Posted in Contemplations, Nature, Pets, Relationships

Mary Sunshine by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before we downsized to life in a condo, we lived a half block from a Catholic university. The campus was the perfect size for my early morning dog walks with Millie. We got up and out before classes began and made a big loop around the school, enjoying sun rise and the shady green areas. We didn’t see many people, mostly the groundkeepers and a few eager freshmen, with a rare professor spotting.

I noticed that other neighborhood walkers would often return my head nod, smile, or wave after they had seen me a few times. Some were natural greeters and said hi the first time our paths crossed, but most needed to get used to Millie and me first.

As for the students, the return greetings for my outreach attempts were about fifty percent. Often the young people wore ear buds and looked sleep deprived as they passed us. I’d catch whiffs of soap, body spray, or pot as they ignored my half wave or “Morning.” 

One September morning a gangly girl with jet black hair and rumpled shirt and jeans gave us an earnest, “Hey there.” I gave her a large smile and Millie wagged her tail.

“What a great dog! Can I pet her?”

Millie Biscuit

“Sure! Her name’s Millie.”

The girl got down on one knee and gave my energetic dog two-handed pets and ear rubs with praise like “You a sweetie! Good girl, Millie!”

We chatted and she told me she was a freshman and terribly missed her dog back home. She did not mind that an excited Millie pushed her dark-rimmed glasses off her nose. The girl left us with a huge smile as she repositioned her backpack and headed to a campus coffee shop.

I never ran into this sweet souled girl again even though Millie and I both wished we had.

We got regular waves from almost every person driving a cart loaded with gardening tools, but never ever from a blonde woman who seemed to be a groundskeeper supervisor. She drove her cart with a no-nonsense demeanor and wore a crisp, clean khaki uniform. Her short, curly hair hid under a university cap, and her snug shirt stayed tucked in her pants with her plain black no-name sneakers completing her all work/no play look. Once she caught me letting Millie off leash to run through a small overgrown field on the edge of campus. 

“Dogs on leash!” she snapped.

“Sorry,” I said as I used a dog treat to get Millie to head back to me. After that I let Millie off leash only on holidays and weekends when I wouldn’t run into Ms. Mary Sunshine.

In the early evenings we took Millie for another university stroll and came to know other dog owners.  We shared stories about the campus, and none of us had ever seen the blonde groundskeeper smile. She was known for her frowns and dog fussing. So it wasn’t just me and Millie.

For awhile I tried to get more than a scowl from Mary Sunshine, but I soon gave up and avoided her as much as I could. Who wants to encounter someone who glares at your smiles, looks right through your waves, and acts deaf to your, “Good Mornings”? I told myself she was the campus curmudgeon who hated her job and other living individuals as well.

On a random weekday morning Millie and I were finishing our university loop when I noticed Mary Sunshine near a small gas pump encircled by a chainlink fence that the university cart-drivers used. She knelt and shook dry cat food into a small bowl. I could make out a sweet voice calling the cats to breakfast. I couldn’t hear her exact words, but the tone was high-pitched and welcoming. I slowed Millie’s walk and gave Mary Sunshine alone time with her three cats who curled in and around her feet as she kept up the tender sounds.

Photo by umit ozbek on Pexels.com

I had noticed cats there before when Millie pulled on her leash as we walked past the gas pump, but I would never have guessed who was filling those water and food bowls.

I did not try greeting the blonde woman even after I learned she had a tender side. But I did think of her differently. She reminded me to be less quick-to-judge others, even people with permanent frowns and angry eyes. To stop jumping to conclusions about those who dress, speak, walk, or look at the world a certain way. A Mary Sunshine will not necessarily deserve my sarcastic name-calling. Maybe we all have a hidden softness that’s reserved for secret times with a selected few.

Posted in Pets

Gotta Get your Poop Out by Ginger Keller Gannaway

       

Every morning my husband and I count poops. While we walk our dog Millie, I move out in front and alert Gary about possible pet disturbances. I’m on the look out for bold cats who taunt us as they strut in their grassy lawns, other dogs on leashes who either ignore us or strain and bark as if our dog had just stolen their last pig’s ear, and any skateboarders. Millie is high-strung and the skateboarders’ whizzing wheels send her into fire-alarm barking.  Her mother was an Australian shepherd, and even at eleven years old, she is a fluffy 60-pound bundle of nervous curiosity and hunger. We never know which passing dog deserves a quick glance and tail wag greeting or which ones earn aggressive barks and angry leash lunges. When a dog we know Millie does not feel friendly towards or any skateboarder (aged 5 or 25) is within sight, Gary leads Millie to the other side of the street and does his best to distract her with doggie treats.

I also scan the sidewalk and grassy areas for discarded food scraps. Millie’s insanely powerful nose can detect a tiny barbecue chicken bone or a half-eaten tortilla chip a block away. Her sniffs will switch from the non-urgent “Who just peed here?” (so she can cover the piss with her own) to frantic, fast-moving sniffs that exclaim, “Where the hell is that blob of rotten cheese?!” I inevitably miss a hidden half cookie under some leaves or a week-old bite of ham sandwich camouflaged beneath a battered face mask. A dog-walker must be on high alert throughout the dog’s walk. 

And to get back to my first sentence, we also scoop the poop. I may be several feet in the lead when Gary announces, “We got poop!” And he counts the droppings and notes their locations because our dog likes the crop dusting approach when she defecates. She averages three to four turds per dump (and two poops per walk). I use thin plastic bags to gather the waste and dispose of it in the nearest public trash can. (Apologies for TMI ).

We count the poops because we don’t want to be someone who leaves dog ca-ca for others to step in. Of course, I’ve picked up dog poo for years, but we once had a yard, and I did not keep track of all of Millie’s poo. These days I’m so in tune with my pet’s bowel movements, I have asked Gary, “Did she poop today?” if he took her on a walk without me. This reminds me of my friend Mary’s memory of her “Aunt-Momma.”* Aunt-Momma believed all headaches, stomach issues, and general malaise were connected to one’s irregularity. Mary remembers how any time someone complained of a physical ailment, Aunt-Momma raised an index finger and made a quick hand flip before pointing at the child and asking, “When have you doo-dooed?”

We all need regular doo-doos. They keep us feeling better about life in general. One of my kids’ favorite books was “Everybody Poops” a gift from our friend Sue when she lived in Japan. The straight-forward artwork of animals and humans doing their business made sense even without a translation of the Japanese text. When we accept the stuff that makes us hold our noses and deal with the mess, we can get on with our day, realizing “Shit happens.” That’s it. We would not want it not to be a regular part of our lives.

So I’ve gotten used to counting Millie’s poops and picking them up.  Life will always drop shit in my path, and I deal with it and move on. Everybody poops and everybody feels better after a good doo-doo.

*Aunt-Momma is a story for a whole other essay!

Posted in Contemplations, Pets

Window Cats by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Sunny Cat from South Austin (Shelley’s cat)

Dogs are easy to please. They give out affection as naturally as they receive pets, treats, and almost any kind of attention. When we got Jambo, our first dog, in 1993, Gary looked at the five month old puppy one morning as the dog put paws on his knee and looked up with the imploring eyes of a small child who has lost the top of her first ever ice cream cone on a hot August day. Or Oliver Twist begging in the movie, ”Please, sir, may I have some more?” Gary stared into those eyes of trust and hope and said, “Why are you so needy!?”

June and Sam, 14th St. Cats (Gayle’s cats)

Cats tend to be much cooler creatures. They meow for food and occasionally allow us to pet them, but they rarely let us know what goes on in their cat brains. They seem to have knowledge mere mortals do not possess. 

Hemingway, the Cat with 6 toes (Paula’s cat)
AJ, a South Austin cat (Olivia’s cat)
Quincy’s regal pose (Mary’s cat)
Kingly Frank (Catherine’s cat)

During my early walks I love seeing cats perched in kitchen, bedroom, and living room windows, looking out with the wisdom of Buddha or the bored disinterest of Marlena Deitrich.

From their thrones behind clear glass they stare at me without a smidgen of concern. As if all they survey is theirs and they have no reason to worry about anything. Do cats have everything all figured out?

During these uncertain days of the pandemic, I wish I could think like the window cats. 

Tiny Cat, aka Sunny
Sam, the NYC cat

I would watch the bad weather and the worried humans pass by. I would observe without judgement or fear. I might have a sweet pea amount of curiosity about something, but it’s not enough to make me uncomfortable where I sit and survey all that is not me. For my minutes at the window, I am satisfied to meet others’ gazes and I might turn my head at the sudden movement of a squirrel or close my eyes when the sun shines on me just right, yet I am comfortable for the moment, and the window ledge or armchair or doorway is where I need to be for now. All is well.

Oh, to be a window cat

Sunny Cat on a snowy Austin, Texas day!
Emmy, a Circle C cat (Nancy’s cat)

Posted in Contemplations, Pets

Yard Dogs by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Note: I didn’t get pictures of the dogs in this essay, so I included pictures of the dogs I know best.

My dog Millie Biscuit

I started my by-myself walk during the pandemic. It’s earlier than my walk with my dog Millie and my husband Gary. 

I cover a couple of miles; I pay attention to bird songs and the sun rising and people’s homes and yards, and the uneven sidewalks I walk on. 

I make connections with people who also walk in my neighborhood before cars head to work.

Millie and Lou with Natalie, Jaco, and Gillespie

I also encounter different dogs along my route. First, I pass a place where two monster guard dogs live. It’s a head shop, and if I walk after 9 AM the employee has released one white and one black dog who make me cross the street as they growl, bark, and run along a crooked chain link fence that extends to the business’s back parking lot. One scary morning those dogs squeezed through the back gate and ran toward me, Gary, and Millie at first. However, we were lucky that they were more interested in their unexpected freedom than attacking us or our startled dog. 

The second street I walk down has a house with a mid-sized brown dog who claws at his window and the rest of the Venetian blinds he’s managed to destroy half of while frantically barking at passers-by. Another place has a wooden fence that’s undecided in its leanings and hides two small dogs who take turns yipping and yapping while I walk by. 

Princess with Shea

After I turn onto the next street, I see an elderly housing solutions development (for older folks with problems to solve I suppose), and I sometimes see a dachshund wearing a smart blue coat who searches the sparse grass for the best spot to pee. He seems as unaware of me as his hunched over owner is. 

Later, I turn down my favorite street that runs alongside a small, tree-filled park. At the corner of Armadillo and Cottontail, a Pomeranian on the other side of a barely standing chain link fence barks at me nonstop with yaps as fast and high as his blood pressure must be.

However, my favorite dog I pass during my daybreak walks made himself known to me in pieces. I first met his nose. I was walking past the house with the vintage baby blue Dodge Charger in its driveway. The place has a long wooden side fence, and one misty morning I spotted a large pink nose thrust through an arched mouse-sized hole when I’d reached the fence’s midpoint. I startled a second and walked on. The dog did not bark, but sniffed my presence as best she could. The next day when I passed that same fence, someone had forced a rock of concrete into the hole. (This reminded me of the tree’s knot hole being filled with cement in To Kill a Mockingbird). It wasn’t until a week later that I met the dog face that belonged to that inquisitive nose. The long fence ends at an enclosure for the house’s garbage and recycling bins, and right at that corner at the bottom of the fence is a rectangular cut-out about 6×4 inches.

As I strolled past the small fence opening, my dog acquaintance shoved her nose, mouth, and one eye into that missing piece of fence. My shoulders jumped when I noticed the white face, red-rimmed eye, and pink nose of a pit bull. No barking, just an intense glare and a sniffing nose. The next day I got ready to acknowledge my dog friend, and I was surprised to see the top half of her body atop an upholstered chair in a window right before where the fence started. She barked twice, and as I kept walking the fence line, someone let her outside and she hurried to catch up with me as I could barely see bits of white dog running in the backyard. Then at that fence cut out she once again pushed her face towards me. Both of us shared a few seconds of silent appraisal of one another. 

Now I look forward to seeing my pit bull friend’s face. Some days I catch her in the window first and we meet at the end of the fence; other times she’s already in the yard and I see snatches of her muscular form dashing to our meeting spot.  Sad to say, she’s not been there this week. The Charger is also gone. I hope she and her owner are on a vacation and will return soon. 

I don’t know why, but I enjoy the dog’s intense perusal of me, and I tell myself she does not give everyone who passes her the same look – all curiosity and intelligence, no anger or fear. 

To be honest, broad-headed, confident pit bulls normally frighten me. I think they want to start a fight or at least show me who’s boss.

So I think this pit bull is teaching me something. I need less fear and more curiosity in my life?  Understanding others is crucial to respect? I was looking over some MLK quotes Monday and I focused on the one about light and darkness: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

My morning walks and the yard dogs I meet may lead me to a more hopeful kind of light.

Millie at rest

Posted in Pets, Photography

How To Love A Cat

How To Love A Cat by Nancy Malcolm

            We filled out mountains of paperwork, completed a background check, paid our fee, did a home-visit to the foster parent and solemnly swore to care for her until the end of time.  We knew we would be a good match, but did they?

            Emmy Lynn came to us through an adoption agency.  She had been born during Hurricane Harvey and transplanted to Austin shortly thereafter.  We have always been partial to little black cats, so after our Blackie left this earth, we waited one year to make sure we were ready.

RIP Blackie Marie

            “She’s shy,” the foster parent kept saying, but she also had two other cats and a loud, hyperactive Lab living there, too.  We persevered and finally got to hold her for a minute or so before saying yes, we wanted to adopt.  A week later, we were bringing her home, where she promptly hid inside our leather couch for two days.

            “She’s shy,” we mused.

            She finally crept out from the couch and began purring, rubbing our legs, eating, and pooping.  Then, over night she began racing around the house, demanding snacks and kicking her litter out of the box. 

            “Remember, she’s just a kitten,” Boo smiled.  “She needs our love and support.”

            “I don’t get a minute to myself,” I countered.  “She follows me around the house, wanting me to carry her everywhere and is only happy if I sit still and pet her.”

            “So?”

            “I’m busy,” I retorted. (Busy being retired) “She’s like a toddler.”

            In the morning during my sittin ugly time, she would sit on my lap while I did my prayers and daily reader.  If I dared to get up for more coffee, she would chew on my Bible and try to bite me when I took it away.  Get thee behind me, Satan!

            She would race from room to room, jump on counters, and at Christmas she jumped up into the tree trying to bite the lights.  At one point, I called the adoption agency behavior hotline.  I was anonymous, but I felt ashamed as I kept asking, “Is this normal?  I don’t know what to do. I got a water bottle to spritz her when she acts up….”

“Oh No,” she interrupted. “Absolutely no spray bottles!!!”

The hotline worker kept repeating that she is a kitten and simply doing what kittens do.  “The only acceptable discipline for her is ‘time-out’, she said.

            “How do I do that?”

            “You go in another room for a few minutes and she will eventually understand that Mommy will not accept her behavior.”

            “Thank you,” I said without meaning it, and I promptly went to my room and shut the door.

            The next day, I went to the swanky pet store in our neighborhood and asked for help in keeping this little kitty happy and entertained.  Money was no object as I purchased several ‘never fails’ and ‘guaranteed’ toys and gadgets.   I vowed to stay calm and renew my patience with this adorable, bad to the bone kitty, and s l o w l y she adjusted to life and we have adjusted to her.

            Emmy has charmed the grandkids and trained them to her liking.  She will play fetch with her soft felt balls, even bringing them back, and dropping it at my feet.  She sleeps with her tongue out and still is the happiest in my arms or on my lap.  She sits in the ivy in the front yard and waits for mothers pushing strollers so she can greet the children, and she climbs up between the comforter and sheets on the guest bed to nap when no one is home.  If we go out of town, she is always forgiving and charms her sitters with good behavior.

She is delightful, funny, loving and loyal.  She’s our little black kitty and this we know to be true…In a perfect world every cat would have a home and every home would have a cat.

Posted in Pets

Morning Rescue by Ginger Keller Gannaway

millie bisquitLife

Life slaps me awake.

My two constant companions,

Fear and Worry,

Pull me out of bed.

I often have coffee with these well-known guys.

I read, I write, I pray.

I tell Fear & Worry to get lost, to leave me alone.

They just give me rude sighs and sour burps.

I sip strong coffee; I try to meditate.

But I feel rude in front of my early morning guests.

They don’t care.

Fear is a grossly fat bully and Worry is a half-deaf, slow-witted bore.

I try to ignore them.

Worry spills orange juice on the counter & Fear pushes me off my chair.

(Avoidance never works with these two).

“Look,” I explain. “Ya’ll should move on down the road.”

Fear snorts and farts and gives me a full-frontal cold stare while clueless Worry searches the cabinet for something to eat.

“I got a lot to do today,” I plead.

Worry holds up a stale doughnut.

Then someone snuffles and pads into the kitchen.

“Millie Biscuit!” I smile at my 59 pound Australian shepherd savior.

I gulp the last of my coffee, grab Millie’s leash, pull on my shoes and head for the door.

An irate Fear starts to follow us, but Millie lets out a soft snarl.

Worry lets crumbs fall from his stupid lips and I make my safe getaway.

Posted in Pets

Muffy

 

SCAN0008 (2)

Muffy:      When my youngest daughter was twelve, we went to the pound to find a puppy.  A man met us as we came in and offered to show us around and tell us about the available pups.  We hardly noticed the tiny ball of fur tucked in the crook of his arm.

As we walked from cage to cage, we mentally scored each dog…too big, too small, too old, not cute, too much hair etc.  After seeing each dog probably more than twice, I told my youngest, that perhaps today was not the day for a new puppy.  The man casually said, “Well, of course, there is this little guy, “ as he held up the black and white fur ball in his arms.  “His family moved away and left him.  He does have a little issue with his right paw, but…..”, and he handed him to my daughter.  I won’t say it was love at first sight, but close!  She looked at me, I looked at the puppy, we both looked at the man and said, “We love him!  We want him!”

Before we took him home, the worker explained, “You see here?  This little guy has an extra paw on his right foot.  He might have been hurt or maybe born that way, but he should be just fine.”  I think he was named before we left the parking lot…’Muffo’ was ours!  All ours!

I won’t say Muffo was perfect in every other way, but almost.  Moving into an all-female household, his name quickly morphed into “Muffy”.  I don’t know why, but it did.  Some of our family and friends refused to call him Muffy, so he had other nicknames like Murphy or Mufster.  But, Muffy was a ‘metro-sexual’ male and didn’t mind the girly name!  He was secure in who he was.

 

Muffy was loyal, sweet, good natured and calm.  We babied him and loved him for 13 years.  He was an endless source of laughter, stories, and entertainment.  Sadly, as time went on, not only was his extra appendage more prominent, he developed cataracts and became blind.  He adjusted very well to his loss of sight, but there was this once…….

I had finally been able to afford new den furniture and so we gave away the old and had a two-day window until the new couch arrived.  On this day, I opened the back door to let Muffy in and as was his practice, he jogged to the den to leap up on the couch for a nap.  It was slow motion…..as I shut the door, turned and saw Muffy in mid air….aiming for his usual spot on the couch, which was NOT there.  Thud!  I always did feel terrible about that, but how could I have explained, what he could not see?

When Muffy knew you were eating something delicious and he was not, he would sit up, balanced on his hind legs, and hold his wounded, extra paw with his good front paw, and quietly beg.  He was never pushy or loud, but he always got our sympathy with his pitiful little beg and two paw wave.

Muffy was with us through thick and thin; holidays; vacations; moving cross country; and empty nesting.  I never felt lonely as long as he was around.

Muffy was the OG of K-town and the NKOTB in Austin….he was the epitome of a perfect pet.  Charming, cute beyond words, sensitive because of his handicaps, loyal and an excellent judge of character.  In fact, 15 years ago, Muffy convinced me that my then boyfriend would make a great husband…and he was right.  Muffy knew a good person when he met one.

Our Muffy was agreeable but not a pushover; caring but not overbearing.  He was precious and we loved him.  In fact, everyone who knew Muffy, loved him.  Afterall, wouldn’t we all love to be admired like that?  He had it all and more!  There will never be another Muffy!

We love you Muffy and miss you terribly!  RIP little guy!

 

Posted in Pets

Walking my Butt by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Walking my Buttmillies butt

Let me be clear.  I do not enjoy exercise!  I fear weights, treadmills, and machines with names like elliptical.  I avoid any sort of exercise class because the idea of staying in step or keeping time with a roomful of moving bodies makes me sweat more than actually exercising ever could.

However, I will go for a walk.  Mostly I walk my dog. Mostly to give her a sense of freedom and the chance to smell the roses, my neighbors’ lawns, a random piece of trash, another’s dog’s butt, or a dried-up pile of poop.  My walks are mostly for Millie, but they are also a bit for me…specifically for my oversized booty!

Walking my Butt

I’m walking my butt,
Walking my butt,
Walking my big fat butt.

Birds gossip and squeak;owl
Squirrels scamper and peek.
Is nature judging me?
Do they even see
My big fat butt?

No, no, no, no way.
‘Cause my dog just sniffs and squats.
Another short squirt on another lil sprout.
She stops, she pulls, she pauses
To give my butt a kind of rest.

millie and me
So nature really doesn’t care
about my feet, my butt, my hair.
It’s my own so critical eye
that makes me wanna cry, so…

I’m walking my butt,
Walking my butt,
Walking my big fat butt.