This Old Dog

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Backyard lilacs a couple of weeks ago

You know the old saying about not being able to teach an old dog a new trick.

And yet, you can.

Or an old dog can choose to learn something new if properly motivated.

With her hearing disappearing over the last year, Cleopatra has learned to watch our hands as we gesticulate at her. (This is usually done after calling repeatedly with raised voices that only the neighbors and horses can hear.) But she now follows the direction of where we point, which is usually towards the house to come inside for cuddles, love and play or bedtime, or towards her outdoor kennel for breakfast or supper.

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“What?”

Which is something new for a dog who is at least 13 years old.

And not that I’m calling myself “old” or anything but I’m certainly not a youngster. As I traipse through middle age I realize there are certain things I do that may make me seem “set in my ways.” Much of those behaviors are more to do with liking being organized and perhaps having a slight over-achiever tendency and Type A personality.

Like my color-coordinated closets and alphabetized CDs and spices.

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Its just easier this way, trust me!

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But I can also learn new tricks…

You see, I won an online cooking course through a local grocery chain’s “Monopoly” contest they ran this spring. I get carried away each year collecting game pieces, and choosing items and brands to purchase based on whether or not they could earn me one more chance to win big.

Each game piece can also be an instant-winner, which is why we have a plethora of table salt right now.

 

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There’s even more on the shelf above…

A little bag of flour, several small tubs of sour cream, bagels, a $5 coupon, photo prints and a canvas bag from Shutterfly… these are all the goodies this cheap Doukhobor and the cheap Scotsman she married coveted even though we didn’t win the million bucks or the dream home.

When I peeled back a game piece and saw that I’d won an online cooking class I honestly had no idea I would learning some new tricks this spring.

I looked the school up (Rouxbe.com) and it seemed reputable and professional enough but I still figured I would be watching a 15-minute segment on scrambling eggs. I had to claim the course before the end of May so last month, when Alistair was in Bismarck, I grabbed a pen and small notepad (you never knew, maybe there was an integral part of egg-scrambling that I had missed my entire life) and chose “The Cook’s Roadmap” to watch before whatever golf I had DVR’d was going to start.

 

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My course…

I’ll just say, we aren’t scrambling eggs.

What we are doing is learning! 10 Units, 173 tasks and 224 videos comprise this particular course and I am absolutely loving it! Its not even like I sucked as a cook- I kind of thought I was pretty decent, actually. Nor was I in a rut as I have always experimented with new recipes when Alistair isn’t here, sharing them with him when I figured I had nailed it or it was something I knew he would enjoy.

I had my classic chicken mozzarella, my alfredo, the onion-olive dish, artichoke chicken, spaghetti, honey mustard chicken, stir fries and big Montana breakfasts and generally all the food got eaten when company was here.

But now I’m learning how to create dishes on my own. I’m learning the why’s, the how’s and the not’s about cooking and I’m learning the basic science behind it all.

 

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Tools of the trade.

I’ve learned to embrace stainless steel and how to cook so that food doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. I’m learning about so many different oils, acids and salts and how to combine things to make my own vinaigrettes in used glass jars that I can use for mixing. I’m learning to use my steamer for a variety of different things and that rice can be so much more than a backdrop for other dishes. I spent last night learning a lot about grains, which I had always avoided because I had no clue what to do with them.

For a whopping $6 I roasted a chicken for Alistair and I the last time he was home that was as ridiculously easy as it was flavorful and simple.

The course focuses on health and balance and they offer non-course video segments on plant-based diets for general information.

More learning!

Its the perfect time for this right now because the weather hasn’t been very friendly for my golf habit.

 

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Happening right now.

Its grey, cool, dark and drizzly and while I enjoy suiting up with Alistair when he’s here and pulling the sides down with the heater on in Norman, it isn’t anywhere near as much fun by myself.

I haven’t minded the new Couch Time in the evenings with Sport and Bebe purring away while the instructor’s voice describes how to sweat the veggies (or, mirepoix) versus saut√©ing them. Or how to mix up the rice you’re going to Pilaf and which rice to use along with which aromatics to throw in there. And let the stuff rest for Pete’s sake! (Who knew?) I used to have a fear of rice. Just ask Alistair. Rice has always been his domain but now I’m ready to fight for that honor with a bounty of grains and techniques I’ve yet to perfect.

 

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I love learning. I also love island golf…

Which is another fun part of all of this- the practice. Like anything worthwhile I’ve attempted and tried to learn in life, I have had to practice. I couldn’t heat the pan to the right temp the first few tries any more than I could land the first axel I tried. Or the first suture knots I threw. Certainly not the first golf ball I tried to hit!

My vinaigrettes have been too oily, my steamed potatoes took way too long and my garlic got browned and sour the first time or two I’ve tried new methods so far. Even chopping with the Chef’s knife is an art form to be continually worked on.

I’m even loving the fact that I’m humbled by what I am learning. Not unlike the golf game or surgical techniques, there is always much more out there and my brain wants to grasp it and my body wants to master it.

 

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I didn’t learn how to be this overnight!

So I will happily, eagerly let my perfectionist, Type A self work her butt off to become a damned good chef! Just like I worked to be the skater, the veterinarian, the writer and the golfer. I continue to work at these things because I will never be an expert at any of them. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, especially if its something enjoyable. If its fun, then practicing doesn’t seem like work.

I do believe I’ll sign up to be a Rouxbe student after this free course is over. As long as I’m smiling and having fun and as long as I’m not poisoning Alistair, that is.

And who knows… if the LPGA plans don’t pan out in my future maybe one more hat to wear will be a fluffy white chef’s one. Maybe this old dog has a few more tricks up her sleeves!

 

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More things that took work, perseverance, patience and time…

 

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Celebrating my 3rd book this month with good friends in Seeley Lake!

 

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Another of my skill sets… stay tuned for a summer return to the coaching side of things for me!

 

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Practice, practice, practice back in vet school… ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Grand Prix Begin!

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One of America’s Ice Princess, Ashley Wagner (not my photo)

Its that time of year when figure skating fans start to get a bit nutty. We are anxious to see the new routines of our favorite skaters and equally curious about who has done what over the summer months.

The Grand Prix series brings together top skaters from all International Skating Union (ISU) countries in a showcasing format of limited-entry competitions. Skaters earn the right to compete at these events (and the right to try and earn some much-needed prize money) based on how they fared internationally the year prior.

We begin the 2016-17 season tonight in Hoffman Estates, Illinois with Skate America. And so begins this year’s rivalry between our own Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold.

 

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The current US Ladies Champion, Gracie Gold! (not my photo)

While Gracie’s talent is incredible and her jumps are gorgeous she has some in the skating community holding their breath when she leaps from solid ground. Er, solid ice.

A lack of consistency knocked her off the top of the podium at this spring’s World Championship. Sitting in 1st place after the short program she faltered on a night when the other women brought the house down, including Ashley. Gracie ended up apologizing to the nation with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat when she placed 4th.

Ashley and Gracie met up early in October at the Japan Open, an early-season event where professional athletes can compete against the amateurs. Ashley earned some of her highest points ever and skated lights-out after telling reporters that she had worked her butt off this summer to gain consistency and strength.

 

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Determined, strong and confidant Ashley Wagner. (not my photo)

Ashley Wagner is no stranger to the media. She is often out-spoken (at times annoyingly so) but she backed her words up earning the silver medal at Worlds last spring and is starting to look like she wants to kick some ass.

She is a military brat and most people would agree she doesn’t have the talent that oozes out of Gracie Gold. She has been criticized for being stiff at times and she often has point deductions for under-rotating her jumps. Her triple-triple combination (a necessity for the top women these days) usually is a hair short and hasn’t been consistent.

But maybe her hard work this summer and her commitment to pushing through to the next Olympics as well as her taste of silver medal glory at World’s will keep her hungry enough to bring the best Ashley Wagner to every competition.

 

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Another gorgeous dress from the Sochi Olympics for Ashley (not my photo)

I like that she’s gone back to her darker hair coloring this season. It is more her and more real and that’s what the judges need to see.

And hopefully we will see Gracie share in some of the limelight this year. I just feel that her heart was crushed at World’s and she felt like she let the country, her coaches, her family and herself down.

 

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Gracie having some fun (not my photo).

We don’t get to see her bubbly, playful side as much anymore and practice reports from Illinois reflect that. “Straight face” and “poker face” are what I have read although she apparently had a decent short program¬†practice today.

I used to always tell my skaters that if they weren’t enjoying themselves out on the ice the audience and the judges could tell. Nobody enjoys watching a skater have a complete meltdown as they achieve human-Zamboni status during a bad skate (a la Carolina Kostner a few World’s ago… oh, man, that was rough).

 

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The impeccably dressed Carolina Kostner, Caro to her fans, NOT wiping out (not my photo).

 

(As an aside, I love 29 year-old Carolina, who is returning to the party this year after a ridiculous ban forced upon her because of actions and choices a former boyfriend made involving performance-enhancing substances. We are the lucky ones to be able to watch this gifted, amazingly styled, musical, mesmerizing skater yet again!)

 

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Yay! Caro’s coming back this season! (not my photo, this was at Sochi in 2014 where she earned the bronze medal).

I’m hoping to see Gracie have some fun again because when she is on her game its like watching her put on a jumping clinic. She floats effortlessly around the ice in shimmering Swarovski crystals, leaping into her triples with a lightness and grace that defy her height. I want to see happy Gracie tonight because that will bring the US crowd to their feet. Gracie took almost a full month off her training this summer (unheard of in the skating world) and we are all hoping it recharged her desire batteries.

But this isn’t a 2-horse race this weekend. There are some other tough competitors sharing the shiny, slippery surface with the Americans.

 

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Japan’s Mao Asada… another tough, well-established cookie! (not my photo)

The balletic, triple-axel-wielding Mao Asada is in Illinois and although she hasn’t performed her full arsenal in the early season, practice reports are looking good so far. Of course, its all about what happens that night, under the lights and pressure, with television cameras at every corner of the rink, the coaches lined up along the boards and an arena full of knowledgeable fans who want to see every single skater bring it.

Mao is older than many of the others but with age comes a maturity to her skating that I absolutely love. A confidence that women achieve only with age. The knowledge of our own bodies and how to hold ourselves shows strongly in this petite performer and much of what Mao puts out there is more of a show than a competition.

 

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Incredible Mao Asada. (not my photo).

She also has some of the most beautiful dresses I’ve seen on the ice and I can’t wait to see her programs this season.

Another skater to pay attention to is the young upstart from Canada, Gabby Daleman.

 

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Canada’s Daleman! (not my photo)

Daleman has been on the international scene for a couple of years and while she has enjoyed podium love in Canada I get the feeling she is ready for a real breakthrough. She’s tough, polished, stunning and fast. I love her speed and it allows her jumps to soar.

Canada needs their women to join every other discipline on the World stage. Pairs, men and ice dance all have Canadian global champs but its been a generation since we have had women at the top.

 

Olympics: Figure Skating-Team Ladies Short Program

Canada’s former champion, Katelyn Osmond (not my photo).

We thought we had the next big deal in Katelyn Osmond from the Maritimes (training now in Edmonton) but bizarre injuries plagued her for the last 2 seasons. This did allow Gabby to gain some confidence, though, which is why she has earned spots in this year’s Grand Prix.

 

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Gabrielle Daleman thanking the crowd. (not my photo).

And we can’t count out the experience of Japan’s Kanako Murakami. Kanako suffered the fate of rising to the top of her game in a country that was full of rising stars. Fumie Suguri, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki, and Miki Ando were tremendous skaters when Kanako was trying to claim her stake¬†among Japan’s skating elite.

 

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Kanako Murikami of Japan (not my photo).

She can be a bit stiff with her skating but she definitely skates from the heart. Unfortunately, she is one of those skaters who “wraps” their freeleg while in the air during jumps. Its a technique that some skaters just naturally have but it can lead to slower rotations and its just plain unsightly.

The unsightly quality is a big deal in our International Judging System where the base points for a jump can be added to or subtracted from based on the Grade of Execution. If not a negative GoE, it certainly doesn’t gain positives.

 

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While she has worked on her wrap over the years its still there. Note- faces always look funny in jumps & spins. (not my photo)

But you can’t argue with the fact she is still committed to the sport and there is something to be said about experience.

The ladies short program will air on Ice Network (www.icenetwork.com) tonight if you have a membership. NBC will also show some of the event this weekend.

The ice dance event will be ground-breaking in that the short dance is combining the Blues set pattern dance with a hip-hop section. I have seen some of the programs and its going to be a blast. I won’t detail the event just yet but know that I’m hoping the American siblings, Maia and Alex Shibutani are on their game.

 

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Maia and Alex Shibutani. LOVE them! (not my photo).

 

The Shibutanis (Shib-Shibs to their fans) became cult favorites last year when they skated to Coldplay. No, wait, they made art to Coldplay. I just got shivers thinking about their routine from last year that earned them the World silver medal.

This year they are combining Sinatra and Jay-z. Yeah, that’s right. Remix that, Baby! I’m curious to see what the judges think. Figure skating judges have been known to be stuffy old farts wrapped in wool coats and fur hats who glare at skaters and drop marks when new boundaries are pushed. Just think of how long it took Canadians, Shae-Lyn Bourne & Victor Krantz to break through ice dance barriers long established by European skaters.

But they did and it paved the way for creative performers like the Shibutanis and it has moved ice dance into a new era.

Reports from Illinois say Maia’s outfit for this routine is as amazing as their skating skills and the routine are. I can’t wait.

 

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The Shibutanis with iconic coach, Marina Zoueva after their silver-medal winning performance at World’s in Boston earlier this year.

I love this time of year.

I love the Grand Prix of figure skating.

I hope you’ll be able to see some of the skating this weekend¬†and feel free to share your comments or ask questions. Figure skating is my first language and I remain fluent in it. Next up on the circuit is Skate Canada in Missisauga, Ontario next weekend. I shall keep you all posted.

 

 

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Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloveev of Russia are back on the scene at Skate America this weekend (not my photo).

 

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Also competing in ice dance are the Americans, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (obviously not my photo).

 

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Hoping to see happy Gracie after this weekend! (not my photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canine Musings

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Casey Fyfe… wondering just when that cookie is going to end up in his mouth

I’ve been thinking about our dogs a lot lately.

Not for any particular reason.

Other than the fact I haven’t slept well in a few days thanks to a pathetic cold so I’ve been up a lot during the night.

And the fact that Harry seems a bit ‘off’ and Casey almost turned blue on our walk in the cold yesterday.

Dogs with Laryngeal Paralysis usually do much better in the cool temps, and that has been the case with Casey but he was just too hopped up yesterday.

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Casey kiss a few years ago… do not try this at home. These are professionally trained Casey-handlers!

And when he’s excited and goofy and hopped up there is no calming him down.

Because he’s Casey.

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Casey

And also because he’s a Labrador Retriever.

Which got me thinking some more.

Many dog breeds are so unique in their traits its astounding. And many are bred for very specific purposes.

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Fabulous experience riding the sled with Dona driving and Lynn riding up front!

Not that every husky will want to pull a sled, or every German Shorthair will be a marvel with the ducks, or every Jack Russell Terrier will outsmart their owner and take off on them at high speeds, or every Chihuahua will shiver and tremble and quake as they cling to your arms 23 out of 24 hours every day.

Okay, no, wait… every Chihuahua will do that.

So I’ve been thinking about breed traits and where the Fyfe Canines fit into all of this.

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Campfire Casey a couple of summers ago

Like most Retrievers,¬†Casey is kind and loyal. He’s the only dog who wanted to take on¬†a Grizzly bear a few years ago to protect his Dad.

He is energetic, always hungry, easily excited, a great swimmer, an obsessed¬†master at retrieving tennis balls, good with every other dog he’s met, a fantastic shed-hunter and goofy to a fault.

And sometimes he does things that are just bat-shit crazy.

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Yeah… Casey’s hole.

Like the hole he dug 2 summers ago.

And then I think, well, I’ve certainly done crazy things in my life.

Why did I think it was important to steal a stop sign with friends one time?

Why did I drive to Banff in the middle of the night to look for summer work?

Why on Earth did I buy a Fiero?????

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Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do…

Sometimes there are no answers.

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Alistair and Casey getting psyched up for their first Agility Trials at a Dog Days of Summer

We just want Casey to be happy.

Maybe a little less excited to see us because one time he could get so worked up that his flopping laryngeal fold won’t open and he won’t be able to breathe.

But how do you suppress a Retriever’s happiness to see you?

Or a Springer Spaniel’s competitive intensity coupled with her need to be a princess?

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The Princess a few years ago

I admire Cleo’s competitive nature. She tries harder than anyone to get that damned tennis ball but Casey’s intuitive natural ability usually leads him to it first.

And if Cleo does get it its game over because she usually runs off and lays on top of it.

Like many spaniels, Cleo is friendly with other dogs but she also is independent.

They will all take off with us on hikes together but she is often on her own- digging a hole or playing in the creek.

I get that.

I like visiting with people but I’m totally fine being on my own up at our ranch in the middle of nowhere.

I respect her Spaniel stick-to-it-ness, like when she came to my clinic to be put down years ago.

She maybe started whipping out the fancy tricks because she probably perceived that most of us were sad and/or crying. Many spaniels are very in tune with their humans.

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One of Cleo’s many tricks, standing and sometimes walking on her hind limbs. It saved her bacon many years ago…

And I respect our husky’s wariness.

And his trust.

And his need to follow closely behind me when we hike or snowshoe. An in-bred instinct to herd, or know where the herd is at all times.

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Harry keeping close tabs on his Mummy

He has an intensity about him, like many huskies do, that makes him seem stand-off-ish to some but once you get a moment alone with him and he can sniff you up and down you will see his soft, sweet side come out.

Like many working breeds Harry is very stoic.

He made the tiniest of barely-audible whimpers when my neighbors helped release him from a leg-hold trap that had pinned him down a few years ago.

He never complained during his year as a Medical Exercise dog at my vet school-  he was poked, prodded, shaved, injected, palpated, all by inexperienced hands.

And he doesn’t complain now with 2 fairly weak knees and arthritic joints and maybe something else going on.

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Harry the husky, preferring more winter naps than romps these days

I’d like to say I see some of that in myself.

When I leapt off my runaway horse on one of my first riding dates with Alistair and broke a chunk off of my collar bone (not to mention the bleeding nose & cuts to my face), I got my ass back on that horse and rode the 2 hour ride back to the farm.

Yes, it may have been because his ex-wife and her new boyfriend were along on this ride and my terrier-like stubbornness and pride were present but after my initial tears I wasn’t going to let anyone hear me complaining.

Which, in the end, was kind of funny and I like being funny.

Being funny is a large part of what UB, our mixed breed is all about.

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What? Did somebody say, ‘kibbies?’

He’s the only¬†dog we have actually done a DNA test on and he is part Boston Terrier and part Cocker Spaniel.

He has spaniel independence and terrier seriousness.

But he also has a light-hearted, energetic, athletic, happy approach to life.

If the butterfly is there, you should chase it.

If the Mummy’s lap is empty, you should sit in it.

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Campfire UB

If the blind dog needs someone to lay with her, you should do it.

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Loki and UB this summer, cuddle buddies all the way

His approach to everything- elk herding, running, attacking Casey, sleeping, eating, barking at badgers or Grizzly Bears, chasing kitty cats, making fun of Subarus- is done at full tilt. There is nothing half-assed about this boy and sometimes his recklessness gets the best of him.

Like mine has with me over the years.

Climbing the 3rd tallest Ferris Wheel in the world in the middle of the night in Japan was a great idea!

Until we got up there…

And the one dog who is for certain a pure bred has her own characteristics that are true to the Boston Terrier breed.

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Our stubborn, defiant, charming, loving, bossy-pants Boston Terrier, Loki

Blind, with a luxating patella and knobby dew claw, Loki still tries to run the show around here.

She is the one dog who gave Casey a serious run for his money with that tennis ball when she could see.

She is bossy and set in her ways.

She growled at Gampy the other morning because he dared to take her from her warm, comfy slumberland to go outside for piddles in the snow.

She tosses her empty food dish towards us, as if we¬†don’t notice¬†that it¬†is empty.

And yet she always wants to be with us, right next to us, on top of us, under the covers with us.

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Loki “helping” Gampy at crib

I have a bit of a stubborn streak in me so I appreciate her in-charge attitude.

I play nicely with the other kids but I like it to be my game.

Like the whole Dog Days of Summer thing… I only did it because the local hospital board said I couldn’t do a canine walkathon at their annual medical open house.

I, like Loki, am not someone who does well with the words, “you can’t.”

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Dog Days of Summer, the early days

So I created an annual event of my own that turned out to be an enormous success and had amazing attendance each year, which the medical clinic couldn’t even compete with.

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A variety of breeds bred for different things, competing at the Dog Days of Summer Dog Show a couple of years ago.

There are so many different dog breeds out there and they all have some special capabilities and strengths.

And different owners have different expectations and their own talents for training and sharing.

We can learn a lot from our barking, tail-wagging, slobbery, snoring, farting, hoop-jumping, happy, forgiving, ball-chasing, duck-hunting, sled-pulling, keg-wearing, shivering companions.

And different breeds can do different things.

I’m not saying you should train your ShihTsu to pull a sled or that Min Pins will make excellent therapy dogs or that an Akita should run Flyball, but each dog, like each of us, is an individual.

With no expectations and just the request that everyone get along (and donate reproductive organs at the door) the Fyfe misfits will continue to make me smile.

And think.

And giggle.

And reflect.

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Loki, helping with laundry

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The Princess, crippled by the booties and lovely tartan jacket Lynnie put on her… poor thing was paralyzed until she was able to tear the jacket off!

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Ball-chasing with Whitney back in the day, before UB moved in and when Loki still had vision

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UB: “Are you coming, Mummy?”