Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Year Of Intermittent Sorrow

The Rollercoaster of Stress has been ricocheting around the twisted track at full speed this year.

It started with a fire at Ro's house in the early hours of New Year's Day, and continued when back problems, and car problems threw a big ol' wrench into the mix. Losing two dogs of our own, plus Harley the barn dog, a dear friend's medical issues, her dear friends freak accidental death, and this morning the passing of Mr. Slave Driver's father have labeled 2010 as "The Year That Couldn't End Fast E-Freakin' Nough."

I like it when the pendulum of my life swings in a low, slow, methodical arc. We don't win the Lottery, but nobody falls off a donkey on the way down the Grand Canyon. Literary Agents don't knock each other over to sign me for representation, but nobody's says, "Quit now. Take up golf. Or croquet."

At least not yet. There's still three months to go…

So today, in honor of The Year That Sucks Ass, I'm showing you my happy place. I love it there. It's a beautiful, spiritual place, ethereal with quiet grace and stunning vistas.


The original Moab, according to Wikipedia, is "the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in modern-day Jordan, running along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea."

Our Moab is in Utah, south of I-70, close to the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers.

So if your year has been anything like mine, take a deep breath, have a relaxing beverage, and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Does This Carriage Ride Make My Butt Look Big?

The Grandkids riding out on one of the teams. This sport is a family affair.

When I'm at work sometimes a customer will jokingly ask if they or their party of passengers are too heavy for the horse. It's one of the stupid rants that the RARA's use in their Litany of Lies: That the carriage and passengers are "too heavy for the horse to pull." I explain to people, "The carriage weighs about four hundred pounds and is balanced on the four wheels. This makes it 'rolling weight.' At about a *buck-fifty, I pull the carriage in and out of the storage barn. The average horse can pull at least twice his own weight, and that's dead weight, not rolling weight. We limit our passengers to four adults and two small children (as opposed to four adults and two children who look like they just ate two small children.) So for a horse like Tony, who was once a competitive puller and weighs in at around 1800 pounds (at a conservative estimate) the max weight he could pull would be around 3600 pounds. Subtract the weight of the carriage and driver, and divide the balance by six, that would give a cushion of 500 pounds per customer. At which point, by the way, the wheels would probably come off. So are you too heavy? Not unless there's something you're not telling me…Like you're wearing lead underpants and have pockets stuffed full of Plutonium. Otherwise, we're good.

The "Boat"

We went to the Draft Horse Pulls at the Utah State Fair last week. To those of you who have never been to a horse show where they have "Speed Events" (Pole Bending, Keyhole Race, Barrels, etc) speed horses love love love what they do. They get cranked up at the gate even before they break the laser beam timer thingy. The same thing happens with these competitive draft horses. They are trained to pull when they hear the hook hit the metal, and if the "Hookers" (the guys holding onto the doubletree that the hook gets hitched to) don't get the heck out of the way they'll end up with smashed ankles. Because when it's time to go, this team juggernaut goes!

They started with the "Lightweight Division" and MBA fell in love with a Shire team named Briggs and Stratton.

Briggs and Stratton, waiting for their turn.

They were the first team out of the competition, but they win in our book for Best Looking Boys. The "boat" or sled, which you'll notice is NOT balanced on four wheels and is in arena sand, weighs 4000 pounds empty (which everyone pulled quite easily) while none of the teams (light, medium or heavy weight) exceeded 5000 pounds in their combined weight.

Everybody is watching the action.

The winning pull in the Lightweight division was 9000 pounds. The winning pull in the Heavyweight class was 11,600 pounds. Or there about. They weighted the sled with roofing shingles, and they ran out at 10,000 pounds and had to ask people to be the weight.

So the winning team was less than 5000 pounds and pulled dead weight of 11,600. So are you, your husband, your teenage twins, change-of-life toddler and Goldendoodle "Fritzie" too heavy for a ride?

A team of the "Big Boys"

Not so much.

This was the Heavy Weight winner's Victory Lap, complete with grandson riding the horse.

* I weigh about 150 pounds, not counting my lead underpants.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Love For Sale

On Sunday The Kid and I stopped by the Super Adoption event hosted by No More Homeless Pets in Utah and PetSmart. They have this event twice a year, filling the PetSmart parking lot with huge tents full of pens and cages. The idea is to get as many of the local rescues and shelters together to showcase the pets they have for adoption all in one central location.

I have to admit that I had toyed with the idea of getting one more dog, but after seeing the dynamic currently going on in the house, with Luna and Mindy getting along well, I decided that bringing another dog in right now would be too soon. Mindy just last week realized that she was here to stay, not just a guest. The turnaround came after we took her with us to a bar-b-que at a neighbor's house, where everyone brought their dogs. Luna ran around like, well, a lunatic, playing and chasing while Mindy hung back, shyly, eventually going from person to person, making friends. She wasn't allowed to make friends with any of the dogs; Luna, in protection mode, growled at any of the canines that got close enough for a butt sniff. It was just as well, since Mindy was the tiniest dog there and might have gotten trampled in the raucous fray anyhow. When we returned home, her entire attitude changed. We'd brought her to a place full of other dogs, and then we'd brought her back home. She pranced, she bounced, she displayed an attitude of happiness, joy and self confidence she hadn't before. So I'm okay with the status quo.

But I did want to foster a cat. Not adopt a cat. Foster. Which I think several of the people who know me in real life were a bit shocked by. I'm not a big fan of children; I love my own child. I don’t want to hold your baby, or watch your toddler, or even hear funny stories about what you kid did with a booger. I often say, "I like other people's children as much as I like other people's cats." But you have to understand that at one point in my life I had not one cat but two. Tigger and Sparkles were barn cats we had when we owned our farm in Missouri. And when we moved, knowing we were going from a rural area where the cats had the freedom to roam, explore and hunt, trying to turn them into house cats just wasn't going to work. So the woman who purchased one of our horses, Nightmare, for a Hippotherapy program, also took both cats. It allowed the felines to stay in an environment they were familiar with, a stable, and do what they loved to do, hunt. So, just as I love my own kid, I loved my own cats. Enough to give them up for a life they would enjoy.

So when the call came out via Facebook that NMHPIU would need foster homes for both dogs and cats after the Super Adoption event, I answered. After all, I have platforms available to me (my blog, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook) that enable me to promote a specific animal for adoption, which I know the fine folks at shelters are unable to devote time to, due to their quantity of animals. Plus I have room for a cat; literally. I have a bedroom in the basement which is used for storage. There is enough area for a cat to climb and explore, yet also have seclusion if they want. The cat will slowly be integrated into the dog domain, so as not to traumatize her further. And hopefully, someone will see her profile and decide to give her a forever home.

So may I introduce to you Wednesday. If you are looking for a sweet cat that needs a home, please consider adopting her.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The 95%ers

Our success rate for trainees is low- only 5% of the people we bring in to train actually continue as an employee for at least six months. Even though we "pass off" a driver after 4-8 nights out, once they've shown proficiency at the job, we still bitch at them continuously correct bad habits when we see then doing something which is either not sanctioned or unsafe. I tell my trainees that I do it to make them a better driver. After all, they go out with a different individual each night, and while we will occasionally compare notes, there is no set training format. So somewhere down the line we might have forgotten to tell them what to do if their wedding party is late (wait time is charged at $20 for every 15 minutes), what to do when they damage a car and the owner isn't around (leave a card), or which hotel canopies they are not allowed to go under (the Hilton).

As a trainer I can never tell if, once trained, a driver will stick around long enough to be considered an "success." As Crazy Shelley put it, it's not worth the brain space to remember someone's name if they're not going to be around very long. We go through so many people that the few brain cells that I haven't nullified with copious amounts of alcohol cannot manage to keep all the names straight. I have much better luck remembering the names of the dogs (but not their owners) I encounter up in Memory Grove or going for walks that pass us at South Gate (Juno the Border Collie, Etienne the Saint Bernard, Jack the Pug puppy and Lola the miniature Australian Shepherd).

There are candidates that I remember because of their quirky behavior or outright stupidity, but being that this is a public forum I won't mention names. I don't relish a law suit because I call someone stupid and it becomes a matter of public record. But I will say that there is a sector that I pity because while I as a human can recognize that an individual is useless and will soon be gone, either through trial and error error error or attrition, half of our workforce never knows what they will come up against next or how long they must endure them.

And that would be the horses.

Whether it's a heavy hand at the bit, commands that come out as either a squeak or a roar, or continuous flapping of the lines as an indication to pick up speed, our training horses (Cleatus, Tony, Charlie, Rex) go the distance when it comes to babysitting. For example, Cleatus, when asked to make a right turn on the way out to South Gate at a street that we normally do not turn right at, will stop, turn his big head to eyeball the driver, and wait for the trainee to change their mind and go straight. It is his way of correcting them. He is patient (more so than I will ever be) and forgiving when faced with an idiot. I've told many people that Cleatus, if he had thumbs and spoke English, would render my job obsolete.

This occupation is one where attention to detail is of the utmost importance. It's the difference between having a successful evening or a nightmare in progress. Safety is our number one concern, for the horse, the passengers, and the driver.

Note the order in which I placed those.

So if a trainee isn’t continuously watching the flow of traffic, getting over to the right out of the way of vehicles, properly holding the correct kind of lead rope, or leave their hooked up horse unattended in the barn lot while they go and get the one thing they forgot to put on their carriage before they left the barn, it's an issue. So when I see an issue, I’ll call the new driver on it, because it'll be that one time that I don’t which will lead to bad habits and sloppy safety. So if I bitch correct them, it's for their own benefit.

And if I happen to kick them off of the box and into the path of the oncoming Trax Train, it's for the horses benefit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Replacements

Mindy's car ride home.

We acquired another dog. She's not the dog we originally went so see, but she's the one we came home with. Mindy is her name, and she wiggled her way into our laps and hearts at the Utah Animal Adoption Center.

This is a bad photo, she isn't that bug-eyed.

As far as they can tell, because she was a stray not an owner surrender, Mindy is five, and classified as a long haired Chihuahua. I think she's got some Dachshund in her, because she has a v e r y l o n g b o d y. Also, because of her ears, some Papillion, which would make her a Papshundhuahua, which is not only difficult to spell but hard to pronounce when drunk. Whatever her breed, she's been at the Humane Society for six months, arriving on her last day from the pound. In other words, she was sent to the Humane Society before she was to be destroyed, having used up all her allotted time at the county animal shelter.

Right now we are in the "getting to know you" process. She's a little thing, but both vocal and fast. So far she's exhibiting signs of separation anxiety and hoarding. Plus she's aggressive towards Luna, who just wants her to play the "Chase me!" game. We know it'll take time; it's not like we haven't been through this before.

Mindy had a heartbreaking way of working her head between the crook of your elbow and your chest. She is content to simply push her weight, all 10 pounds or so of her, up against you and cling like Velcro. She doesn't squirm, dig or paw, she just rests, as if disturbing you might make you go away. Living in a shelter must be a tiring thing, since all she wants to do is sleep. Except when we go for the occasional walk. And her Most Favorite Person is The Kid.

She likes to sleep a lot.

Luna, adopted on April 1st, has turned into a model citizen. Of course, making sure she cannot get into trouble has helped exponentially. She no longer has an all access pass to the backyard via the dog door, as anything left around made its way out there. For a while the lawn looked like we decorated with shredded newspapers, dissected flip-flops, and discarded pool filters.

One night, Mr. SD and I were walking her when the neighbor's Pit Bull, usually in a high fenced yard with a "Beware of Dog" sign on the gate, charged across the street at us. Mr. SD ordered Luna to "SIT!" which she did, and I used the Aggressive Dogs in Memory Grove trick, saying in a rough gravelly voice, "NO! BAD DOG! GO HOME!" The dog did retreat a bit, but turning it charged me again, teeth bared, all business. I repeated the "GO Home!" command and it did finally returned to its yard.

Luna loves her pool.

After returning to our house we witnessed this dog charge another family on an evening dog walk, and with the help of another neighbor got the aggressive animal back in the yard and the gate secured. Mr. SD was pleased with Luna's reserve, but also stated that if the Pit had come after me he would have released Luna to defend me. I was thankful that we didn't have Mindy with us, because that would have been a chaotic mêlée of epic proportions.

Luna likes to keep an eye on things going on out front.

Anyway, our inventory is back to "Main dog and Auxiliary dog."

In other news of interest, my submission of the first 25 pages of my novel, The Carriage Trade, finaled in the Utah RWA's Heart of the West contest, and will go on to be judged by a literary agent out of San Francisco. I won’t find out how I placed until October 9, 2010, but it's a win anyway, because an agent is looking at it, and I didn’t have to write a query letter or a synopsis.