Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Fisher. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Fisher. Sort by date Show all posts

January 15, 2022

Retrievers and Me (6): Fisher, the Most Difficult Dog

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever


Part 5: Half a Lab, Totally Brave

A mid-air frisbee catch, somewhere in northern Wyoming.

"Fisher" was the name he came with. It was a little suburban for my taste, but, I thought, he has so much to learn, so why add learning a new name all that?

Wrong decision! I should have taken him to two or three dog-shamans for soul-retrieval and psychic cleansing, given him a dose of ayahuasca, changed his name, and dyed him blue. Anything for a fresh start.

It started when Jack's cancer was worsening and we knew that his days were limited. M. and I were sitting in Eske's Brew Pub in Taos that spring (Jack being back home at a wonderful boarding kennel) and decided that we should be thinking about another dog.

I contacted the breeder who had sold us Jack, but in the intervening dozen years she had dropped out of making new Chesapeake Bay retrievers. 

Willing to adopt an adult dog, I contacted the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue group. (As usual, most of the adoptable dogs were on the West Coast or the Upper Midwest or East Coast.) A volunteer from the Colorado Springs area came out down to meet us, meet Jack, and check out  our home. She promised to be in touch. 

Fisher's first day — looking good — on land.
And she was! Someone in Denver had brought her a 2-year-old dog. He was not yet listed on the website. Would we like to meet him?

We took two vehicles so that Shelby could come and meet him at a neutral site. When we arrived, there he was, sitting a perfect Sit on her kitchen floor while she tossed him cheese bits.

"He's a food whore," she said. Truer words never spoken.

The two dogs met, sniffed — no conflict.

The previous owner was there. He said something about a divorce, no one home all day . . . kids . . . whatever. And he said that when Fisher swam in a lake, "they had a hard time getting him out." That should have been a warning.

Not only was he a food whore, he was a food bully. When I tried feeding both dogs in opposite corners of the kitchen, he inhaled his kibble, ran over to Shelby, body-slammed her out of the way, and inhaled her food too. So, separate rooms.

(Jack, meanwhile, gave Fisher a menacing growl, and immediately started sinking fast, to where he had to be put down the next day. I wished that he had not had to see the new dog arrive.)

The next day, I took him down to the dog swimming hole (picture here). I tossed in one of the retrieving dummies, and he sprang after it — and kept going. Barking crazily, he rampaged over the dam and headed downstream, splashing, wading, swimming.

I jogged down the parallel road, tracking his barks. When they stopped moving, I cut through someone's lawn and down to the creek, where he was standing calmly in a pool. I waded out and snapped a leash on him, then walked home in soggy jeans. What was that all about?

Another day, I tried a shallow pond. At first he dog-paddled normally, then it started — splashing with his front paws, biting the water, ignoring all commands. Thinking he was in distress, I stripped to my underwear and swam after him, herding him to the bank. In fact, he was not in distress at all. Given time, 10–15 minutes, he would stop and swim out

It's called "water-freaking," I learned in online forums. And no one seemed to have a cure for it, really. It appeared to be genetic. Watch this video and add more barking and more thrashing.

I tried working with him, using food mainly, to encourage him to be in the water without going nuts, but with only small success. It was like trying to cure epilepsy with dog biscuits.

In the long run, it meant he was only an upland hunting dog. With sharptail grouse or pheasants, he could be useful. But I had a Chesapeake who had to be kept away from water deep enough to swim in.

That was not the worse thing that he did

A year went by. He had some hunting experience, and we felt we were calming down his food aggression.

Then one summer day, when M. was setting out our meal on the front porch dining table, I heard her screaming. I ran out to find her backed up against the porch gate, her forearms bleeding, Fisher in fighting stance in front of her.

I grabbed the nearest object, a large metal dustpan, and lit into him like an angry ape, yelling and bashing him with the dustpan until I had chased him to the far end of the porch.

Then she and I spent some time disinfecting and bandaging her wounds. (That NOLS Wilderness First Aid class was helpful.)

Fisher at 11. He never went gray.
I had a plan for him. I would put a pistol in my pocket, snap on his leash, take him for a walk up on the national forest, and come back alone. He had crossed a line and kept going. There would be no more.

So how he live to be almost 14? He could thank my wife's tender heart and a dog-writer in St. Louis.

When I told her my plan, she begged me not to do it. So I did not. But I had no Plan B.

She offered one. Her sister-in-law, a true dog-lover, lives in greater St. Louis and supports a group called Stray Rescue of St. Louis. The dogs they foster and try to re-home come with every behavioral and socialization problem that you can imagine. The group's founder, Randy Grim, put his experience into a book: Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problems.

We did everything in Chapter 9, "Bullies with an Attitude." When other people came to the house, we either crated him, or we coached them on how to act. (Hint: He could be bribed.)

Things were better — until the day a neighbor stopped by, drove up to the house, and got out of his truck. I started down the steps to the driveway — and then Fisher, who had been napping on the porch, shot by me and launched himself at the guy. More defensive wounds. More bandaging and apologies — we ended up taking the neighbor and his wife to dinner at the best restaurant in the county.

But before that, they had gone to a walk-in urgent-care clinic for proper medicine, antibiotics, etc., and the clinic reported the dogbite to our county sheriff. I got a call from one of the public health nurses: "Just so you know, your dog was reported, and you will be hearing from the sheriff's office."

Yikes, his rabies vaccination was expired! I rushed him to the vet, so that when the bored deputy called, I could say, "Oh yes, he's up to date."

The law here is "Two Strikes and You're Out," but M. does not believe in dealing with The System, so he skated.

We tried one more thing that Randy Grim's book does not mention: bear spray. We live with bears, and in the summer, a canister sits on the kitchen counter, ready for walks in the woods or, heaven forbid, a home invasion via the back door. 

The next time Fisher started acting aggressive toward her in the kitchen, M. gave him a shot of Udap cologne. It cooled his jets right away. "Ow! She bites back!" Once or twice more she just had to lift it up off the counter. He had learned.

All the aggression made it hard to get into his head, but eventually I figured out that inside the big dog was a scared dog. I don't think he had been mistreated, but he was missing something. One neighbor (whom Fisher never bit) used to just shrug his shoulders and say, "That dog was made on Monday." (Think of a GM auto plant in the 1970s.) 

Fisher hiking in the Wet Mountai
Sometimes we wondered if there was such a thing as canine autism, because when riding in a car he seemed overwhelmed by The World Out There. Must bark! Must jump around! Yet in a crate he would travel quietly all day long.

For all that, he was still The Dog. Shelby died six years before he did (they were never friends, but co-existed), and after that he had it all to himself. And we had some good times, if he was carefully managed.

We had him cremated and placed his ashes in an urn up the ridge between two boulders. M. likes to go up and sit with him.

Read the last installment: "Marco, the Dog with the Wrong Tail."

January 10, 2012

Fisher and the Dog Psychic

It started with my friend D., a man nearing retirement age who hikes a lot, and who has a large white fluffy dog, one of the boreal breeds.

This dog had a tendency to wander off a lot, and she seemed uninterested in playing. He could not figure her out.

A co-worker told him of a animal psychic, someone who claimed to be able to put questions to an animal, who could be anywhere — she works from a photo. So D. asked the psychic to ask the dog, "What would you like to do to play?" The response:
She indicated that "play" is beneath her because she has a purpose.  She showed me an image of you throwing a blue ball and her just standing and staring at you.  I think this was to reinforce that she had no interest in playing "fetch".  I tried several times during the conversation to ask her about what she would enjoy doing in her spare time and she didn't offer anything.  . . .
She said her purpose in this life and her ongoing work is being a "tracker".  She tracks spirits (human) that are here needing guidance to help them cross over.  She helps them get to where they need to be to cross over, or to get answers to questions so they can be at peace and cross over.   She feels/knows when she is needed and is able to find her way to them.  I asked what most spirits need or want in order to cross over and she indicated that most just need to see someone still living and know that they are okay.  That is why she is gone long periods sometimes because it takes time to guide the spirit to the person.  
I was really curious about her role, so I asked whether other animals have this job.  She indicated that lots of animals are trackers, but they don't take it seriously and will not give full effort to the spirits.  She does take it seriously though which is why she stays out at night and won't come back when you let her off leash. 
What a conversation starter: "My dog is a psychopomp. No, that's not a crazy breed. She walks with dead people."

I decided to ask her about Fisher, our 4-year-old "rescue" Chesapeake Bay retriever.
So I asked him if Fisher was his name and he gave me a "yes and no" response.  When I questioned him further, he said it is the name he is called, but that is not his name.  He said his name is Gunter, which he prefers, but he will answer to Fisher.
All I can say is that he reacts to "Fisher" but not to "Gunter." Calling him Gunter, however, is now our way to talk about him without arousing his attention. Maybe Gunter is his name in the Dreaming or something.

I gave her an easy question to ask, "Why are you always so hungry?" (He is a high-energy dog with a fast metabolism and a tendency to be food-aggressive.

This, however, sounds like Fisher:
His response was "ok," but he doesn't think he can resist going after food.  He said, "when there is food, I have to eat it."  I talked with him at some length about food to see if I could get a better understanding of his behavior.  He said he is fed twice a day [true] and that is enough — he isn't hungry, but when he sees or smells food, he can't help himself.  I talked with him about "his" food and "Chas's" food.  Initially, he didn't see a difference (and I've heard this from other animals, they don't get human/animal boundaries - generally all "stuff" belongs to the collective, in their perspective).  His response was "food is food - it's for whoever gets it first."
There was more, but you get the idea. We have worked for two years on him, and he has progressed from "It's OK to eat off the stove" to "If I am caught eating off the stove, I will be put outdoors and must go quietly without growling."

So we spend a lot of time managing his whereabouts in regard to food, be it our food, dog food, garbage, compost, ripe tomatoes in the garden, things dragged in from the woods, etc.

In two years, I would say that he has progressed from Horrible Dog to Horrid Dog and has almost reached Exasperating Dog.

Or maybe I am just defining deviancy down.

July 04, 2009

Fisher and the Mouse Tree

In this photo, Fisher and Chessie is chewing on the trunk of a Gambel oak tree (using the word "tree" generously).

A couple of weeks ago, Shelby, our other dog, who loves to hunt rodents, got real interested in this tree. It does seem to have a mostly hollow trunk with openings at the bottom and up where Fisher is chewing.

Fisher joined in -- and he has not forgotten. Every time our morning walk route takes him past this tree, he chews and whines and wails until he is dragged away.

Later today, I was in the house when I heard M.'s voice in the distance shouting, "Drop it!"

She had taken both dogs on a short walk. Fisher, off-leash, had found a dead bird and picked it up. She worried that the bird might have died of disease -- but all I could think was, "He picked up a real bird! Yes! He's getting it."

And that is this week's progress report on Fisher, who has now been with us for not quite two months.

November 30, 2012

Under the Volcano (5): Looking for Camera Trap Spring

Now home from our travels, M. and I hiked up yesterday to where a forest fire burned near our house a month ago.

The little bowl on BLM land that I call "Camera Trap Valley"
I call it "Camera Trap Valley" because it contains the little seasonal spring that attracts quite a variety of wildlife. But on the evening of October 23rd it was effectively "nuked."

On the way over the ridge, Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came trotting down the trail with something in his mouth. It looked like a bear cub's paw, stripped of flesh. "Was the bear a casualty of the fire?" we wondered. So we bribed him with a dog biscuit to surrender it.

Fisher on the fire line
My trail to the spring is based on a series of game trails, augmented by rock cairns to guide me through the brush and a little discreet pruning to make the going easier for upright bipeds. At one spot, the containment line dug by federal firefighters exactly followed "my" trail. That was useful, for a short distance.

At this point, the fire had been moving against the wind, which is why, I think, that it dropped down to the ground instead of crowning from tree to tree. Then it stopped (mostly) at the rim rock.

Unburned strip of forest floor
In the photo above, a strip of the forest floor was mysteriously spared as the fire passed over it. Fisher, barely visible at the top, has found another bone.

A small cairn.
I made little rock cairns to guide myself through the talus and  oak brush. They are no longer necessary.

Dropping down into the valley, I found that another of my markers, a deer pelvis bone hung on a tree branch — near where we found the mysterious teddy bear — was missing. Completely consumed, no doubt.

A completely burned-out pine stump.
We started seeing signs of the fire's power.

That thing that looks like a dinosaur track is actually a completely burned-out ponderosa pine stump. If you poured plaster of Paris into it, you would have a positive image of the root system. It is eerily like the plaster casts of victims at Pompeii.

Meanwhile, a single crow flew overhead, making the "soft bell-toned woh-woh, woh-woh" sound.

We answered, but what was it telling us?

Camera Trap Spring
All my landmarks gone, I found the spring (dry, of course) by the lay of the land. I will come back in April or early May to see if it is flowing.

In the burned forest nearby, Fisher found a more substantial bone to chew. A post-apocalyptic landscape is nothing to a dog.

Turkey track.

There were turkey tracks in the ash and soil. Can't you imagine the third turkey in the group saying, "Guys! There is nothing to eat here! Why are we here? Let's go back, guys."

We walked up through the bowl and returned home by a different route. I cannot think when I have been in an environment so sterilized. Maybe one bird, perhaps a chickadee, flew past us as we walked. Otherwise, M. , Fisher, and I seemed to be the only living beings above ground.

Such silence.

May 19, 2013

Spring Comes to the Burn

On May 16, M. and I re-visited the burned ridge behind our house for the first time since November. It burned last October 23, part of an extremely fast-moving fire that destroyed 15 homes and various outbuildings in the space of about thirty minutes, reaching a total extent of 2,500 acres
Here is the area that we re-visited as it looked at 6:40 p.m., October 23, 2013.
Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came too. On the ground behind him you can see scattered clumps of shredded bark, mixed with grass seed and dropped from a helicopter on April 13-14, 2013.

Fisher, not bothered by dirt and ash.
This particular area is public land (Bureau of Land Management), although most of what burned was private.
Attaching a sling-load of mulch and grass seed to a helicopter—April 2013 (Pueblo Chieftain).
Concerned about the possibility of ash and dirt washing down into streams, the BLM paid for re-seeding of its portion, which is mostly along a higher ridge.

Mulch had fallen into the little spring. Fisher decided to clear it out.
The first thing that we always do is visit a little seasonal spring that we call Camera Trap Spring. It is the place where a sow black bear attacked a camera, where Fisher narrowly avoided a rattlesnake last year, and where I have gotten pictures of a variety of wildlife.

Then we went to see if the seeding had had good results.
Grass coming up through the mulch.
This was one of the better-looking patches. And I should add that mulch was used only on the steeper slopes. Other areas received a grass-seed mix with no mulch. Since the seeding a month ago, snow and rain equivalent to 2–3 inches of precipitation has fallen, luckily without serious erosion.Whether this counts as acceptable results in re-seeding, I do not know, although I am attempting to check on that. Some other areas do not look as good.
Dandelion and deer droppings (to left of central rock, top of clear spot).
Here, for instance, is a dandelion and some other plants growing, plus evidence of deer passing through the burn. Some of the new grass had been nibbled too. There were no tracks at the spring, however—if there had been, Fisher probably obliterated them!
Golden banner with 500 ml bottle.
This looks like golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa), a member of the pea family. Self-seeded, I assume.

And of course the burnt Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), which could probably survive atom bombs, is sprouting from its roots. As the CSU Extension office says, "Fire readily kills the above-ground portions of oak brush. However, intense sprouting follows almost immediately and usually causes the stands to become even denser."

Birds seen: some crows, two woodpeckers (probably hairies—did not have a good look), and to our surprise, two Western tanagers (migrants).

July 07, 2014

All My Flycatchers, Season 10: The "Plop Plop" of Falling Birds

This year's brood of flycatchers, on top of the front porch light.
Is four fledglings too many?

Right now, there is a large pillow — actually an L. L. Bean dog bed — laid under the porch light on the veranda.

Baby Cordilleran flycatchers keep falling out of the nest on top of the porch light, which they built in late May while we were away in Taos, ignoring my purpose-built special flycatcher nesting ledge on the back of the house.

This is an ongoing drama every year: will Lucinda (all females are named Lucinda) successfully incubate her eggs and raise some babies? Some times things go very wrong.

Often four eggs are laid, but only three hatch. Or four chicks are hatched, but one is found dead and dessicated in the nest.

This year, we still have four starting to grow adult feathers. But the nest, built according to whatever evolutionary pattern — and better sized for three — is not big enough. They are starting to fall out.

I was working at my desk Sunday afternoon when I heard M. scream at Fisher, the Chesapeake Bay retriever. "Bad dog!" etc.

But here he is, the product of umpteen generations of bird-dog breeding, catching the breeze just inside the front door, when a bird falls from the sky in front of him. Of course he went for it.

The chick seemed OK, I thought, just a little damp from saliva. So I put it back in the nest. M. put a baby gate in the doorway and moved one of Fisher's outdoor dog beds under the nest.

Thirty minutes later I looked out and there was a chick lying on the dog bed. Back into the nest with it.

Then we ate supper on the veranda, as usual, noting Lucinda's constant trips to the nest to feed the kids with whatever insects she was catching. (Her mate helps too.)

I started to carry the plates inside and, Whoa! "Grab Fisher!" I said. Luckily, he was still sniffing under the dining table for crumbs.

There were two fledglings on the dog bed. Back into the nest they went.

How long is this going to keep up? Do we have to keep Fisher off the veranda, where he is accustomed to lounging during the day between walks and meals?

They can't grow up fast enough for me. Or for Lucinda.

August 21, 2011

Shelby 1, Black Bear 0

Shelby five years ago.
Once our dog Shelby was known as the Bandit Queen, hanging out here and there on the county road with her several canine followers (retrievers and rottweilers).

Now she is about 12 years old (we don't know for sure), and she sleeps a lot. She gets glucosamine tablets in her food, but runs with a stiff sort of rocking-horse gait. Her muzzle is graying.

Yet today she charged a full-grown black bear, and her "victory celebration" afterward suggested that she was sending a message—to somebody.

Shelby, Fisher the Chesapeake, and I started our walk about 8 a.m., up through our property and onto a narrow Forest Service road that runs through a small meadow, pines and Gambel oak on both sides, and a deep gully or ravine on one side parallel to the road.

As usual now that she is 12, Shelby poked along, sniffing things, eating a bit of grass, peeing beside the road. A "sniff walk," as one dog writer called it.

Fisher, by contrast, galloped about 70 yards up the road, came back, turned and galloped off again, just bursting with excess craziness energy. Then I heard an odd "Woof!" from him, a "Woof!" not of challenge but of alarm, a sort of canine "Ohmygod!"

I stepped past some trees and saw him on the far side of the gully, pursued by a bear. He likes to charge down into the deep gully and up the other side, but this time he must have come nose to nose with the bear, who was now chasing him at a half-serious lope.

I called him, "Fisher, come!!" He came out of the gully, the bear paused on the far side, I  kept calling. I had just one leash with me—for Shelby, when she is too pokey. After all, she was just strolling along, sniffing the roadside vegetation, the elderly dog.

She shot past me, full tilt, no creakiness, head down, tail streaming, barking a little. She zipped past Fisher, who seemed momentarily undecided whether to follow her back down into the gully or come to me. Fortunately, he came to me.

The bear turned and ran. Maybe all this yelling and dog action was too much for it. Shelby chased it into the thick oak brush. Visions of mauled dog ...

Then there was the black flag of her tail visible, and she came trotting out into the open, whereupon she squatted with her back to where the bear had gone and "marked," demonstrating with a few drops of urine her opinion of that bear.

(She has been known to pee on the door mats of houses wherein live dogs whom she despises.)

We went home then. Shelby has just lain around the house the rest of the day. The weather is hot, and she has that thick coat from the collie side of her ancestry. (The other side is Labrador retriever, we were told.)

She let us all know: she is still the Bandit Queen.

August 01, 2020

Fisher and His Metal Mommy

Fisher, his Kong toy, and his "wire mother" — we call it "metal mommy."
Harry Harlow was an American psychologist of the mid-20th century who permanently damaged many baby rhesus monkeys in order to prove "scientifically" that babies need nurturing mothers.

But maybe his research has something to do with my dog Fisher.

Artificial "cloth mother" and baby rhesus monkey
Baby rhesus monkey with
"cloth mother" (Wikipedia).
Harlow's experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed "mother" and a wire "mother" under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. 

Fisher turned 13 earlier this month, making him officially an elderly dog.  His appetite and digestion are good, sight and hearing OK, but if you watched him hobbble along the trails up behind the house, his age would be apparent — despite all the joint-health supplements and CBD he has ingested over the years.

He was a bouncy 2-year-old when we got him. He had been turned over to the Chesapeake Bay retriever rescue organization, and there were reasons for that. Most, I slowly realized, revolved around fear. Although not outright mistreated, I think he had been alone too much. He can co-exist with another dog, but he has never had a dog-buddy. There was food-agression. There was biting. I won't tell the whole sad story here, but after a year with us — when we thought he was improving — he was ->|  |<- this far from going for a one-way walk with me up onto the national forest.

M. argued to save his life, but he never respected her until she hit him with bear spray one time in the kitchen. He was that kind of dog. The other thing that saved him was Randy Grim's book Don't Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problem. (M's sister-in-law, who is a dog person, had volunteered with author Grim's organization Stray Rescue of St. Louis, and she suggested it.) We followed some of Grim's suggestions rigorously, and they helped. That plus time-in-service.

He mellowed as he aged. His body language softened, although he was never cuddly. But he started doing things like lying by my desk chair, which was new.

But somehow, something was still missing in his life.

July turned extra-hot this year, and I brought up an old box fan from the basement. I positioned it to blow across the study rug where he likes to lie, catching a whisper of breeze between the adjacent bedroom windows and the open front door.

He liked it. He liked it even when room was cool. He not only lay in front of it, but he pressed his body up against the grill. Some mornings after his walk and breakfast, he would come into the study — where I was doing my morning news-read online — lie on the rug, and whine a little. Until I turned it on — then he was content.

That is when I thought of Harry Harlow. It's not the cloth mother, but the wire mother — only this one vibrates? Does it feel like a return to the womb and his mother's heartbeat? And what happens when winter comes? But maybe at this point in his life I should indulge him.

January 13, 2022

Retrievers and Me (5): Half a Lab, Totally Brave

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever

Part 4: Hardscrabble Jack
With Shelby and Jack on a spring hike in the Sangre de Cristo Range

Shelby was the mystery dog. She was our first "rescue," not through a group, but through a neighbor. M. and I were her third owners, and I guessed her age at around two years at the time. If that is true, she lived to be fifteen, so she had a pretty good run.

Allegedly she was half Labrador retriever and half Rough Collie. Her coat was long and silky, like the Rough Collie's, but her ribcage was more round and her muzzle not as long as the "needle-nose" purebred strain. She weighed 75 lbs. (34 kg). And she was black, with a small white blaze on her chest. "Shelby" was the name she came with.

She had nicknames too. "The Bandit Queen" was one of them. Before she came to live with us, she aready had a small posse of her own who followed her for quite some distance.

If Jack was "my" dog, M. hoped that Shelby would be "her" dog, but in fact, Shelby was Shelby's dog. 

Another of her nicknames was "cat in a dog suit." Although she stuck with us, we felt that she always had a Plan B in case we let her down, and possibly a Plan C as well.  

In personality, she was a collie. Walking in open country, she would not be up front quartering like a hunting dog, but off to one side — with the invisible herd of sheep in front.

She was more predatory than any of the Chessies. Once I found a dead fox squirrel in the snow near the house, and the snow told the story of how she had caught it as it tried to cross from tree to tree, killed it, whirled it around in a war dance (blood splatter), and then left the carcass for me to find.

Another time I came out to find her playing Keep-Away with Jack around the vegetable garden, having possession of a still-warm dead chicken. Another neighbor's dog was shot for chicken-stealing —  did she care?

Victor the cat and Shelby shared a fashion sense.
She and Jack were a sort-of pack but she also was close to our cat Victor, who shared her long silky black coat with a white blaze. It was a cross-species genetic connection of some sort.

I credit her collie side with how she was "crazy-brave." Once M. told me how she charged a black bear near the house, but consented to be called back.

But that was not her peak of crazy-brave.

When she was twelve (?), Jack was gone, replaced by Fisher. One morning in late summer I was walking them both off-leash up the Forest Service road.

Fisher, still young, had "the zooomies," and he went racing down into a deep gully, up the other side, and into a thicket of Gambel oak. Shelby, now slow and arthritic, plodded along by my side.

He ran into the oak brush but suddenly shot out again at a run, pursued by a medium-size black bear. (The bear was just loping. Don't underestimate their speed over a short distance.) 

He dashed back down through the gully, ending up in a face-off with the bear, who was on the far side.

There was a poor mast crop (acorns) that year, but that particular clone-cluster had a lot, which had attracted the bear.

I was calling him, but he was too overwhelmed by events to come to me. Meanwhile, Shelby launched herself at the bear.

Old and arthritic? She forgot all about that! Barking furiously, she charged down into the gully and up the other side. Head down, tail flowing in the wind, she went for the bear like a black guided missile.

The bear turned and ran into the brush, pursued by Shelby. 

I ran to grab Fisher, saying good-bye in my heart to Shelby: "You lived a good life." I fully expected to hear the shriek of a dog being disemboweled. 

There was silence.

Something black moved in the oak brush. Dog or bear?

Shelby trotted out into the open, squatted, and pissed with her back to where the bear had gone. Then she consented to notice that she was being called.

With a dog collar in each fist, I hustled them toward home.


Next: Fisher, the Most Difficult Dog

September 22, 2009

Fisher Goes to Bird Camp

Fisher with sharp-tailed grouse, North Dakota, Sept. 2009. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Fisher and I came back from North Dakota on the 17th, after four days of driving and four days of sharp-tailed grouse and dove-hunting with my old friend Galen (who is now blogging again).

Since our return, M. and I have both noted a change in the little Chessie. He seems a tad more mature. Still pushy and hyperactive, but not quite so much.

Cookie, Galen's German wirehaired pointer, was his tutor on the grouse, and I think he learned some things, when not chasing her madly across the prairie, liberated after two days in a kennel crate.

And I managed to down two grouse, which is two more than last year, when we never saw one within shotgun range.

Mixed grill of game birds and sausage. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.
They and some doves went into this mixed grill of apple-smoked game birds, sausage, and squash.

September 14, 2019

Southern Colorado WIll Get a New State Park

Fisher's Peak Ranch (Nature Conservancy photo).
The sale of a big ranch outside Trinidad, Colo., means that 19,200-acre state park will open soon.
For generations, the 9,633-foot-high Fisher’s Peak has been a big part of both the physical and social landscape for people in Trinidad and other parts of southern Colorado. But it has been off-limits because it was on a large private ranch. . . . .

In December 2018, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land signed an agreement with the ranch owner, French Trinidad Co. LLC.  Great Outdoors Colorado said it would contribute $7.5 million and Colorado Parks and Wildlife pledged $7 million toward the $25.4 million purchase price. 
A statement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife reads,
Yesterday, Governor Jared Polis announced that a diverse partnership — including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the City of Trinidad, The Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy, and Great Outdoors Colorado — is working to make the 30-square-mile Fisher’s Peak ranch, located outside the city of Trinidad, Colorado’s next state park.
Spanning from the New Mexico border north along the east side of I-25 to the south side of Trinidad, the property's iconic peak and diverse landscape of grasslands, forests, rugged mountain and vast meadows are the first thing you see crossing over the state line into Colorado. “It's a true gem,” said Governor Polis.
Until park plans are put in place, the property will remain closed to the public. Project partners are planning guided trips and ways to gather input during the process before the state park is opened.
According to the Denver Post article linked above, the governor said he would like to see the park open in the fall of 2020. Can the bureaucratic wheels turn that fast? Read the full news release from Governor Polis' office.

August 05, 2013

Fisher's New Job

Walking the dogs yesterday morning, I picked a mushroom not far from the house, a bolete,  but not one that I knew

I left it on the kitchen counter while I fed them, then got busy with other stuff.

After M. was working at the same counter, I asked her if she had seen it.

No, she had not. It was nowhere to be found.

The obvious suspect was lying on a rug by the front door: Fisher — Raider of Kitchen Counters, Eater of Everything.

Going from memory, I checked the mushroom book, and it looked like I had had Boletus chrysenteron, which is edible. (From Fisher's viewpoint, if it fits in his mouth, it is edible.)

Mushroom taster, that can be his new job.

June 03, 2016

Finding a Fox Den

A blooming cactus from last week, which
has absoutely no connection to this post.
Four days ago I was taking Fisher, the dog, up the little dirt road behind our house — his morning off-leash run in the woods.

A sharp barking came from up the mountainside, and I thought that Melvin, the nearest little dog in the neighborhood, had escaped his yard and was running free.

"No," I realized after a moment, "it's a fox."

Fisher ignored it, but I was curious, so I leashed him and walked up into the area where I had heard the bark. He sniffed the ground a lot.

Two days later, I heard the bark in the same patch of oakbrush, and this time I saw a red fox. She (I am assuming) kept barking until Fisher gave chase.

Typically for him, he gave up after about fifty yards. My old collie-mix dog, Shelby, would have chased that fox until it ran her in a circle and she came back with her tongue hanging out, but he is less predatory.

In fact, after he came back to me, she barked again: "Hey, I'm up here! Chase me!"

Obviously, she had a den nearby.

M. and I came back later that day, and we quickly found a hole dug under a big boulder with fresh fox scat outside.

So I have placed a scout camera there, because if I could get a photo of the kits, that would be a first for me.

July 03, 2010

More Bear Pictures from Close to Home

On Sunday, June 27, I placed another "camera trap" on a faint game trail on the national forest near our house.

On Monday the 28th I walked the dogs up the Forest Service road nearby. Fisher, the madcap young Chessie, went galloping up the road as usual, but Shelby, the older collie mix, was staying closer to me.

Then she was lifting her nose and staring up into a narrow little meadow. I looked too, and saw the head and shoulders of a bear up there in the oak brush, perhaps 80 yards away.

Since Shelby tends to forget what "Come" means when she is excited, I snapped a leash on her. Fisher came racing back, and I made him sit and wait for a few moments to give the bear time to move away.

Given the terrain, the bear probably was moving parallel to the road. I did not want the dogs to scent it and give chase--who knows what might happen? So I convinced them that they really wanted to go home and have breakfast.

Fisher did break and run up toward where the bear had been, but I whistled him back, and we went home without incident.

Today I retrieved the camera. Notice the time and date on the strip below the photos. They seem to show the bear first moseying toward the little meadow and then retreating after it encountered us.

I am going to rest this spot for a while, but I think it deserves another camera visit later. It's in thick cover, and I have seen no sign of anyone but M. and me ever walking up there.

May 12, 2009

Chasing the Creek like a Animal

More on the new dog, Fisher. I decided to take him down to the "swimming hole" yesterday afternoon. Piled up branches and rocks (reinforced by the neighbors) make a tiny swimming hole, enough for the dogs to paddle around and make a very short water retrieve. I thought that Fisher might like to try it.


I let him off his leash, and he dove in and swam to the other side. Then he swam to the dam. Then he scrambled over the dam. And he was off downstream--swimming, running, being swept through white water.

And barking all the time--not a panic bark, but a bark as though he were chasing something, in hot pursuit.

I was the panicked one. Was he going to go for miles? I scrambled back up to the county road and walked/jogged downstream. The creek was below my line of sight, but I could hear the barks echoing up its banks.

I went about a tenth of a mile downstream to an irrigation diversion, where I knew I could get down to the water. There he was, a little above me, splashing in a pool.

Clinging to vines and boulders, I worked my way up to him and waded out in the knee-deep water to grab him. Back on shore, I snapped his leash to his collar. Fisher just wanted to get back in the water, but I had had enough aquatic drama for one afternoon. And my shoes and jeans were soaked.

So today we are going to some ponds. They are an old gravel quarry. The banks are gently sloped, and there are no underwater obstructions. He can swim until he is exhausted, if that is what it takes.

His previous owner said that he had swum in Steamboat Lake and enjoyed it, but I do not think that he has had much water experience. We will have to change that.

To think that when I had my first Chessie puppy twenty years ago I worried whether he would take to water (he did). This one seems to have months and months of pent-up water lust in him.

June 10, 2008

Fishers on the Move in New England--Why Not Colorado?

Two years ago I blogged about M.'s possible sighting of a fisher near our home.

Some of our wildlife-minded friends said it was possible, while others said there were no fishers here and that she must have seen a big pine marten.

But apparently fishers do get around. Today's New York Times describes them expanding their territory in the Northeast.

At the same time, the fisher’s ability to adapt quickly to non-native habitats astounds biologists, who see it as a conservation success. Population statistics are hard to come by, because the animal is difficult to spot and large-scale studies have not been done. But biologists say that counts of road kill as well as the fisher’s presence in new territories clearly indicate its expanding numbers.

OK, that's New England. But if it can expand its territory in one part of the country, why not another?

January 12, 2010

The Prodigal Dog

Fisher the Chesapeake ran off this afternoon while M. was walking the dogs.

She brought Shelby the collie home, then went back after him.

I woke up from a nap to find that she had even taken her Jeep up the Forest Service road looking for him.

I drove around too. We walked the neighborhood and the forest edges, calling and blowing his "come" command on the whistle.

Every dog on our road was riled up, but no Fisher.

  • Probability one: He found something very good to eat.
  • Probability two: He found a mountain lion.

Sunset came. Shelby, meanwhile, curled up on her bed on the veranda with an attitude that said, "Not my problem. I'm the good dog."

Four hours after he first ran off, he came back down the trail from the national forest boundary.

He was very thirsty. He smelled of meat. He is a skinny dog, but now he had a paunch.

He went to bed.

But now it's dog-dinner time, and he is standing in the kitchen. He does not look completely at ease. I expect that we will be awakened tonight by dog-barfing.

There went the whole afternoon when we should have been editing and proof-reading. But today, Fisher was an authentic dog.

UPDATE, Jan. 13: Amazing—no barfing in the night. 

June 30, 2021

The Last Post I Will Write about Fisher

When he could still run — Fisher, spring 2017.

Once there was a Chesapeake Bay retriever named Fisher, whom we took in as a 2-year-old "rescue" back in 2009. 

Over the years he progressed from Horrible Dog — there were reasons why his first owners could not cope with him — to Horrid Dog to Exasperating Dog to Problem Dog to finally just The Dog. 

I have written about him here quite a few times, and he has popped up elsewhere in blogs and on Facebook, as in this blog post by hunting writer Holly Heyser on her old Norcal Cazadora blog. He appears there as "the guilty dog." 

Spinal problems from a nasty twisty fall he took while chasing something finally got to be too much. (I have been down that path before.) After three years of coaxing him along with gentle treatment, CBD oil, and pain medicine, it was time for the curtain to fall, last week, just short of his 14th birthday.

I am training myself not to check the front porch for his presence every time that I drive in.

UPDATE Jan. 17, 2022: I was wrong. He got one more post, which tells the rest of the story.

January 17, 2022

Retrievers and Me (7): Marco, the Dog with the Wrong Tail

"Conquer Through Cuteness."
That is the Puppy Way, Marco knows.

Already published

Part 1: The Retriever Who Did Not Retrieve

Part 2: A Professional Golden Retriever


Part 5: Half a Lab, Totally Brave

Part 6: Fisher, the most Difficult Dog

The Covid pandemic "shrinkage" sneaked up on us. By early 2021, I realized that I was not going anywhere except two nearby towns, even after being vaccinated against Covid-19. It was a mental thing. "Lassitude," M. called it. 

Fisher's world was shrinking too. His increasing mobility issues meant walks were shorter and shorter, a quarter mile instead of half a mile, then maybe only 200 yards, then less. No rough terrain.

In May 2021, I drove up to Colorado Springs. I had not been there since March 2020. There were whole new buildings downtown! 

In June, we realized two things: First, Fisher had reached the end of his trail. Second, we had to hit the road! Go somewhere! Break out! No more "Covid Contracture"!

Now dogless, we took our popup trailer down to the Conejos River, along with what seemed like hundreds of other campers and RV-ers. It felt wonderful.

A trip to northern New Mexico followed in September. In October I went to visit my friend Galen in North Dakota. We did a little bird-hunting. It seemed wrong not to wear a whistle. (Gracie, his young German wirehaired pointer, was picking up the slack as a bird dog.)

November saw us on the road to the Texas Hill County and San Antonio. It was a business trip for me, with some sightseeing. We knew it was our last planned trip, and then it would be time to think about dogs.

I put out some feelers about adopting another mature Chessie or a Lab. Nothing panned out. M. was interested in a black German shepherd puppy, but the fostering organization said we lived too far from "their vet." 

Then a Colorado Springs breeder DM'd me after reading what I had posted on a Facebook Chessie group. She had this ten-month-old dog — not a little pup, but not fully trained either.

We went to see him. This time, I had more questions, like why was she getting rid of him at that age? What was his problem?

It looks fairly straight here, not typical for him
The problem was his tail.

"Tail of medium length; medium heavy at base. The tail should be straight or slightly curved and should not curl over back or side kink."

American Chesapeake Club Breed Standard 

The website goes on about how the standard should "enable the Chesapeake to function with ease, efficiency and endurance." What does a curvy tail have to do with swimming, water retrieving, or upland hunting? Nothing that I can see.

The breeder explained that he had been shown for "conformation" — and club records show him as far away as York, Pa.* She had also considered training him as a therapy dog — and I agree he has a easy disposition. By Chessie standards, he is a love bug.

Oops, there it goes curling over his back!
But as he grew, his tail curled too much! So he was selling for half price. But we could take him home, and she would hold the check. We brought him home on the 2nd. On the 5th I emailed her: "Cash the check." We had a new dog, and his name (thanks to M.) was Marco.

So much was new. I think his previous world was concrete-floored kennels and mowed grass. Now there was snow, ice, cactus, pine needles, goatheads, twigs, trees. And other dogs barking at him! And horses — so big! 

His reacting to birds on the television screen makes me think he had not been in a room with a TV set before. 

The basic retrieving instinct is there, and if this weird warm weather holds another day, I can take him to a shallow pond for a controlled water introduction.

Yep, dangerously curled.
Of course, there are puppy problems. He is always stealing something: a piece of crumpled paper, a glove, a T-shirt from the laundry basket. He is not 100-percent housebroken, but we are working on that. 

It has been 25 years since I had a dog so young. Retriever-training books are being (literally) dusted off. Dummies and balls and check cords, etc. are gathered into a bucket.

School is in session, but sessions are short, just ten minutes. And the teacher is less worried about him Getting It right away. Tomorrow is always another day. Let's go for a walk. 

* He appears as Ocotilla's Orion of Dalbrian

March 01, 2010

When Dogs Tell Lies

It's a common observation that dogs have a moral sense.

Today I was reminded that they can tell lies as well.

I was out shoveling snow. Fisher, the Chesapeake, was quietly gnawing a bone. But Shelby, the ninja collie, kept trying to slink away down the driveway.

Just when I was about to give up on calling her back and put her behind the gate on the veranda, she spotting something off across the gully between our house and the neighbors.

She gave out an alarm bark and charged off across the gully. Fisher leaped to his feet and ran after, barking excitedly.

I suddenly suspected the worst. Calling them, I slogged through the deeper snow in the gully and up to the other side.

It had all been a ruse. There was no intruder on four feet or two. Fisher and I were both (momentarily) snookered. He turned and came back. She was gone, as fast as she could run.

A hour later she came trotting back up the drive, having made her rounds of the neighbors' places, just checking for free food or other excitement.

She has pulled that trick once or twice before. When will I learn?