Sunday, May 31, 2009

The morning of our first day

Part 2
(continued from Part 1)

Two hours later, I return to the truck. The puppy is alert and lying down, front paws resting over a length of power cord that stretches thirty feet, from the ride to the generator. Between her paws I notice (and this is a twilight zone moment if there ever was one) there are two gaping holes she has chewed into the rubber, large enough that I can see the paper covering the copper wire below it. A quick glance at the generator confirms my fear that it still has power running through it.

"It's going to be a miracle if you make it through this day", I say, picking up the power line and moving it out of her reach. She stands up and wags her whole body at me, oblivious to the violent death that might've been her future. She is major-league cute and already I know that she will own me from this point forward.

Power lines wait to be packed away on teardown day

"Someday little girl, if you live long enough," I say, "I'll tell you a story about a dog named Lucky, who should've been named Sparky. You get me?"

She barks, twice this time. Sassy, not fearful like before.

"I can't pet you now," I say. "I have gasoline or something all over me but I'll be back to get you soon, I promise."

I take a minute to look around for other hazards and make a mental checklist: wet towel, water bottle, food bowl, water; all within reach. Beyond that just some cupcake wrappers, a few cigarette butts and the elusive chicken bone. A few steps later I kick the chicken bone even further off and in an ironic twist, announce to no one: "I'm talking to a dog now as if it understands me. Perfect."

Seventy-two frames later I hear a truck honk across the midway. It is Billy in the cab waving for me to come get the dog. He gets out of the cab to untie her leash and while he's getting the knot undone, I mindlessly ask if he smells gas.

"Yeah diesel," he says, "when the fuel man filled up the truck it got spilled on everything, even the puppy, so you might have to give her a bath."

He hands me the long red leash and it all makes sense. The wet towel she was lying on all that time was soaked with fuel. All the boss man would've had to do was flip his cigarette at her. No weapon necessary. The water bowl, that was fuel too. I thank him and the girl, then asleep in the truck, sincerely and head across the midway with the wildly energetic puppy bounding along ahead of me. We stop twice to say goodbye to friends, many of whom (unbeknownst to me), I will never see again. The puppy's food bowl and towel are smashed flat in a matter of minutes as the big truck that was her home for the last three months, is positioned to meet its load. I have myself a dog and a new friend. For both of us, life will never be the same as it was before this moment.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The morning of our first day

Sunrise on teardown day, September 15, 2008

Part 1

It is teardown morning at the state fair. This is the morning after the fair closes, where you have a number of show people (aka carnies) who worked the day before running carnival rides, spent the entire night tearing them down and now it's daylight and they're all hungry and pissed and at the mercy of the sun and each other. The chances of getting screamed at or injured seem to be much higher, on teardown day.

It is the day I've agreed to take the dog and like everyone else, neither I nor the dog have slept for the last twenty-six, going on thirty-some odd hours. Stella didn't have a name then. They called her chola or more often just - the puppy. She is tied, by an eight-foot leash, to a big rig that is not only her home but also home to a spectacular carnival ride called the Vominator (really, that's just my pet name for it). She is three months old.

As soon as the sun rises I shoot a few pictures and like a nervous new mother, I go over to check on her. I have a nagging fear that three hours before becoming my dog she'll be backed over by a truck or knocked in the head by a sledgehammer, purely by accident.

Her truck is parked behind a different ride nearby. I can hear her barking madly from a distance though, amid the harsh grind of generators, and steel slamming into steel. Before I can actually see her I hear someone, a man's voice, screaming at the top of his lungs for her to "shut the fuck up".

Enter huge, ill-tempered, sleep-deprived, boss. El jefe. He's trying to pry something loose on the back of the ride, wracking the muscles in his arms and upper chest to their limit and driving his own blood pressure into sixth gear. He has a cigarette in his mouth and a wrench that it takes two hands to hold onto, in his hands. The puppy - naturally terrified of the chaos and his cursing, is barking out-of-control, just a few feet away. Spitting distance. Hammer throwing distance. It's all I can do not to run.

Once I'm physically on the scene, both the man and the dog, stop barking. This has something to do with mothers, I suspect. The puppy and I sit (for the last time) under her trailer bed together and when she's calm, I promise I'll be back for her in a while. She barks after me, but only once. From a distance I watch her lie down behind the big truck tire on a wet towel. Billy said the night before that he'd yell for me when he got ready to move the truck and I stand right in the middle of the midway and pray to God, he won't forget.

I notice my hands smell like gasoline and I wonder what I could've gotten into.


Amusement Plus Fun Prizes

I recorded a little training session I had with Stella two days ago. I then downloaded it into the computer and watched as she eyed me suspiciously and began taking orders from the speakers. Recording to follow (if I can get over hearing myself sing).

We Love Prizes

Many thanks to Princess the Pitbull, for being the bearer of our first blog award here at Carny Dog. I never knew there were so many wonderful and funny dogs and/or dog lovers online. The rules are as follows:
1. Post it to the blog and link to who gave it to you.
2. List seven things you love (I'll list seven things Stella loves since this is basically her show)
3. List Seven blogs you love, then comment on the blog and let them know you've given them the award. Here we go:

Things Stella loves: Men, the dog park and Home Depot (or any other place where someone might pet her - particularly men). She loves peanut butter, baby giraffe, string cheese and the creek by our house.

Blogs I love: a very short list.

Percy's Adventures.. Because seriously, how can you not love a poodle who goes to France on weekend holidays?

Riptide and Tempest at A Dog's Beach (this blog makes me want to move immediately).

Princess, of course gets another mention. Her mom gave us this award and could be the only person who's read this entire blog besides maybe that guy at SkateTruck.

What Spare Time is a blog by new real-life friend, Jesco, who is a darn good writer plus has promised me fresh vegetables so you know, I've got to give him an award.

I get a lot of good dog training hints and advice from Lindsay at That Mutt. I told her a few months back that Stella didn't have her own blog but I was in denial then. I apologize.

And finally there is the very talented Beth from Switched at Birth. Beth (and her dog Maggie), already gave Stella a big shout this week and needn't do another thing but enjoy this award and keep on writing every day so the rest of us closet writers will have something to strive for.

Thanks to all of our new followers at Twitter. We hope to hear from you often.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out..

Last night sitting at the computer a musical reminder jumped up on the screen. It read: Stella is free in 9 hrs. 29 mins. It wasn't something we didn't already know. Eight weeks this dog has been recovering from knee surgery in my office floor. Eight weeks she's had nothing but me and a cat with no tail to entertain her; poor dog. Short leash, outdoor breaks. No excitement whatsoever. No visitors. We knew.

We also knew that the freedom part of that reminder had shifted significantly since I wrote the thing and that this would now be not the end, but the halfway point. We rallied. Stella went for the x-ray this morning and the new knee looks very good. The pins are in place and the wire hasn't moved or broken... eek (saving that picture for the future) The bone is healed.

Surgery on the other knee is scheduled for next Wednesday (thanks to a group of cyber-friends and family, some of whom I've never met, one of them a "Stella" herself, if you can think of anything nicer than that - I can't) and the prognosis is good. I think Stella knew that today was some kind of milestone. I haven't told her about it being the halfway point, thought I'd give her a week to party and then tell her.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lessons 1 & 2

When Stella was about four months old, we enrolled in Kat Martin's Puppy Manners and Positive Play class. It's hard to say who learned the most during those few weeks, me or Stella. As I recall there were some things I learned that were not so terribly positive but well worth knowing. They had more to do with the humans than with dogs though. For example, there were eight people and six dogs in the class. We were asked to introduce ourselves and our pups to the group. Not realizing how it might effect Stella's experience in the class, I proudly told the group that my dog's name was Stella, that I'd gotten her from a friend at the Tennessee State Fair and that she was a pit bull. There was this long dead quiet moment then during which three of the remaining seven people turned the color of milk. I thought one girl was actually going to pick her dog up off the ground but her husband stopped her and I knew then that I had made a wrong turn. These people were young and well-educated yet like me, inexperienced as dog owners. I didn't blame them for their response. They didn't know. Six weeks earlier I had been them.

(Note: Recently I found myself at a charity luncheon where Jane Pauley, quoting someone else, said: "Once your awareness is raised - it can't be lowered." Maybe it was the iced tea talking but I thought it was one of the most profoundly simple truths I had heard in a long time.)

It didn't help that Stella outweighed their puppies by something like sixteen pounds. They were each roughly the size of a Dorito and while Stella wasn't aggressive, she could be pushy when it came to playing. It didn't take long for her to realize she had an advantage. There was a boxer puppy, close to her size who, because he was a sweet, tolerant dog, ended up being her only friend for the duration of the class. The others were herded into a little circular fenced area. During times when we were allowed to let our dogs off the leash, Stella's favorite thing to do was to run circles around the fence and get them all barking at the same time, like maniacs. She was like that girl in school who always got you in trouble and then wondered why you didn't think it was funny.

Despite her antics and the general neuroses of new pet owners (mine included), the class was fun and well worth it. I'd recommend it, even to veteran dog owners.

Check out Dogs and Kat.

Also, Jane Pauley's book is Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue

This photo was taken around the time of Stella's graduation.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Long Introduction

We used to be a two cat family. It was me, Louie and Gigi. I was always Louie's girlfriend but Gigi loved him anyway. He made it known that he was merely tolerating her.

When Louie died it was traumatic for both of us but Gigi and I got to be better friends through our grieving. We watched Animal Planet together which was odd seeing that I'm not much on watching television. There aren't any cat shows on Animal Planet so we watched dog shows and talked about what dipnoids they were. The dogs, that is. Gigi always watched the screen, fascinated.

A couple of years before that she'd come face to face once with one of the neighbor dogs, Ginger. An overzealous puppy then, Ginger asked for and got herself a nose whipping that day. I'd never heard such bawling in my life from the dog but I found it interesting that Gigi didn't leave the scene of the assault. She seemed to want the dog around despite her violent outburst. I got in my mind, for no particular reason, that Gigi might actually be friendly to the right dog.
I don't think she was in any way, prepared for the dog that I brought home. A dozen pounds headed for sixty, this animal was not nearly so tolerable as the ones we'd seen on tv. For one thing, we couldn't turn it off and it seemed to suck all the air right out of the room. Then of course, she also had me, saying clever things to her like:

Gigi, it's probably a good thing you don't have a tail...

She became disgusted in a matter of minutes and went to the basement - for six months.

Fast forward to yesterday where we see the long arm of a tail-free cat, jutting out the crack of a door, jabbing punches at a teenage pit bull who hasn't been on a walk in eight weeks.

Note: Many thanks to those of you who have made a donation this week to Stella's Patellas. The website says she's at $590. but I've yet to add what's arrived in my mailbox (bringing the total to a whopping $1,020.00). You people rock.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Futz & then Dolly

This is Futz, a carny dog who belonged to a couple of my good friends, Kathryn and Rod.

A Malamute Timber Wolf, Futz spent eleven and half years on the road before his death in 2008. As far as I could tell, he didn't want for anything during that time, save some extra belly scratching whenever possible. He kept an endless supply of friends and family in towns all over the eastern half of the United States. Although he was irreplaceable, Rod and Kathryn adopted a new puppy right here in Nashville just a couple of weeks ago. They named her Dolly (Parton) since as Kathryn said, she got her big break in Music City...

A Little Fundraising Update

I found this on Stella's donation page when I got up this morning and couldn't resist passing it along:

For your Stella, in memory of mine...

One snowy Kansas City night about 25 years ago, I pulled into an old truck stop to get some gas, and noticed an emaciated, shivering young dog licking a spot of grease off the ground next to a dumpster. I ran inside to pay for the gas, leaving my car running & the door wide open. When I got back to the car, the dog was curled up on the floorboard under the heater shivering. I looked at the dog and knew that I didn't have the heart to put her out. That night, I named her Stella, and she was the most devoted, loving animal I'd ever seen. They know when you've saved them, Susan, and I know there are many strays, both four- and two-legged, who are indebted to you. I only hope that you don't miss out on the fun of stepping outside and calling the dog at the top of your lungs, "STELLA! STELLA!"

Thanks to Mike, and all of you who have been so generous over the last week. Stella's knee surgery fund is at twenty-five percent and still growing. I have two hundred dollars I haven't added yet, which brings the total up to $790. Thanks from the bottom of our water bowl.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

First Dip

I love telling the story about the first time Stella went swimming.

She was about three-and-a-half months old when we went to South Carolina. After a visit with our good friends Roger and Mamie, we went on to Folly Beach for a day and I don't think Stella had ever seen a beach or an ocean so I was pretty excited about the whole thing. I parked the car and as we came out onto the beach, a look came over Stella's face like I hadn't seen before or since (except maybe at the dog park). It was like we'd landed at Disney World and for the next three hours we could be seen digging up seaweed, chasing feathers, biting the foamy surf and generally mixing it up with whatever lay in our path. The only thing she didn't try was heading straight into the water. Not wanting it to be a scary experience I didn't encourage it either. She was happy enough splashing through the shallow puddles and attacking those air bubbles that rise from the wet sand.

We met dogs and people and seagulls galore. We had lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating where Stella appointed herself the hostess and I thought I would never get the chance to eat for talking to people about how adorable she was. It was a gorgeous day.

When we made it back to the beach the tide had gone out leaving pools of standing water, a few of them so big that we had to wade through them to make our way back the mile or so, to where I'd parked the car. That's when it happened. We were wading in a pool of ocean water that dropped off rather precipitously (nearly dunking the camera bag). The water rose to my waist and suddenly Stella was forced to dog-paddle. I'll never forget the look she gave me then. Her brown eyes, filled with disbelief, were so big that when she turned to look at me for comfort, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing.

"Stella honey, are you swimming?"

About the time I said it, her feet found the sandy bottom again and she came up out of the water like a rocket. Both of us were completely covered with sand and water by that time and I had to sit down, I was laughing so hard.

In the parking lot, I chained Stella to a telephone pole and dried us both off with a towel. There was a guy there getting ready to leave on a beautiful old (Panhead) Harley. To be polite, he backed it out of its spot and warned me that it might scare the dog. I thanked him and told him that I didn't think it would. He was totally amused by my optimism and I added that she had lived the last three months on a carnival midway and I didn't think straight pipes on a Harley could compete with that. He laughed then and kick-started the bike while Stella stood there, wagging that tail of hers, and never missed a beat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Uptown Girl

If I had known that yesterday, I and a remarkable woman I've never met in Illinois, would inadvertently drive a hundred people over to this blog, I might have planned to tell you this a little sooner. I was hoping for exactly that sort of traffic when I began lobbying my friends and co-workers, some twenty hours ago, to donate money (for Stella's second surgery).

It was originally Barney's idea (same guy we visit - from the previous post) that I should have a fundraiser for a dog. The conversation started a few weeks ago with him wanting to give me money from his Social Security check. Man lives on eight hundred dollars a month, he's wanting to pay my vet bills with it. Yeah, okay Barney, I hear you. I politely refuse his money. The trouble is, he drinks, so if I try to argue with him, he just digs in and gets in the zone. The only way to win is to hope he forgets, which happens, but it's temporary. I was over there recently tending to (what I call) his junkyard garden and he launched off about how we were going to pay for Stella's (first) surgery.
"How many people have you met in this town over the last twenty years?" he demanded to know.

"Many", I said, rearranging his flower pots and trying to figure a way out.

"So, if everybody you know and all them people you talk to on the computer was to pitch in ten dollars, how much would it be?"

"Barney," I said, "if everybody I know pitched in ten dollars, I could pay for both surgeries and get Stella her very own inflatable swimming pool to do water therapy in this summer."

There was a pause while he took a long draw from his cigarette. Then he stood up, tossed what was left of the butt in a coffee can and shook his cane at me for effect.

"I'm gonna' need a pitcher of that", he announced, "so get busy and you're takin' the money 'cause I love her too you know."
For reasons I'll explain another time, his words made it much easier for me to sit down and create a donation page. It is for anyone who might see fit to invest in the future happiness of a dog. You can pledge as little as ten dollars. Those pledging twenty-five dollars or more should send along their snail-mail address (she is a carny dog so naturally, we've got prizes). There's a link in the sidebar too, in case you get lost. I might add that I am terribly impressed by the number of people who have already made a contribution to her cause, whether online or in person. I'll be sure to let you know if we get anywhere near that inflatable swimming pool.

Barney's garden, May 2009)

Hey Stella!

I have a confession to make. I alluded to it in an earlier post but prior to the knee problem, Stella had been impersonating a therapy dog for some months. We'd been going over to my friend Barney's house to visit and on days when the weather's mild, it's single-resident housing, people leave their doors standing open. When we get out of the car, several different men, from a distance will start yelling Hey Stella!.. out their doors. It's pretty great fun because they've all known her since she weighed twelve pounds. We head off in their direction and Stella always walks taller and more confident after that, like she's Jennifer Lopez or something. She gets a ton of head rubs on those days. Once, even a piece of fish. I know she thought that was her lucky day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Trish was the quintessential road dog. Mad Dog left her at home (in Tampa) one year when the season started and she grieved for him so badly that her keeper sent her back to him in Nashville, Tennessee. Having been separated from her pack for two months, it was like a great homecoming for she and about a hundred of her carnival friends, man and dog alike.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pit bull, viciously attacked by purple wiener dog

Thanks so much to those who responded (not only with photos of their carny/road dogs but also with directions on how to get there to meet them in person). I managed to make a little collection in the last couple of days as a result. The rest of you (if you're out there) get busy and send us a good picture. There's a site I saw recently where people can send pictures of what's left of their annihilated dog toys too. It was pretty hysterical and of course, I forgot to save the link but I'll keep looking.

I do have one bit of bad news where Stella's surgery is concerned and that is that a few days ago, she managed to blow out her other knee. When she was diagnosed with luxating patellas, I was told by my vet that she had it in both knees. The right one was the more severe (grade3 of 4). In small dogs, both knees can be operated on at the same time but for big dogs it isn't a good idea because of their weight. Now that she's favored her left leg for the last five weeks, the strain has caused her originally grade 1 condition in that knee, to progress to a grade 2, leaving the kneecap to slip each time she fully extends her back leg, which is - regularly. This probably means another surgery and another eight weeks of rehab. Her surgeon said: "You must tie this dog to the coffee table and not let her walk for the next three weeks."

I have no idea what insurance costs for a dog but I'm sorry I didn't sign her up for some last September. Oh, wait - I haven't done any research on it but I bet you can't buy insurance for a semi-stray pit bull. Especially not if they've been attacked by stuffed purple wiener dogs.

On the more positive side, I put an ad on a couple of weeks ago, asking for the use of someone's swimming pool (for her impending physical therapy) and some nice person answered it with an invitation. She said she has another dog that comes over too, a Lab that had spinal meningitis last year, which caused him to lose the use of his back legs. Swimming two or three times a week reversed it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Baby Girl

Since Stella retired young from the carnival, I've decided to occasionally feature a Carny Dog here on this page, just to keep the name legit. Over the years I've met a ton of carny dogs and road dogs too. They're some of the coolest dogs in the world I think, because their social skills are so well developed. Most of them will talk to anybody. This is Baby Girl, whose name suited her to a tee.

Anyone out there who'd like to submit a photo of their road dog, carny or otherwise, is welcome to send over a jpeg of said critter. Please include the dog's name, how long it(s) traveled with you and a good story if you have one. The address is: susan[AT]pitcherlady[DOT]com