Old Girls and Old Habits

Written 12/5/05

Next week, Brit will be 10. Shelby is also approximately 10. Brit used to be the one who slickly and quickly took the spot in front of the back door in winter. Newfoundlands have a preference for lower temperatures. We have an old farm house, and she was a good draft sealer. Now she prefers to lie out of the path of the door. I’m not sure whether the cold is beginning to bother her or whether she doesn’t feel like getting up and down when the door is opened.

It was nice on Saturday, and the grooming room was being used partly for storage, so I gave Brit a bath outside. She became chilled before I finished rinsing her, so I toweled her off and took her back to put her in the house. She wanted to stop to take care of a few things first, so I gave her a few minutes. When I checked on her again, she was still shivering. So, I took her inside and dried her partly, then let her lie in front of the fireplace for several hours, watching to be sure that she didn’t gnaw on the split wood in the rack nearby. She loves any kind of wood – cherry, walnut, maple, oak, elm, pine, hedge. Once she swiped a package of wood shims during a remodeling project and ate a couple of pieces. It was easy to tell when she had something she shouldn’t because she would play coy and try to look natural while something bulged from her lips.

Brit has a different undercoat than my black Newfs. It is downy soft, but when it gets wet, it has a coarse texture. When it dries, it forms a sort of felt. I use a different comb on her than I do the others, to get the loose undercoat out. Her coat also retains water very well. The next morning, she was still damp. It looks like the Old Lady Brigade will need a little more attention to bathing these days, and maybe their own space heater.

For her age, Brit is in good health. This fall, a couple of tumors were removed and her blood work was done, with good results. However, I have heard her gagging lately. She has always had a palate for inappropriate things to eat, and this is when you hear a loud unsettling ARRGH-YAKKKKEH with a spitting sound. Parker, who loves to play with sticks, or just carry them around in his mouth, has been trained to leave his stick at the back door before coming into the house. Those are usually kicked to the side, and he plays with them again later. He knows where to go to look for them. A few days ago, Brit, who was lying on the back steps and appeared to be waiting patiently for me to finish my tasks, had taken the opportunity to enjoy one of those unapproved delicacies. So, when she tried to yak for the next two days, I thought it was probably from eating pieces of the stick. This is the ordinary consequence of her having ingested something inappropriate, although I was beginning to expect that her appetite for such things had diminished.

She was being quiet, but Brit is usually fairly quiet. She can be very demanding and sassy under the right circumstances – for example, when you have quit eating dinner and you haven’t yet shared treats, or if you are late with her breakfast, or when she has an urgent need to go outside, etc. Since she is quiet, and especially now that she is older, you simply don’t anticipate some of her maneuvers. It has been about a year since I found paw-prints on the counter. And once she was on the wrong side of the gate and the gate was closed. Brit can’t jump the gate, so it was a mystery – until I caught her climbing onto the bar stools and from there onto the 36” high counter. She must have jumped down or slipped to get on the other side. So why should I be surprised if she did something like that now?

Each fall, I collect a few leaves and a few buckeyes, some still in their spiny hulls, and put them on the counter to dry. The color of the leaves is retained when they dry on the counter, and there is usually a good array of sizes, shapes and colors. Some are green and even stay green. These make a nice collection of nature art, a nice welcoming to fall.

At some point, I dispose of the leaves, but I usually keep the buckeyes. There were several from the past three years. Last night, while I was cleaning around Brit’s area, I found two of the buckeyes on the floor. I thought someone must have knocked them off the counter. Then I realized that there was only one left that was still in its hull. And, there was a wet buckeye lying just under Brit’s mouth. She had spit the nut out, shell intact, but she ate the spiky hull off the outside. No wonder she has been gagging! I found two fragments of the hull on the floor. To get the buckeyes, she had to climb on the bar stools again. Just when I thought she was getting too old for this sort of thing!

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