is their little cocoon. The bed is their womb. They stayed there and didn’t budge until everything had blown over. I was irritable as hell, and they could sense my moods easily so they were most likely scared. And yes, when I house-sit, I stay in my mom’s room because at the time, that was the only room Andy would sleep in. This is an example of one of his many quirks.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Request for Firemen

(That is the smoke/fire detector that gave me so much trouble as described in this entry.)

This story happened in 2008 sometime. Abby was still alive, I know that for sure. I hadn’t moved back home yet. When I lived in my condo, I probably came to my mom’s house a couple of times a month. However, as my dad grew progressively sicker, I came home more often to help them with chores such as going grocery shopping or to the pharmacy for them. On this day, I was going to change the batteries on the fire/smoke detector in the living room. This was one of those rare times that the batteries on the system did not go dead during the middle of the night but instead during midday. In my experience with smoke detectors, the batteries almost always went dead in the middle of the night. Right before those things go dead, they get real fussy and loud, making a shrill piercing noise to alert the homeowner that the time to change the batteries has come. The noise sounds like a sonar ‘ping’ that one hears in movies in scenes involving submarines. And the devices don’t just pop-off the ceiling. It takes work, effort and concentration to achieve a successful removal which is further complicated by my sluggish state in such a late hour. I’ve taken a hammer and knocked some of those things off the ceiling a few times when they have misbehaved in the late night.

Anyway, I thought my mom was lucky not to have to face this ordeal in the middle of the night when they often seem to act up. My luck was about to run out as will be later described.

I brought a small step ladder and some batteries into the living room. The ceilings in the living room are 9ft, and there is no way I could reach that thing unassisted. Once I changed the batteries, I saw a small red light come on. It was working. So far, so good. To make extra sure the unit was working, there was a small button on the face of the detector with the word ‘Test’ right beside it. Silly me pressed it, and immediately, a very loud siren went off followed by a male voice saying ‘Warning, Warning. There is a fire. Please evacuate.’ For those who have seen reruns of the old TV show, Lost in Space, the voice sounded almost exactly like that robot’s on that show. In pure synchrony, Abby and Andy immediately jumped up and hustled down the hall from the den to the master bedroom. That was their ‘safe place’ in times of trouble such as thunderstorms or other disturbances. Fortunately, my mom punched in the code to deactivate the system. We were lucky, or so we thought.
I went to the living room, sat down in the recliner and watched TV. Five minutes later, I heard a low rumbling like that of an engine for a big vehicle. I didn’t hear it pass by the house; it seemed to have stopped at our house. “Shit,” I thought, “I bet that’s the fucking fire department.” I looked out the window, and there were two firemen walking and halfway up the driveway. I went out to greet them, told them the story about the detector, the battery change and the ‘test’ button to which the one fireman smile and said “Well, at least you know your detector works now.” I apologized and they went on their way.

Two weeks later, my mom received a letter from the city stating that if she had another false alarm such as that, the city would fine her $250.
By this stage in her life, Abby was hampered by severe arthritis so she wasn’t able to go and visit the firemen which would have made her very happy. Andy was fine where he was since he has always been scared of strangers. What was so cute about that day was the harmony the way they jumped up in unison and went to their ‘safe place’. There was no way I could have scripted or trained them to have done that. Even though Abby bonded with Father, it was different than what Abby had with Andy. Their relationship was a visceral one, like two people from the same ‘tribe’ so to say. I always wondered if they felt more relaxed with each other because they were labs. Were they aware of the similarities based upon their being the same breed? Did they know they sort of ‘looked alike’?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


(The window shown is the last vestige of where any of the old window unit ACs were at this house. All of the old window units have been removed, including the one in the master bedroom.)

When this house was built, it didn’t have central air conditioning, but there were window unit ACs in the bedrooms and the den. After the house was over 10 years old, central air was installed and all of the window units were removed except for the unit in the master bedroom, where my mom now sleeps. Once in a while, the AC will break down, so that window unit in the master bedroom comes in quite handy. For example, when Abby was a little over a year old, the AC conked out. We were without AC for a couple of days except in my mom’s bedroom until the repairman was able to schedule a visit to the house to fix the AC. My mom said I could make a pallet in her room if I wanted to sleep in an air conditioned room. However, that is just too damned weird for me. It’s bad enough being a grown man living at home with his mom, but to actually sleep in my mom’s room was too much for me to bear. Instead, I chose to sweat it out until the AC was fixed. I thought Abby shouldn’t have to sleep in the heat if there was an option, so I let her sleep in my mom’s room for a couple of nights while the AC was out.

Late, very late, on one of these AC-free nights, my mom burst into my room, flicked the light on and shouted “Quick, get up. There is a fire in the house!” She told me that the fire alarm was sounding; the security company had called as well as the 911 dispatch. The message on our answering machine said that the firemen were on their way. It was too late for us to do anything at that point but to wait for the firefighters to show. This isn’t a suspense story; there was no fire. The cockamamie security system had once again given us a false alarm. This time, we slept through a fire alarm and several phone calls in the middle of the night and as a result we would be paid a visit by our local fire department.

I’ve noted my tendencies of being a heavy sleeper. I’ve been like that all my life. When I was 6, I broke my arm and had to be sedated when the doctors reset it. By the time I was put under, it was well past midnight, so when the anesthesia wore off, I had smoothly transitioned from sedation to sleep. I slept so soundly that the doctors and nurses couldn’t wake me up so they brought my parents back to the post-op area to try to awake me. They succeeded but it took some effort. I still remember to this day seeing them hover over me and the lights above me spinning around like it was a scene from a cartoon when one of the characters were knocked out.
But what about my mom, what was her excuse for not waking up? Although she is a sound sleeper, she isn’t quite as bad as I am. The wall unit AC didn’t help matters. Those things are loud and ‘rattley’, drowning out most outside noise that may try to seep through. On that night the alarm system malfunctioned, the deck was stacked against me or my mom for there to be any chance of either of us waking up in time before the security company escalated matters in responding to what they thought was a fire in our house.

I don’t pop out of bed since I’m usually disoriented and sluggish when I first awake. By the time I lumbered my way out to the front, my mom had already greeted the firemen who she let in and were standing in the kitchen. I don’t even know if I had put on my shirt and could very well have been standing there in just a pair of shorts. My mom was in her nightgown. Abby was simply excited. To further her state of elation, the firemen were in their full uniforms--coat, hat, mask and all. Abby thought they were here to play and she started jumping up on them and wagging her tail. One of the games I would play with Abby was my putting on a Halloween mask and jumping out to surprise Abby. Since these guys were about the same age and demographic as me, Abby thought that they too were her play-mates and this was play-time. Me and my mom were embarrassed as hell. We felt like slugs sleeping through the siren and phone calls.
The firemen asked the obvious question if there was fire in the house. There wasn’t. To be on the safe side, a couple of them went around to all the rooms to look for themselves, and one even went up to the attic to check there, of course Abby escorted them to the back while they did their inspection. Everything was OK except for that damned alarm system. A couple of the guys petted Abby once the ‘all clear’ sign was given. We apologized for the circumstances and they went on their way.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Abby's Drinking Problem

Nikki, not Abby, is shown above. They had many similarities but the reason I showed that particular photo was that I never did capture Abby drinking with a photo, so I had to settle for another person’s dog with a beer in hand (so to say). Normally when Abby was having some beer, I was in the pool or the person she snitched the beer from was in the pool, subsequently a camera was not available.

Abby liked Miller Lite as far as drinking is concerned. She never drank inside. When she did drink, the weather was hot and humid. We did not offer her beer nor did we pour the beer in a bowl for her to drink. She would ‘ask’ for the beer which we would then pour a little on the concrete for her to lap up.

Like many of the interests and cravings Abby had, we stumbled across this craving of hers by accident. We can’t pinpoint the exact day she expressed an interest in beer. Most likely my mom was in the pool in her favorite corner which is in the shallow end on the ‘southwest’ side where the most sun would hit the pool over the course of the day. In addition to sunning herself, my mom spent her time in that corner talking on the phone, drinking her Miller Lite from a 12 oz can and smoking her Carlton 100’s. She does have her vices.

On the day the first time Abby most likely drank her first beer, was most likely a hot summer’s day. Abby probably waited until my mom put the beer down and walked over to the unattended beer which was sitting on the pool’s edge and nudged the beer over with her nose. After that, she lapped up the spilt beer.

It took a few knocked down beers until my mom realized that Abby was deliberately knocking over the beer solely for the purpose of drinking them. We had thought Abby was being klutzy. By no means was she a dainty thing and could be quite forceful in her movements, so we thought that Abby had walked passed the beer and accidentally knocked it over.

However, there were days when Abby didn’t feel like waiting for my mom to put down a beer in order for her to have a drink. I’ve noted Abby’s alpha tendencies and how that led to her assertiveness and even aggressiveness. When it came to her quest for beer, Abby would occasionally go to my mom’s hand holding the beer and start pushing my mom’s hand with her nose. All this was an attempt for my mom to pour some beer on the side of the pool where Abby would drink the puddle of beer. Sometimes, Abby would even knock the beer out of my mom’s hand.

Normally, Abby would beg for beer while one of us was drinking in the pool, but often times she would beg for beer while someone was in a chair on the patio or on a lounge chair on the pool deck. For some reason, Abby only liked beer poured in small puddles on the concrete. As noted before, Abby didn’t like beer placed in a bowl and any poured there would go to waste.

On some days, Abby drank up to 2 beers, but that wasn’t often. Normally, she would only have a half a beer whenever she did drink. On the days she did drink a little more, I could tell she had a little too much. Her eyes would get droopy and glassy while she was sluggish and a little tired. Otherwise, she was as happy as she could be. Eventually, she would pass out and sleep it off.

What about the other dogs? Father was a finicky eater and it turns out a teetotaler. Andy, too, did not drink although he was not as finicky a eater as Father was. Andy had no vices. He doesn’t overeat and doesn’t drink. I’ve joked that with his lifestyle, blond hair and green eyes that if he were a person, he would have been a Mormon.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Abby & My Morning Demeanor

Another affect Abby had on me was on my morning time demeanor. I am not a morning person. I’m slow to wake up and snooze as long as possible until I drag myself out of bed. I don’t like people looking me in the eye in an early hour and definitely don’t like someone trying to have meaningful conversation with me in the morning either. I’m not so grumpy that I won’t talk at all in the morning, but I would prefer the conversation to be lite and non-indulging such as topics on the traffic, sports or the weather. My family knows this and respects my wishes as best they can. I’ve had to train my co-workers to adhere to this quirk of mine as well.

One morning my cousin, Christy, was visiting my mom. Abby at this stage was big enough to get in and out of bed by herself, so she would often get out of bed before me to visit my mom and Father, go outside to the bathroom and to eat—all this while I was still sleeping. On this morning, Abby had already made it to the living room. After I awoke, I made my way to the kitchen when I saw Abby in the corner of my eye in the living room. My face lit up and I chortled “Hay Abby, how are you baby girl?” Unbeknownst to me, my cousin, too, was in the living room.

I could tell by the look on her face that she was confused and surprised by the way I reacted to Abby. She commented that she didn’t think I could smile in the morning. She also said that I should have gotten a lab many years ago by the way Abby made me so happy. How could I not be so happy whenever I greeted my sunshine angel beauty queen in the morning? Often when I would wake up in the morning, I’d say to Abby when she was a puppy “It’s a bebe day!” (Bebe rhymes with Phoebe and was one of my many nicknames for Abby.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baby Girl

The story about my research group member brought back memories of a particular conversation Cheryl and I had. It was during this conversation that I realized how much I lala’d Abby and how attached I was to her.One day while we were standing at the hood, I was telling Cheryl a story about my cousin’s cousin, Timmy. Timmy is on my cousin’s dad’s side of the family and so was not a blood relative of mine.

Timmy, who is about 8 years older than me, grew up in a small town east of Raleigh, Knightdale. Back then, Knightdale was a sleepy country town dotted with tobacco fields and hog farms. It is now a growing and thriving Raleigh suburb and has all the amenities of such. It is actually easier for me, an east Raleigh inhabitant, to go shopping in Knightdale than it would be to go somewhere on Capital Boulevard or Crabtree Valley Mall. As a matter of fact, I just bought my new laptop at a Best Buy in Knightdale rather than anywhere in Raleigh. This is quite a turnaround for a town that did not even have a McDonalds 30 years ago. I felt sorry for my cousins because they had to go 10 miles into Raleigh for the nearest McDonalds. The only grocery store in town was an IGA that was in a building made of cinder blocks. The poor rascals didn’t even have a Piggly Wiggly.

Timmy had a rough edge to him. He has spent a few years in prison for a host of infractions ranging from petty crimes to 2nd degree murder. He has also battled addiction for most of his adult life. Despite his sordid past, Timmy is a likable and personable guy.

I told Cheryl as story about Timmy’s pet alligator. Who knows where the hell this guy got hold of such a creature. I’m sure it was a spontaneous act given about 2 seconds of thought about the long term implications of owning such a beast. Apparently Timmy took good care of the alligator as evidenced by the animal’s healthy growth. Timmy kept the gator in the bathtub, and I have no idea what he fed it. I wouldn’t be shocked if he fed the gator live animals such as mice or rabbits. Eventually the gator outgrew the bathtub, and Timmy had nowhere to keep the pet. If I had to guess wouldwhat his next move might have been, I would have thought he would have had an alligator BBQ or made himself some alligator skin shoes or belts. Or, I thought Timmy would have built a pen in the back to keep the gator, but that may have been too risky because a nosey neighbor may have seen it and turned him in. With a rap sheet like his, the last thing Timmy needed was another charge.

No, Timmy took the gator to a nearby pond and turned it loose. For those wondering, alligators are indigenous to NC but not this far inland, mostly in the eastern coastal areas in swampy areas. Once in a while, an alligator will make its way up a river up to the piedmont area during warmer times, but it is a little too cold for gators for them to thrive around here.

For some reason, I thought that was a funny story. My sense of humor can be quirky, sometimes warped. When I laughed after telling this story to Cheryl, Cheryl responded in a stern tone and admonished me for my attitude about this. She said “What if you were walking by a lake and an alligator jumped out and took your Baby Girl. You wouldn’t think it was funny when an alligator was released into a pond then!” I didn’t argue back. She did have a point.

What shocked me about her response was that at some point in one of our previous conversations I had referred to Abby as “Baby Girl”. I’m not butch or macho, but I’m not a sissy-boy nancing around talking baby-talk to anyone outside of my home about a dog. How or when this slipped out, I do not know, but I surely said it. In private, yeah I spoke to Abby in a singy-songy way or spoke to her in rhymes. But I’m a grown man and couldn’t believe I would talk that way in public.

In a later entry, I will list all the nicknames I had for the babies. At that point, I realized that Abby was more to me than a dog or even a pet. She was special to me and will always hold a special place in my heart.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Short Bus

In graduate school, I shared a hood with a fellow research group member. Hood space comes at a premium in graduate school since space is limited in the labs at graduate school and our reactions, the center of our research, is carried out only in the hoods. The hoods we used were about six feet wide. I used the left hand side of the hood while the person I shared the hood with used the right. A bit of trivia about this hood is the fact that an event happened there that made it on the local news one weekend. A THF still (tetrahydrofuran, a volatile and explosive clear and colorless liquid) exploded in that hood (about a month before I started using it) resulting in considerable damage, injuring a post-doc, causing 3rd degree burns on him and a stay for him at the UNC burn center in Chapel Hill. I jokingly referred to that hood as the 'chimney'. The post doc made a full recovery and came back to chemistry. Sometimes an event like this can spook a person making him too nervous and scared to come back into the lab. However, he did have a few scars on his face. It didn’t matter much in his case since he was ugly to begin with.

The person I shared a hood with, Cheryl, was from upstate NY in a town outside of Rochester called Greece. If you are not from either NC or NY, one thing you should know is that there are a whole lot of New Yorkers now living in NC. Even my own great-grandfather was from upstate NY. Cheryl is about five years younger than me, has brown hair, brown eyes, stood around five feet eight, had a medium build and like me, used to be a swimmer, but unlike me, she looks like she used to swim. I, on the other hand, had morphed into my ‘full-back body’ by then.

In a way, the duties of an organic chemistry graduate student are a lot like work. Once one gets past the first year, an overwhelming amount of time is spent in the lab and very little time in the classroom. Many hours are spent in the lab, most of which involves standing at the hood, often side-by-side with the person you shared the hood with (if you had to share a hood with someone). Some students were quiet; some listened to music while others were like me who chattered mindlessly. Often I would forget what I had said but readily absorbed what someone else had mentioned.

Cheryl and her husband had a mixed-breed dog that they had adopted from a local animal shelter. The dog, Symba (named after some Disney character) looked like he had some border collie in him by the look of his size, structure and coat. I met him once when Cheryl,leaving Symba in the car in car, stopped by the lab briefly one weekend. He was mean as hell to me and growled and barked at me the whole time.

Cheryl and I would often talk about our dogs. One day she was telling me about a test to measure a dog’s intelligence. It was a simple test. A towel or small blanket is placed over the dog’s head, and the time needed for the dog to remove the towel from its head gives an idea of how smart the dog is, the smarter the dog, the faster the towel is removed.

Later that week, I gave this test to Abby then Father. Abby flicked the blanket off her head in just a few seconds. I knew my baby girl was smart, and I was proud of her. Now came Father’s turn. Not only did Father not flick the towel off but he started walking around the room—blanket overhead—bumping in to the walls and furniture. After a couple of minutes of this, Father gave up and sat down. It was so pitiful, and like humans, I hoped intelligence for dogs isn’t solely determined by genetics alone. We had a lot of work to do with poor Father. Father was sweet, but by no means could he be considered an ‘Einstein’ among canines. A couple of days later, I told Cheryl the results of the test. I went on to say that if Father were a kid, he would have taken the short bus to school. Even though everyone who heard that comment laughed, I felt bad having fun at poor Father’s expense.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Andy's First Full Day

From Andy’s perspective, the new surroundings must have been scary for him. He no longer had his mom or any puppies to keep him company and play with. Now he was surrounded by big dogs and a big man. How imposing Abby and Father must have seemed to a little puppy such as Andy is something I wondered.

The most notable story in Andy’s first full day with us was a good ol’ game of “Cooky coo”. Andy had no idea this was a game or even what to expect when I climbed to the top of the slide. Andy was directly across the pool from the slide. I can still see Andy looking up at me curiously as I stood on top of the slide staring at him. My mom was in the corner of the pool at the shallow end opposite of where the steps were. She liked that spot because 1) it was in the shallow end 2) she is barely over 5ft 3) the spot was a good place to catch the last remnants of the afternoon sun before the shadows were cast across the pool starting at the deep end and finally ending up at the shallow end. My mom was diagonally across the pool from Andy, that is, halfway around the pool. So, Andy was on the ledge, I was on top of the slide and where Abby and Father were, I do not know.

Andy was looking up at me still in an inquisitive manner. At this moment, I yelled in a high-pitched voice “COO COO” and jumped in the water straight towards Andy. Upon surfacing immediately afterwards, I looked up and saw that Andy was gone. The poor guy was so scared that he ran all the way around the pool straight into my mom’s arms. As far as my mom was concerned, this absolutely sealed the deal about if she loved Andy or not. Andy couldn’t have endeared himself to my mom anymore than what he just did. I found out quickly that Andy has a nervous disposition when he was huddled in fear by my mom. My eccentric and erratic behavior didn’t help matters.

This moment would forge a close relationship Andy and my mom had with each other. There was no doubt that he was my mom’s dog and only my mom’s. My mom wouldn’t have to share Andy with me like she did Abby. Abby loved me, my mom and even Father, but each in a different way. There was no doubt to anyone knowing us that Abby favored me the most, but that didn’t mean she wanted me and me only. We all had our roles in her life. Take one of us away and it would make her life a little more empty and a little more lonely.

Andy loved my mom and loved to be with her. He slept with her and even had his own spot with her up by her pillow. When my mom would read, he didn’t sit on the floor like Abby; he sat beside her or behind her on the couch. I wasn’t upset Andy didn’t take a shine to me. I was moving from Raleigh soon. Andy was my mom’s dog which was the way it was supposed to be.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Getting Andy

Sometime in June of 1998, my mom decided to get another dog. I agreed with her, and we found a litter of puppies for sale advertised in the Raleigh News & Observer. The breeder was in Greenville, NC, a college town around 85mi east of Raleigh. My mom wanted a yellow lab but left it to my discretion to choose the individual puppy as well as which gender.

I took a signed check from my mom, put a dog cage in the back of my Eclipse and drove alone down to Greenville. I had bought the cage months earlier for transporting Father to the vet. I was tired of him peeing and puking in my car and having to clean it up. The cage didn’t help his car sickness, but it did make cleaning much easier. A quick hose down, job done. This cage would come in handy in bringing back this yet to be chosen puppy.

The trip to Greenville was uneventful and boring. I had made it many times before when I was a student at ECU, which is located in Greenville. The terrain in eastern NC is flat, and if you have seen one pine tree there, you have seen them all. Pine trees, farms, more pine trees and more farms. This would be my first time back there in almost 10 years. The road to Greenville, US-264, had been widened in many places so that now most of the trip was on 4 lane highways. When I was in ECU, most of the trip past Raleigh was 2 lanes and believe me, you don’t want to get stuck behind a native eastern North Carolinian on a 2 lane highway. They obey the speed limits like those things were part of the 10 Commandments. It was maddening being stuck behind some hick that would not only obey the speed limit but would drive under the damned speed limit! Thankfully, the widened roads made this trip more bearable.

Upon arriving to Greenville, I noticed that the city had grown. Colleges can be good business and a boon to the local economy. I did take a wrong turn and was side-tracked a couple of mile but I eventually found the place.

The dog breeder’s house was in an older neighborhood (a house built in the 60’s is old by Greenville’s standards). The houses were in a style typical in NC built at the time. The bottom half of the house was brick while the top half was built of wood. The backyard was enclosed by a chain link fence, also typical in NC at the time. Nowadays, home owners associations would shriek in horror at someone placing such an eyesore in his backyard. Thank God for covenants so the busy-body do-gooders can tell other people what they can and can’t do with their own property.

I rang the bell and the owner, Howard Vainright, opened the door and greeted me. We had called ahead of time so he was expecting me. We went around back, and there was a kennel where the puppies were. I saw a raised patio deck by the house where a tired looking lab with long, lanky, bowed-legs was standing; she was Andy’s mom. (Andy got his legs from his mom.)

Howard showed me to the kennel and pointed out which puppies were his and which were not. The ones that were not belonged to his brother. Howard was doing his brother a favor by taking care of the puppies while the brother was out on vacation.

Howard opened the gate to the kennel and out came two white little beauties, a boy and a girl, followed by the rest of the litter. My command of the language and power of words are not strong enough to convey how damned cute those first two puppies were that came out of the gate. For a split second, I thought about buying both of them because they were so pretty. Actually, I silently thought about it for a couple of minutes while I watched the puppies play and frolic in the yard. I decided against it because there is a critical number of dogs in a house that once reached, the group of dogs become a pack beholden to themselves and will ignore the people in the house. I’ll describe in a later entry why I thought four dogs would be too many and how it would change the group dynamic for the worse.

As noted in this entry, I decided to get a boy. Pandy was playing fetch with Howard and a tennis ball. The ball was almost as big as Pandy’s head. Though I didn’t think that it was possible for Andy to be cuter, Andy did so when he lugged that ball across the yard back to Howard.

A boy it would be.

Howard was doing his due diligence to make sure we were upright and decent folk by asking about our home and pets. He wanted to know if we would use Andy primarily as a pet or if we would use him as a hunting dog. Howard was a duck hunter (I think); I could tell he was serious about breeding good hunting dogs. We brought Andy in the house where we would exchange information, and I would hand over the check for $300. Howard asked if I needed a box to crate Andy for the drive back, but I said that wouldn’t be necessary since I had brought a cage.

I put Andy in the cage and headed back home. It took about 10 min until we made it outside of Greenville. Andy cried the whole time. It was driving me nuts. Finally, just as we were about to enter the next county, Andy settled down, went to sleep and remained sleeping for the rest of the trip back.

As I pulled into the driveway, Andy was still sleeping. I reached into the cage, picked up his limp body, walked to the backyard and handed him over to my mom who was sitting on the steps of the pool. She thought he was beautiful and instantly fell in love with him. She would never have any second doubts about getting him. She said “Oh isn’t he pretty! His name is Andy Pandy.” She had already picked out a name for him. Andy Panda was a popular cartoon character in the mid 20th century, and my mom also had a dog named Andy Pandy when she was a kid. This is how Andy’s name originated.

Father and Abby, both in the backyard, immediately ran up to my mom curious about this new addition to the home. I can still see Abby’s furrowed brow as she was sniffing Andy. I can also see Father’s posturing. This portended the future of their relationship, Andy and Father.

Andy, understandably scared, clung tightly to my mom for protection. This moment set the tone of their relationship. Pandy immediately grew attached to my mom. It was as if there was imprinting with Andy, the way he was so close to my mom. Andy liked me, but he loved my mom, which was fine with me. I was leaving NC soon and didn’t need two dogs pining over my departure

Whatever happened to that female puppy that I came so close to buying? I hope she ended up in a happy home. She come so close to living in a big house with a pool and a big yard, or as I like to call it—doggy heaven. This house has been a magnet for dogs. Strays and neighborhood dogs that had escaped from their yards seemingly always found their way to our yard. This puppy would have most certainly loved this place. I hope this girl had a happy home and a happy life. If she hadn’t, I would feel awful not making a choice that would have made her life full of joy.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Decision to Get Andy

This blog, called “Abby and Andy”, has yet to detail much about Andy, so I thought I would fast-forward a couple of years to the spring of 1998. This was the year Andy was born, and the year we brought him into our lives. I had finished my research, wrote my first draft of my thesis, and prepared a seminar for my job interviews and my thesis defense. In my line of work, medicinal chemistry, there are a plethora of jobs in the northeast and in California but not so much in NC. NC used to have more notable pharmaceutical research in Research Triangle Park (RTP) such as at Burroughs-Wellcome, Glaxo and Sphinx. Glaxo bought Burroughs-Wellcome to become Glaxo-Wellcome, subsequently reducing the number of research jobs in the area. There were lay offs as a result of this merger, and from what I heard, it wasn’t pretty. Sphinx was a rising star in the industry, was bought out by Eli Lilly and eventually, the RTP site was closed down.

I wasn’t sure about my chances of obtaining a job at Glaxo-Wellcome (GW) because some people who were in the same research group as me in grad school who had similar credentials were categorically turned down when they applied to GW. One guy did make it through and was offered a job, but he had to have some major inside connections to pull him through. He was able to have a former VP at BW write him a letter of recommendation.

At the time I was looking for work, Sphinx had been purchased by Lilly but their site was thriving and expanding at RTP. Still, I was a little hesitant about applying there because I had heard some not so nice stories about the place. I had also decided against applying to GW. I didn’t like my chances there so I set up a five year plan to improve my resume and in a few years, submit my resume to GW.

I sent out my resumes to several places in the northeast and California. This meant I would be leaving NC before the year’s end, which I did. I accepted a position at a company in central NJ, Hoechst-Marion-Roussel.

Anticipating my departure, my mom wanted to buy another dog, definitely a lab and preferably a yellow one. My aunt, upon hearing my mom’s decision to get another dog, commented “Why don’t you just name him ‘Gary’?” Of course she was joking around but there was some truth to the comment. When Princess left us, Father came into our lives. When my mom’s mom died, we bought Abby. Now that I was leaving, a replacement was needed for me. This time, not only would I not object to my mom having another dog, but I would be the one who drove down to the breeder and pick out the puppy, all by myself. I figured my mom would be happy with a puppy, and that Abby could use a companion to help fill an inevitable void in her life.

The only question was, do we get a boy or a girl? I worried that a male dog’s presence would be an affront to Father. Father was highly territorial, knew how to fight and would readily scrap if confronted. If we had a girl, it might usurp Abby’s status as the Queen. I decided to get a boy. I loved Father, but I wasn’t above playing favorites. There would be issues for Father with a male brought into the home. Dealing with those two jockeying for dominance was difficult but manageable.

More details about Andy’s arrival will follow in the next entry.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cooky Coo

I mentioned in this entry about one of the games Abby and I played inside. Some games played inside were not exclusively played indoors. We played ‘chasing games’ outside too, but because Abby was so much faster than I was, I had to do whatever I could to gain an advantage. There tricks were simply variations of what I did indoors—give myself a head start or find an object or thing to run around that would force Abby to slow down much more than me.

For example, if I was in the front yard, I would quietly make my way to the end of the house while Abby was distracted sniffing around the yard. After I had made a considerable gap between us, I would call out to Abby and start running to the back. Abby caught me almost every time. The fun of the game was watching her get excited when she started the chase and how happy she was when she caught up to me.

There was one chasing game where I had the advantage—running around the pool. While Abby was a puppy, she could catch me ~70% of the time, but when she became older and heavier, the odds favored me. Something I could do to help my odds was to change directions. This drove Abby nuts, and she would whine and cry sometimes in her frustration.

In addition to the ‘direction-change’ tactic, I had one last trick up my sleeve. I would climb to the top of the slide and stay up there for a few minutes. Poor Abby would start to cry and howl at me because she couldn’t get to me. I would further antagonize her by teasing her, telling her to ‘come here, baby girl’. But the thing that drove her over the edge was when I would cry out ‘kooky’ in a slow high-pitched voice. Abby would start baying at me because she was both excited and flustered at the situation.

The scene ended when I yelled loudly, ‘coo-coo’, and jumped into the pool. A mistake I made the first few times I did this was to surface too quickly... Abby would be in such a tizzy that she too would jump in right on the spot where I had landed. That was over a 100lbs of canine coming at me and it understandably hurt.

I learned quickly to stay underwater and wait for her to jump in and then come up. But even then, I wasn’t done teasing her. I would sometimes sit on the bottom of the pool for several seconds while she circled around directly overhead. She would not move from that area until I surfaced.

Once I came back up, I would huggy and kissy Abby and then swim a few laps with her.
I conditioned her to the point where merely saying ‘kooky’ would rile her up and we could skip the running around the pool part and get right to her getting excited part. Simply climbing up the slide and yelling ‘kooky coo’ would make her go bonkers.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bad Habits

This reminiscing about Abby’s hissy fits led me to realize how Abby changed some of my bad habits, namely cleaning and sleeping. I had noted how Abby would take items from my bedroom, but I didn’t say what in particular. Well, up until Abby came into my life, I would use the floor as a ‘storage device’ for my clothes, both dirty and clean. I had a dirty clothes pile and a clean clothes pile. It was these items that Abby went after whenever she took something from my room. Any and all clothes on the ground were brought out to the living room: shoes, socks, pants and underwear, even dirty underwear, out there for everyone to see. It was embarrassing as hell.

I couldn’t blame her for taking these items for a couple of reasons. First, the clothes must have looked a whole lot like the toys that we bought for her and was made of a similar fabric (or at least in her baby girl mind). Second. The clothes were on the floor, so Abby must have thought they were in fair play. After all, we kept the toys on the floor.

I could have scolded her and trained her not to do this, but the solution was easy and obvious; I needed to stop living like a slob, clean up my room, put the clean clothes in a drawer, buy a hamper and put the dirty clothes in a hamper. I did just that and the problem was solved.

Something else Abby had an effect on my life was on my sleeping habits. Admittedly, they were poor. Left to my own devices, I would stay up late and sleep late as well. I noted earlier that Abby slept with me, a habit that persisted long into her adulthood. On the weekdays, I normally went to bed around 12 or 1 and woke up around 7:30 or 8, which meant Abby went to bed around 12 or 1 and woke up around 7:30 or 8. However, on the weekends, I reverted to my old ways and stayed up until 3 or 4. Abby, the loyal and faithful baby-girl that she was, would lie at my feet and slept without fussing or protesting while I read or watched TV. Come 8 am, she didn’t care how little sleep I had; it was time to get up. Abby would whine and cry until she got her way- which was almost all the time. Baby-girl knew how to get her way.

After dragging myself around a few days with just a few hours of sleep, I changed my sleeping habits, stopped being a night-owl and started going to bed at a more reasonable hour.

Friday, April 2, 2010

School Days

Abby was wild as hell, hard to control and incorrigible. Even though Abby was fun to play with, and I admired her boundless energy, we could see that Abby’s behavior, if left unchecked, would lead to her having serious personality issues as an adult. We had seen it before with other dogs we owned. It was apparent we did not know how to train a dog, so we decided to take her to an obedience course. We didn’t want a dog trained to do cutesy things or a dog so disciplined and strict that it would strip the dog of its personality. We wanted a dog that would listen to simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, or ‘come here’. We also wanted Abby to learn how to walk with a leash. Our attempts to put a leash on her up to then were met with great resistance. Abby would buck around like a bull at a rodeo whenever we tried to put a leash on her.

Needing the help, we took Abby to a dog obedience school everyday for 2 weeks. The place, called Pupsi, is located around 15mi from us in a Raleigh suburb, Cary (some say Cary is an acronym for Containment Area for Relocated Yankees). My mom would drop off Abby in the mornings and later in the afternoon pick her up around 3pm. I don’t know the techniques the trainers used, and at the time I was not interested. All I cared about was the outcome: Would she behave, could I control her, or would she obey my simple commands?

I do know that the trainers worked Abby pretty hard (they were not mean to her, it just took a lot of time and energy.). My mom said that when Abby got in the car on the way back home that Abby would immediately curl up on the floor board and sleep all the way home. Even when Abby arrived home, she wanted to nap and wasn’t her old rambunctious self. The trainers told us that when Abby became tired that she would start to gaze up at the sky and ignore anyone around her. The trainers also said Abby was very smart. Maybe they were telling the truth, or maybe they were humoring us. (I’ll discuss more about Abby’s intelligence in a later entry.)

One other anecdote I remember hearing about Abby’s Pupsi trips was her ‘friend’ at the receptionist’s area. The trainers owned a german shepard type dog (~6mos, just a little older than Abby was at the time.) named Cujo. The owners said that Cujo didn’t like most dogs and was not very social. However, Abby was the exception. He loved Abby and would chase her all around the desk wanting to play with her. Ironically, Abby wanted nothing to do with him. Normally, Abby would have loved nothing more than to romp around with another dog and play, but for some reason she was scared of Cujo. Every morning, Cujo would be waiting for her and Abby would peek in the door to see if he was there, and he always was.

The training was effective. Abby learned the basic commands and we were able to walk with Abby on a leash with no problems. She also stopped jumping up on guests. She didn’t become a robot nor did it strip her of her soul, but the training did smooth out the rough edges. Abby would grow up to have a lot of personality.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More Separation Anxiety

(The photo above is the scene of the crime mentioned below in this entry.)

How long it took Abby to snap after she was left alone and start tearing things up is something we often wondered. One day we found out the answer to that question; it didn’t take long at all until Abby would pitch a fit.

My mom was going somewhere one day, barely made it a block down the street when she realized that she forgot something and had to turn around and go back to the house. From the time she left until the time she returned, no more than five minutes had elapsed. As my mom passed through the den, she saw a mangled pair of reading glasses. Abby had already pitched a baby-girl fit hardly a moment after my mom had left the house. (I want to note that my mom bought reading glasses from the drug store and did not use prescription glasses from an optometrist.)

Not all of Abby’s fits were destructive. Something else she loved to do when left alone was either to get something from my mom’s bathroom or out of my bedroom. The items brought from these parts of the house were not destroyed or even damaged. Abby would simply pick up the item and bring it to the living room. I can only speculate why she did it. If she were mad, she would have destroyed the items like she did my mom’s reading glasses or my electronic organizer, but she didn’t destroy them so she wasn’t mad. I guess having these items in the living room reminded her of us while we were away and kept her company while she was alone.

One particular incident that I recall with fondness and amusement involved Abby dragging every single object in my mom’s shower into the living room (The shower is a walk-in lined with tile. There is also a bathtub, but it is separate from the shower. My mom only used the shower and never the bathtub.). I was checking her shower the other day and there must have been at least a half a dozen objects in there, probably more. This included items such as lotions, soap, razor, shampoo and conditioners. The whole shower was cleared out and taken to the living room. All of these items had to be taken individually, so Abby must have taken over a half a dozen trips back and forth form the back of the house to the living room. That is about a 200 ft round trip which added up means she walked more than three lengths of a football field to accomplish this. Abby had purpose, determination and deliberation on her mission to bring out all of these objects to the living room.

What made it funnier is how she arranged the items on the floor. She didn’t simply place them randomly around the room. Abby put them in the shape of a semi-circle. I wished we had taken a picture of this, but sadly we didn’t. I can imagine Abby sitting in the middle of this semi-circle staring at her work. No way was I going to get mad at her for that! When she did cute things like that, it made me want to squeeze the shit out of her.