Saving (the) Daisy

“Daisy” the St. Bernard (photo courtesy of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team)

Let’s visit the dog days of summer; specifically, a day in the middle of last week. In England, on the highest mountaintop in the land, a group of sixteen rescuers carried an ailing dog down to safety – a rescue operation of more than five hours. These heroes didn’t rescue just any dog; they rescued a full-grown St. Bernard.  Put that image in your head for a moment. People coming to the rescue of a St. Bernard.  That’s “Role Reversal” with capital R’s.

(photo courtesy of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team)

“Daisy” – the St. Bernard in our story – was descending England’s Scafell Pike last week (owners in tow, presumably) when she experienced pain in her rear legs and refused to go any further.  Rescuers consulted a veterinarian before administering meds, food, water, and treats (lots of treats).  Then they loaded the 121-lb. doggie onto a stretcher and eased their way down the mountain, navigating several steep stretches, rocks, and a waterfall.  Daisy was the model patient the whole way down and it turns out this was her second rescue.  Her first was by her owners, from a relatively “hard life” into a better one just a few months ago.

“Remy” in idle gear

Saving Daisy strikes a chord with me not just because she’s a feel-good story (and we need plenty of those these days), but also because my wife and I own a St. Bernard ourselves.  “Remy” is six years old and lives with us on our ranch, alongside horses, cats, and occasional wildlife.  Remy came from a breeder in Nebraska about six hours to the east.  He joined our family when he was only eight weeks old.  Look at him now!

When I read about Daisy’s rescue my first thought was, “how the heck did a St. Bernard get to the top of a mountain?  To explain, St. Bernards have typical dog gears like sprint, walk, and idle.  The difference: Daisy and Remy spend 95% of their time in “idle” lying down.  Yes, they can “sprint”, but only for about thirty seconds (followed by “collapse”).  They can also walk short distances – say, to the mailbox – but like Daisy, when they choose to “idle” you’re not gonna get ’em to move an inch.  Daisy is a svelte 121 lbs. so maybe she has more gas in the tank than most.  Remy is 160 lbs.  Our first St. Bernard “Sebastian” was well over 200.  They don’t call ’em “gentle giants” for nothing.

A St. Bernard and a mountaintop isn’t an unusual combination, of course.  These big boys were originally bred to be Alpine rescue dogs by monks on the Great St. Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy (hence the name).  It is said St. Bernards rescued 2,000 people over a span of 200 years from Alpine snowstorms.  I’d say they’ve earned their reputation as rescuers (and working-class dogs).

Nope, they don’t carry a barrel of brandy

We named our dog “Remy” after Remy Martin, the cognac variety of brandy.  Perhaps you’ve seen images of St. Bernards with barrels of brandy around their necks.  As romantic as it sounds – a big furry rescue dog bringing stiff drinks to avalanche survivors for warmth – the whole idea is just folklore.  Even the Great St. Bernard Pass monks say they’ve never put a barrel on a Bernard.

St. Bernards weigh fifty pounds at twelve weeks

If Daisy’s anything like Remy, her owners make accommodations atypical of most dog owners.  A water bowl isn’t big enough for a Bernard; better go with a bucket.  Add a large waterproof mat under the bucket because it seems one-third of every slurp ends up on fur or floor.  For those (very short) walks, forget the leash and go with a heavy rope instead (we use a horse’s lead line).  Also, you’ll need a doggie ramp for the car because Bernards aren’t so agile.  While you’re at it, trade the car in for one with a high ceiling clearance.  And be sure to crank the AC so all the panting doesn’t fog the windows.

St. Bernards are classified as “working dogs”; a tribute to their rescue skills.  They compete in dog shows like other breeds, but less in agility and more in carting and weight-pulling.  St. Bernards have starred on the silver screen, as the good (“Beethoven”), the bad (“Cujo”), and the animated (“Nana” in the Disney version of Peter Pan).  I think Daisy’s story might be an even better “Incredible Journey” script, don’t you?  After all, St. Bernards have been rescuing people for thousands of years.  Now we finally get one asking for our help. It’s about time the shoe was on the other foot (er, paw).  Glad you’re okay, Daisy!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Raining Cats and… More Cats

Google “cat”, and you’ll get a return of 6.4 billion hits. Spend five seconds per hit and you’ll need a millennium to get through ’em all. That’s a thousand years on everything there is to know about cats. Your dog will think you’re nuts. Your cat, on the other hand, will wonder why you didn’t start your search sooner. Felis catus, after all, is more manipulative than we humans want to believe.

Something in the cosmos moved me to write about cats this week.  When I started this post (last week), the calendar just closed on National Black Cat Day (10/27) as well as National Cat Day (10/29).  Then my daughter relocated to Seattle, which involved two cars, her cat, and a whole lot of packing.  (Pretty sure half the packing was for the cat.)  Then Monday Night Football happened, and the video of a black cat eluding officials during the Giants-Cowboys game went viral.  Finally, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) spiced up its headlines with a piece called, “Should Your Cat Be Vegan?”

I think this cat-aclysm of events caused all other blog topics to step aside this week (again with the manipulation).  Maybe it was my daughter’s cat, a little upset I hadn’t written about her after several hundred posts.  More likely it was another WSJ article I’ve been saving from last April: “There Is Now Scientific Proof Your Cat Is Ignoring You”.  Now there’s a headline.  Talk about manipulation.  Assuming a little obedience school and training, you probably have your dog right where you want him.  Your cat?  Obedient?  Never.

Per the WSJ article, cats hear and recognize their names; they just choose to show no response.  When they do show a response it’s not for affection, but for potential reward, like petting or playing or food.  Jennifer Vonk, an animal cognition psychologist, says, “…we (humans) sort of reward them for doing what they want to do… they’re better at manipulating our behavior than vice versa.”  In other words, your dog wants to please you while your cat just wants to please itself.

Aside from persistent clawing (which can take down an upholstered chair faster than an army of serrated knives) I rather enjoy the company of cats.  They’re quiet.  They’re soft.  They’re cute when they’re little fluff balls rolling around the carpet playing with toys.  And they’re low maintenance, preferring to catnap or full-on sleep while you dutifully attend to their litter box and food bowl.  So it’s a wonder to learn (“…Scientific Proof…”) – despite their outward laziness – cats have the cognitive ability to do everything dogs can.  They just choose not to.  A little disturbing, no?

Dogs make six distinctive sounds: barking, whining, whimpering, and so on.  Cats – as if to one-up their canine competition – make seven, and they all mean different things.  Cats meow, purr, trill, chatter, yowl, hiss, and growl.  (Listen to every one of them here.)  If you’ve ever heard a cat chatter, it’s mildly disturbing, as if he’s on the verge of a paws-to-the-walls freak-out.  But if you ever hear a cat growl, it’s one of the most unsettling bass-voice attention-getters ever emitted from a small, carnivorous mammal.  My daughter’s cat growled while sitting on my lap once.  Small wonder I didn’t wet my pants.

Domesticated cats have a long history, dating back to 3000 years BC in Egypt or something like that.  They fare well whether “house” (dependent), “farm” (semi-dependent) or “feral” (fully independent).  They also have an impressive list of trivia bits.  A few of my favorites:

  • Cats spend up to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves.  Maybe humans should too.  Grooming tones down their scent to avoid predators, cools them down, and promotes blood flow.  Smart.
  • A group of kittens is called a kindle.  I’ll never look at my e-reader the same way again.  Also, a group of full-grown cats is called a clowder (hold the clams).
  • The average running feline can clock around 30 mph.  No wonder I’ll never catch my daughter’s cat after she “autographs” the upholstery.
  • Cats can’t taste sweets.  In other words, keep an eye on the steak but don’t worry about the big cake in the middle of the table.  Your cat doesn’t care.
  • Your cat has more bones than you do: 244 vs. 206.  No wonder they’re so nimble.
  • Cats sweat.  Through their paws, in fact.  They also pant, which should be the eighth distinctive (and disturbing) sound they make.
  • Disneyland hosts approximately 200 feral cats.  Their job, of course, is to control the amusement park’s rodent population.  Think about that the next time you’re deep inside the Haunted Mansion.

I learned a lot about cats as I prepared for this post.  I realize the whole “nine lives” concept simply means cats are smart enough to cheat death more than most animals. Including humans.  Maybe that’s why they ignore us.  We’re less intelligent.  And easier to manipulate.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.