Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Thing That Nova Is Most Scared Of, Ever, In The World

*Adoption update* Meadow's last kitten, Chicory, was adopted the other day. This just leaves Mama Meadow at the facility. She is a beautiful, loving, fearless cat, and I know that whoever adopts her will be lucky to have her.

We had some exciting news last week. If all goes according to plan, we will be welcoming another foster dog into the house. His name is Prince and he's an all-black Boston Terrier mix. According to Wikipedia, Boston Terriers have awesome personalities and aren't true terriers, having "lost most of its ruthless desire for mayhem". Having known several Jack Russells, I can indeed attest that "ruthless desire for mayhem" is an appropriate description of the breed, so it's nice that Bostons aren't like that. Nothing is 100% yet, but we're excited.

I was thinking recently about the things our animals are afraid of, as an enormous thunderclap sent Nova and Fletcher under the bed while Trust dashed about the yard in terror. Fear is such a motivating emotion for animals and can cause many of their behavioral quirks. Nova has proven to be unexpectedly fearful, and we suspect she wasn't socialized very well. In this post we'll examine the root of fearful behaviors and - no, just kidding. Maybe we'll do that another time. In this post, we'll mostly make fun of my pets.

Fletcher is pretty difficult to scare, mostly because he's been living with Leland since he was two months old.

Exhibits A, B, and C

Anomalous thunder aside, there is only one thing that really scares Fletcher:

Plastic bags.


You can dangle Fletcher upside down, jump out at him from behind corners, or even bring out the dreaded cat carrier, but the only thing guaranteed to send him flying in panic from the room is the rustle of a plastic bag. Most effective when shaken right in his face. I have no idea where this fear originates - perhaps the sight of all that cat poo carried out in plastic bags has somehow scarred him.

(Fletcher is also afraid of vacuum cleaners and big scary neighborhood cats, but hey, he's not a superhero.)

Trust - well, it's easier to list things that Trust isn't afraid of. Trust is NOT afraid of

- the safety corner


- the ducky toy

These are my ducky toys

- socks.

Mmm, tasty and non-threatening socks

The safety corner is the second location in the house where Trust felt relatively safe, after his crate. It's well guarded by the bookshelf and the trunk. When he was first with us, Trust would stand in the safety corner until he couldn't keep his eyes open, and then he would slowly slide down the wall as he fell asleep. It was tragically hilarious. He has now branched out to sleeping in many places throughout the house, but he still returns to the safety corner so often that he created a black smudge against the white paint. (Which I totally cleaned off, Mr. Landlord.)

The ducky toy is pretty self explanatory, and also a triumph considering that when he got here, he wouldn't look twice at a toy. Now he and Nova are engaged in a passive-aggressive cold war over the two ducky toys, which involves one of them stealing both duckies when the other one isn't looking, and hoarding the duckies in their crates until a human re-distributes the wealth.

Socks - ah, socks. Now, I'm not exactly the neatest of girls (shocker), and I seem to end up with piles of clothes about the bedroom no matter how many earnest resolutions I make to keep things neat. Well, now I have an extra incentive, because Trust loves to steal socks and underwear and chew holes in them. Or leave them festively draped around the house. Just the other day the landlord was here (full story below). Our landlord is a very nice old man with a nearly impenetrable southern accent. Just after he left I discovered that Trust had deposited a pair of my underwear in the middle of the hall, right where the landlord was working.

Thanks, buddy.

All other animals, Leland, and everything in the house right down to the linoleum floor, is capable of giving Trust quite the scare. Especially Leland. For whatever reason, Trust is still not warming up to Leland. Trust continues to make progress with me - he put his front paws up on the bed to give me kisses the other day! - but Leland is too big, loud, and scary so far.

(Leland? Big, loud and scary? How unbelievable!)

Even I still scare Trust about 10,000 times a day. He wants to come over and get affection, but something is getting in the way. He's torn between his fear and his desire for affection. Don't get me wrong, he has made HUGE strides since he's been with us, every one a rewarding triumph. Eventually he'll be a fairly normal pet, but it will be difficult for him to make up the ground that he's lost.

And then there's just Nova. Like I said, I don't think Nova was socialized very well as a puppy, because she's quite unsure or scared of new things. Nova is scared of the vet. Nova is scared of new people (though she's getting over that one). Nova was scared of the grill. Nova is scared when you come towards her with something in your hand (hmmm...). But nothing could prepare us for the Thing That Nova Is Most Scared Of, Ever, In The World.

And we inadvertently brought this thing into her lives. How young we were back then (Sunday), and how foolish.

The story begins on a quiet Sunday morning. Leland and I are sitting quietly on the couch watching TV and doing work. Nova is sleeping quietly on the floor.

And then one of the windows quietly loses its battle with gravity, and plunges inward to shatter on the ground.


On closer inspection, we discovered that this window had those little tabs you can slide in if you want to tilt the window inwards in order to clean the outside pane of glass. These little tabs were insufficiently broad to hold the window into the frame, and it had finally given up.

Nova was terrified. Now, this is not The Thing That Nova Is Most Scared Of, Ever, In The World. Also, it isn't irrational to be scared of a window (especially one that you often like to lie beneath in a cozy patch of sun) plummeting inwards and then shattering dramatically. We were only grateful that Trust hadn't been in the room, he might have exploded into many tiny fear-pieces. We barred the animals from the area, cleaned up, called the landlord (hence, why he was in the house the next day and witnessed my undies lying all over the place), and moved on.

It was then that we decided to go get Nova a treat to help her recover from her challenging morning. HAD WE BUT KNOWN.

Brief story interlude here, before I get to the Thing that you have been waiting so patiently for. Nova always goes into her crate to eat dinner. We recently moved her crate to another part of the kitchen. The crate has her blanket, with her smell on it, and we patiently showed her the new crate location (all of ten feet from the old location), walked her inside, gave her lots of treats, and so on. We thought we were solid on the whole crate moving issue. But then, for the next several days, when we yelled "crate time!" in preparation for handing out dinner, Nova went to the spot where the crate used to be.

What elevates this to hilarity is that she not only went to the old spot, she actually went to it as if she was still walking through the place where the door of the crate would have been. She didn't just go stand in the spot. She walked through an invisible door.

Clearly we are not dealing with a genius here.

Anyway, back to the Thing (you've been very patient). Our vet thinks Nova might be a chocolate lab / Australian shepherd mix. We knew about the lab, obviously, but didn't have any idea bout the shepherd. Something about her eyes, her fur, her tail, her size, her play behavior - seems likely. So we decided that we would see if Nova was interested in herding toys. Shepherds were bred for herding and have lots of energy, and they will often herd other pets, small children, toys, or even rocks into piles.

Doesn't that look like fun?

But we didn't want to spend tons of money on a herding toy we didn't know if she would like (wise choice, as it turned out). We decided instead to go buy something that was similar but cheaper - big plastic bouncy balls from Target.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.

We brought home three big balls, and set them out in the yard. We then opened the door, full of glee and anticipation that Nova would like her new toy.


Turns out, you see, that big plastic bouncy balls from Target are The Thing That Nova Is Most Scared Of, Ever, In the World.

Careful! It'll eat you!

She ran out, took one look at the balls innocently sitting there, and came tearing right back in the house. Then she refused to go outside again. Not while those things were out there. We got her outside eventually and she would not go near them. Tail tucked, cringing stance, lip licking, all the classic signs of fear. We then let Trust out with her. The funny thing is that Trust wasn't scared of the balls. I mean, he was scared of them, but at the same level that he's scared of everything. He actually made Nova less afraid to be around them.


We tried some desensitizing stuff, having someone hold the balls while giving the dogs treats, etc. It was going fairly well - I actually had Nova licking peanut butter off one of the balls - but then Fletcher sealed everyone's fate. Fletcher has been discovering that it's fun and easy to get the dogs riled up. He now jumps out of bushes at them, scares them, chases them across the yard, and then flees up a tree once the dogs realize that the thing that is chasing them is a cat 1/4 of their size.

As Nova was relaxing with the peanut-butter smeared ball, Fletcher snuck across the yard and then jumped out at her from behind the ball.

Mass chaos.

Ok, that's it. I bought these toys to make my life easier, and clearly it's going to take a lot of work for the dogs to even want to be in the same room as the balls, much less play with them. And once back in the house, Nova was refusing to go outside to pee. Not worth it. I carried the balls inside the house and secured them in Leland's office. I showed Nova where the balls were and then shut the door.

Nova spent the next two days skulking around the house. She cautiously poked her nose out of the door to survey for possible ball attack before going outside. She slunk nervously in front of the door to the room where the balls were clearly just biding their time before unleashing their dog-killing powers. I have to say, the temptation to jump out from behind a corner and just whip the balls at her head was almost irresistible. I mean, they're plastic balls. They were not going to hurt her. Maybe the forceful application of the balls to her skull would convince her of that fact.

No, we did not DO that. We are good people. We even washed the balls before we returned them to Target.

And that is the tale of how some innocuous looking bouncy balls almost KILLED OUR DOG.

1 comment:

  1. Beetle is still scared of laundry piles. You just never know what will jump out from behind them.

    Frizzle is fearless. He's fallen in love with Pill Pockets so maybe his biggest fear is running out?