A bird in hand

We keep our patio door wide open during these warm summer days, and the other morning a curious Blue Tit overshot the birdfeeder and landed right inside our living room. I didn’t notice him until Jake stumbled by in his arthritic clumsiness; it put the little creature into a flutter and gave away his hiding place behind the curtain.

I put my hands out to catch him  and called a soft “psich psich” as I reached out, hoping to let him know that I meant no harm. It seemed to work. He calmed right down, and didn’t object when I carefully cupped his fragile little body. But I was too concerned about hurting him; although he allowed me to handle him he quickly become impatient with my diffidence, and squirmed right out of my hands and onto my index finger. I straightened up in surprise and turned toward Laird with my little passenger; Laird’s eyebrows shot up, and his eyes and mouth softened into an “awwwww…”. I was pretty filled with awe myself. I turned again, walked out to the patio and sat down, and the little bird stayed on my finger for a full five minutes. Laird and I chuckled at the little fellow’s interest in us, he looked me up and down and stared me in the eye, and swivelled his head to study Laird quite thoroughly too. I was utterly charmed. Finally, reluctantly, the little fellow flew off into the bushes.

I often wonder now whether this bird now recognizes me when I step out the door, but I’m sure we humans all look alike to him. And more confusingly, we change our plumage every morning. How’s a bird to know who’se who?

Ballsy visitor

Last week Jake (yes, he’s still with us) had a bladder infection, and the poor fella had to go out to pee every 1/2 hour or so. It was a warm night, so I decided to set him up outside, and sleep on the living room couch to keep an eye on him. I put some blankets down right outside the French door, clipped the line to his collar, then shut the door most of the way, leaving it open a crack so I would hear him if he had any problems.

He laid down on the blankets and seemed as comfortable as he could be under the circumstances. After a while I started drifting off to sleep myself.

Suddenly the door burst open and he came marching through the living room until he was forceably stopped at the end of the line. It was a very unusual and energetic entrance, but I chalked it up to the quirks of an old dog. But it was pretty clear that he wasn’t going back out there voluntarily. I unclipped the line, started rolling it up, and stepped out the door to throw it down on the patio. It landed on a large-ish dark ball on the blankets at my feet. A ball? It was pretty dark, and I scratched my head wondering where the ball came from, especially at that time of night. Then Mr. Ball moved and all at once I understood what it was. A hedgehog!!! It must have been curious about Jake and walked right up to him to investigate, which apparently Jake was having no part of.

I grinned from ear to ear. Though hedgehogs are very common around here, I’ve never seen one of these little cuties before. It unrolled itself and ambled onto the grass, and for the next 15 minutes I watched it snuffle around for worms and yummy big slugs (go Hedgehog, go!) at my feet.

My lucky night. Jake, by the way, has recovered from both the infection and the ballsy little night visitor.

A human face

I took Jake for a walk this morning, and it struck me that if it weren’t for him, I might be invisible in this new place. And if it weren’t for other dogs, the people at the ends of their leashes would remain part of the faceless crowd for me as well. Our dogs barrel through all this reluctance to connect; they invariably stop and greet each other. Their lonely humans are then forced to stop and face each other with a smile, a nod, maybe a few words. After a few such encounters, we start recognizing each other’s dogs, and eventually, each other. The reticence dissolves, and we become part of each other’s community.

I confess to a ridiculous thought: When I first moved here and took Jake for a walk, I wondered whether dogs that were trained to respond to different human languages would still be able to understand each other in doggy language. Would a Canadian dog understand a German dog? Silly, I know. I guess I was so pre-occupied with not being able to communicate in words, I forgot that they aren’t always necessary to get the job done. In fact, they sometimes get in the way.

So when I read this article by an Arab-American who writes about people’s reactions to his new puppy, I was very touched:

I noticed something new was happening out there, something Arab-Americans have rarely experienced since Sept. 11. People on the street, in their cars, in the parking lot, and at the supermarket were giving me a new look—a friendly one.

Interesting how an animal can give us a human face.

Continue reading “A human face”

A Day in Dog Heaven

Today was errand day. I took a winter coat to a seamstress, a tiny storefront shop on a side street near home. The woman sits at a sewing machine in the front window, surrounded by bobbins and material and plants, a long measuring tape draped around her neck. She doesn’t speak any English. Nevertheless, I was able to explain that the worn area of the lining needs patching, and she showed me how she would use material from the inside of the sleeve to match it, and where she would sew it, and the almost-matching colour material she would use to replace the lining of the sleeve. All for 30 Euros, and it will be ready next Tuesday. Pretty impressive business transaction, considering it was done in two languages with lots of hand gestures.

My German is improving. Now, when I try to tell people that I don’t speak the language, they actually understand what I say. I consider that progress.

As usual, Jake was in tow. My next stop was the dry-cleaners, where another successful transaction took place in two languages. I left him outside the door, but the woman behind the counter insisted that he come in. Ignoring all other customers, she came around the counter and made a fuss over him, with cookies. She indicated that I could pick up the suits tomorrow, and that the dog should come back too.

Next, the department store, downtown at Marienplatz. I’m still a bit timid about bringing a dog in, but up the elevator we went anyway, into the china department. I was in search of a teapot. I made him lie down and wait for me while I studied the selection, and a few moments later a saleswoman came over — not to attend to me — oh no. I turned around to see her just as she was bending over to place a bowl of water under his nose, murmuring softly to him in German. It was clear glass, and as I watched him lap the water, I could see a price sticker on the bottom of the bowl. I wonder if it will get washed before it goes back on the shelf.

The last stop before heading home was a cafe at Odeonplatz, for a warm cup of chai tea and people-watching from the depths of a big leather chair, with my dog curled up at my feet.

A day in a life in Germany. Dog heaven. I’m in dog heaven.

That’s the spirit

IMG_1683Indulge me. Yesterday my dog did something that reminded me what a great character he is.

Munich is a cyclist’s paradise, and as you can see from the picture Jake (my dog) and I have been taking full advantage of the hundreds of kilometres of bike trails through the city. In the city, the trails are 5-6 foot wide asphalt paths between the road and the sidewalk. On the busier paths, like Ludwigstrasse around the university, it’s a veritable two-wheeled autobahn; dozens and dozens of cyclists, some hugging the inside (the “slow” lane) and others whizzing by at light speed. Woe to unsuspecting tourists who fail to stay clear of the bike paths… they take their lives in their hands almost to the same extent as wandering around on the road.

At one point in front of the university, Ludwigstrasse continues north but there’s a crossing to the other side of the road. It’s not like crossing a street…you’re just riding along and suddenly there are bicycles stopped sideways in front of you, waiting for the light to turn so they can cross. I missed the little stoplight placed specially for bikes, and found myself screeching to a halt to avoid a 20 vehicle pile-up.

My poor little passenger in the back, who is usually pretty adept at holding on, didn’t stand a chance this time. I looked back, and there he was, partly in but most falling out of the front of the cart. His hips, which don’t work as well as they should (he’s 13 years old, after all), were still caught inside the cart, until he slithered down into a heap on the sidewalk, between the cart and the rear wheel of the bicycle.

Uh, oh, I thought. That must have hurt. And scared the *crap* out of him, I bet.

Concerned, I made sympathetic noises, and helped him get to his feet. By this time all bicycles had disappeared, and it was just him and me on the sidewalk. He wobbled a bit, then gave himself a shake. He looked at me, I looked at him, then he stuck his head in the back of the cart and grabbed his pink floppy frisbee. He backed away and shook it like a dead rat, and then leaped right back into the cart. With the frisbee hanging out of his mouth and his cloudy old eyes full of challenge, he gave me a big doggie grin — as if to say, “Hey, let’s get going!! what’s the hold up???”.

Inspiring, that. After 13 years, he still surprises me.