Lessons from Thanksgiving

It was a time to give thanks — to be mindful, take stock in all that we have and show gratitude. That is the meaning of Thanksgiving. But along with it, the holiday brings a lot of other lessons for us to learn and ponder. Lessons not quite as significant, but just as important.

Like how dogs would sooner be thrown into a pool of hot lava than go out in the rain. And if you’re in a hurry – because it’s Thanksgiving morning and there’s a turkey in the oven – they’ll fight you even more.

My brother and his family traveled north this year to visit my sister-in-law’s family. We took care of his dog, who I affectionately refer to as “Meat Chunk.” It’s because she resembles a side of beef. She runs around the house with my dog crashing into things, dislodging structural support walls and crushing toes.

Because my dog and his are like dueling tornadoes, Meat Chunk was going back to her house Thanksgiving morning. The rainy morning. The morning when everything was flooded. The morning I had a 15-second window that didn’t include time for scrambling around the car trying to get her out and yelling, “Damn you, Meat Chunk, it’s just a little rain!”

That got a few stares on the street.

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The California mountain emergency chicken call

This was the phone call I received. It was from my mother. I was in the mountains of California, and it was early morning. I answered it, worried something might be wrong. I was right. Something was wrong … I answered the phone. This is the call I received.

Mom: Brian!

Me: Yes, mom. What’s wrong?

Mom: I hate to bother you on your vacation, but this is really, really important (long pause) … There is a chick in the backyard!

Me: Hold on, say that again?!? It sounded a lot like you just said, “there is a chick in the backyard.”

Mom: What?

Me: A chick in the backyard!

Mom: That’s what I just said … how did you know?

Me: I didn’t know. That’s what you just said.

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The perils of dog sitting

It’s day number five with Ella, the Meat Chunk. Meat Chunk is a specific breed of dog that is native to my brother — large in stature, dense, the mass of three imploding suns and likes to sit on small children while riding in the car. The aforementioned child no longer has any feeling in her thighs.

My brother and his family went on vacation for, well, close to eternity, and we’re dog sitting ye ‘olde Meat Chunk while they’re gone. It hasn’t been a bad experience — for the most part she’s a good dog. It’s just that dogs have their own quirks, and this one especially. Partly because my brother believes dogs NEED quirks. That they should be uncivilized and unruly, and that these eccentricities should be on display like a neon peacock.

You know, like a dog who can’t walk in a straight line. I swear I thought she was drunk the first time I walked her. She darted left and right on the leash, like a divining rod swerving from water source to water source. I was dragged behind like a rag doll, my knees all skinned up and the circulation to my poor hand long since cutoff.

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A letter to the household critters

Dear critters of the Thompson household,

I thought it time I sit down and put into writing some concerns I want to address with you. One or two incidents, I agree, do not constitute a trend. However, we have now reached the point where there is a pattern developing and it’s time to talk.

To put it simply: We’re starting to look like a crazy house! I’m asking you all to pull it together and make some changes.

Let’s start with you, the chickens. And, in particular, the scrawny (but pretty) brown one who goes by Phoebe. Thanks to your inability to stay within your ample enclosed area, I have had to further “enclose” it … stringing ever taller nets around your “land” so that my backyard now looks like a poor man’s batting cage, or some kind of third world fishing village. Not the look I was going for! Please stop hatching wild escape attempts so you can go eat my butterfly bushes.

And you, the dog. What’s with the shedding? I get that it’s turning hot and you think leaving five inches of fur across my living room floor will make you cooler. But guess what? It’s making me hot! At least vacuum once in a while.

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Flight of the bomb-crater chicken

My chickens have it pretty good. A nice, roomy house, an enclosed run where they can stretch their legs, and even a “private” yard with a picket fence so they can explore a bit when we’re home.

All I ask in return are two simple things: 1) provide us eggs and 2) don’t venture out into MY yard where they dig giant holes, toss around pine needles and devour anything green like a giant swarm of drunken locusts.

Two simple things! And two of my three birds abide.

But then there is little Phoebe — the bomb-crater chicken. A house, a run and a yard are not enough. She needs to roam and explore. She needs to wander MY yard, scratching for bugs, eating plants and digging massive holes that that look like a World War II air raid.

How does Phoebe get out? Well, chickens do fly, you know. But most of the time they’re too lazy, too fat or frankly, lack the smarts to remember they have this skill.

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The Florida scrub brush Christmas tree

My mother wants a 2-foot Christmas tree. A real one. Cut fresh from a Florida tree farm.

Only 2 feet tall!

“Two feet?!?” I gasped in horror when she told me this. “That’s not even a tree. That’s a weed!”

My mother likes scrub brush pines. The kind that grow in the sand or gravel. In my mother’s mind, it’s the classic Florida Christmas tree. They are so starved for water from the never-ending drought that they look like they have mange. We find them at a Christmas tree farm in Eustis where you cut them down yourself.
Actually, many of them look quite pretty. But to get the size my mother wants — before they grow to a normal height, fill out and look pleasant — you have to sift through a selection of odd-shaped sprouts and runts.

Since my mother doesn’t go — she just hands me a check and some strict orders — we have to make the call ourselves.

My mother doesn’t ever water her tree. By the time Christmas comes, the poor guy is little more than a shriveled stick with clumps of brown needles hanging on for dear life. The tree gets so dry that it risks spontaneously combusting, and for that reason, no one wants to sit by it as we pass around the presents.

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What do dogs REALLY understand?


And I must tell you, I suspected it all along. I think we all did. Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. But they play us!

The proof comes in a recent study. Hungarian researchers — Hungary has been on the forefront of K9 research ever since proving that dogs ate the Christmas presents, not burglars! — learned that man’s best friend really does understand what we are saying. Well, actually that they analyze both the words that we say along with our tone to put together meaning.

But that’s a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo. The fine print is this: My dog’s been scammin’ me!

She’s smart. She understands perfectly what I’m saying, and always has. More insidiously, she thinks that I’m just a big, dumb human who lacks the neural pathways to know that Hungary is a country, not just when I want dinner. (To be honest with you, I was a little unclear on that. I mean, where is Hungary anyway?)

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Surviving a week in Critterville

What were we thinking? In a single week, we became caregivers — albeit temporary — to a total of 15 animals. Fifteen! It’s like Dr. Doolittle time.

We’re tending to our neighbor’s flock of lovebirds, along with her adopted cat. We have new chicks, and then my brother went away and left us his dog. (I am affectionately referring to her as “Meatchunk.”)

All in the same week. How do these things happen? Why does the universe think to itself, “Let’s rain animals on the Thompsons … AT THE SAME TIME!”

I keep coming home and expecting to find a lost baby sheep or a gaggle of homeless porcupines on my front porch. “Mind if we join you, too?”

It’s not so bad — the lovebirds aren’t at our house. And actually it’s kind of fun. Besides, other people have tended to our critters, so it’s good to return the favor.

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Flight of the dog paw sock

There is only one thing worse than an injured dog wearing a plastic cone around her neck: An injured dog wearing a baby sock on her foot.

If you have ever had to do it, you know what I mean.

It’s unnatural. It’s silly looking. And it’s more impossible than solving a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.

My dog , Lily — who must have a think-tank constantly working on new ways to get sick or injured — somehow wounded the bottom of her front paw. She then proceeded to lick and chew it until it was raw, swollen and the color of a plum.

That’s when the UPS man showed up. Now, if the Mongol Hordes come to the house, my dog will surely serve them tea. But the UPS man signals a declaration of war. Maybe she thinks he is leaving a box of cats.

He causes her to fly into a rage of ferociousness, charging the door and slamming her outstretched front paws against the frame with such force that the house shudders. This is not usually a problem … unless one of those paws is licked raw, swollen and the color of a plum.

Now you can add bleeding to the list.

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And the dog met the pine needles

There must be something about freshly laid pine needles that makes a dog think they are expressly for her. There must be something in their chemical composition that causes her to lose a good chunk of her marbles. There must be something that says, “Hey, my owner just got the yard looking so nice it could be the cover of a magazine. So, why don’t I go completely berserk and make it look like NASCAR ran a race?”

Goodbye, pretty yard. Why did I even try?

Let me say this, for legal reasons: I love my dog. Sweet, adorable, precious mutt. Brings so much love and joy to the family. A faithful companion. A family protector. A wonderful compatriot to my daughter. Hasn’t given any of us worms. (Bonus!)

But there are times when I think about trading her for a guinea pig, or a stick of gum.

Like the other day, when I thought I heard a troop of wild elephants barreling through the yard. “Is there an earthquake?!?” I screamed, running around the house, peering out windows, expecting to see trees shaking. “Are we being invaded? Have aliens finally come to steal our ice cream?”

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