The Plott of Despair

This event happened a few weeks ago.  I’m happy to report that Maggy is practically 100% house-trained.  But she will still wail and rend her garments if she believes a treat is due and not delivered.

We still have our plott hound puppy, Maggy.  She may be with us long term as her new routine of exercise has strengthened her to the point the vets want to hold off on surgery for at least a few months.

Maggy is happy and eager and food motivated without being food aggressive.  She is a dream to train.  She can “sit” and “crate” and “leave it” and, the ever important, “go potty”.

She is still not completely house broken in part because puppies can’t usually control themselves for the duration of a night.  If we get a successful venture outside right before we go to bed, she is accident-free until that luxurious hour of 5:30 when one of us inevitably wakes up.

But last night she was not.  She would not do #2 during her last round up of the evening and by morning it looked like #56 all over her crate.

…Come for the nonsensical jokes, stay because they’re not funny!

So while we have moved on to intermittent rewards for “go potty” (click here to read about intermittent reinforcement in training and why it is useful), when I took her out this afternoon I made sure to grab a few treats to reinforce good behavior.

We went out the back and she held it all the way to the scraggly grass by our electric pole (2 feet).  The potty she performed was not the one I was suspicious of her needing to do, so I simply said, “Good girl” and tried to move on towards the main sidewalk where we could walk a block to a more residential neighborhood.

(To the Vilas County Title Company – we owe you a fruit basket!  We pick up after her 100%, but your lawn is my favorite “Go Potty” place and sometimes I wonder if there is a Pavlovian rush to the facilities when your windows are open and you can hear my encouragements.)

Notice I said, “Tried to move on.”  That is because while I blithely “good girl”ed and proceeded, Maggy was a rock.  Or perhaps The Rock.  And she had smelled what I was cooking, performed the appropriate trick, and yet NO TREAT WAS IN HER MOUTH.

She was not just stubborn.  She was FORLORN.  This dog, that eats four meals a day and has trained OTHER SHOP EMPLOYEES/OWNERS TO BRING HER FAVORS, was going to die of starvation right then and there because MAMMA IS NOT BEING FAIR.*

We’re often asked how we’ll be able to give foster dogs away in the end.  And with some, it is harder than with others.  She will be one of them.  However, there is no way I would keep her.  Spike already gives me enough competition in the Drama Queen department.

*If you think she got a treat, you are mistaken.

Do Republicans Like Zumba?

Tom (seeing me come in panting from class):  Well?  How was it?

Me:  Whoo!  That was a workout…Maggy would have liked it.

Tom:  I bet she would.

Me:  She prefers music in the car; have you noticed that?

Tom:  Yup.

Me:  She doesn’t like NPR…(stage whisper) Do you think she’s a Republican?

Tom:  She does like to bark.


Winnie, Walking, & More Winter

We are finally fostering again.

It hasn’t been easy not having a regular volunteer gig in my schedule.  Or a regular animal gig.  For over 10 years I basically lived and breathed the life of a part-time (and sometimes full-time) zookeeper.

But at the same time, the reason I’m not volunteering anywhere right now is that my schedule just doesn’t allow it.  In that sense, it’s easy.  I don’t have any guilt about how I spend my day or that I could be doing more.  I can’t, so I don’t.

We’ve known for quite a while that fostering was the only solid way we could help a local animal organization.  We waited until the store was up and running so we had our semi-permanent schedule figured out and could incorporate a dog into that.

The Vilas County Humane Society doesn’t have a robust fostering program right now.  We’re their first foster home in quite a while.  We hope to be successful and encourage the shelter to seek out more foster opportunities.  We also hope with having foster dogs at the shop that we encourage people to adopt or foster themselves.


Winnie is the perfect dog for the job.  A year and a half-old Chihuahua/Pug mix.  She was court-ordered out of her previous home, along with her puppies.

She is very well behaved indoors, and a lover.  She shows definite signs of being hit or having things thrown at her but she doesn’t hold that against people*.  She gets along well with other dogs and cats.

She has some separation anxiety (whining when left alone), but that is very workable in the right environment.  We have already seen great progress – crating her at night but in sight of a person, then within the same room but not line of sight.

She does not show great interest in toys yet; she may not have had a stimulating and loving previous home.*


She has tons of energy and loves to go for a walk anytime, anywhere.  She is picking up on leash commands to not pull or cross her human’s pathway.

About two weeks ago, I started getting into a new schedule of walking for a half hour in the morning.  This will turn into a few days of running soon, but I wanted to get my morning routine/timing down as well as work my joints up to higher impact sports.  The idea is easing into it and setting myself up for success.

Tom actually hates road-walking.  He gets pains in the bottom of his feet easily from hard surfaces.  So it works out well for Winnie that I like an AM stroll.

A few days ago, we had snow.  AGAIN.  But bolstered by my walking streak and an eager dog, I set out in big, fat wet flakes for as long as we could stand.

Turns out, we could stand quite a bit.  Tom had to leave early for a meeting so I called him to say we were on the road on the way into town so if he wanted to get going he should just start out and pick up Winnie along the way.

(She stays at the shop during the day to get socialized, noticed, and not crated for an extended period of time on days I can’t come straight home.)

Tom picked her up when I had about a ¼ mile left to return home.  It was the perfect hand off and I was happy for myself and Winnie that we got our walk in.

It didn’t hit me until they drove off that I now looked like someone who decided to go for a walk with a bag of poop for company.  In the snow.

Kinda like a zookeeper.

*This is solely Tom and mine opinion from their animal experience and not an official statement or opinion from the Vilas County Humane Society.

Getting Warmer

We’re settling into fall here.  The day time temps are hovering at or below 70 degrees.  And the nighttime is anywhere between 32 and 52.  We had to do a lot of driving between job interviews, appointments for stuff to accomplish before I start a real job and can’t tell people, “whenever”, and a quick visit over to Minnesota (You betcha!) for the weekend to see a cousin of Tom’s.  Not only is driving more pleasant here because I’m not melting in my car or screaming at the traffic, but the leaves have started to change and I am ecstatic over it.

I have thoughts of putting together a huge, how-we-fixed-the-cabin list post.  But I can’t do that right now because, well, we haven’t fixed the cabin.  But every day we make progress.  And just in time for some colder nights (and days), we got a few things crossed off the list that made a real difference.


Please ignore the ladder and attic access panel.  Don’t you love our super powerful blower?  Sigh.  Everything done just requires more doing.

The first, biggest, thing is the cast iron stove was installed in the old fireplace.  This involved a lot more work than I realized, and perhaps Tom realized as well since he kept adding little fancy extras like fire retardant in the chimney.  But our (his) hard work and his (definitely all his) research paid off.  We’ve had three or four fires in it, getting the temperature in the interior of the cabin to 80 degrees!


So that you know, for once, I am not just hyperbolizing.  Why is there a red squiggly line under that?  IS TOO A WORD.

This will not be our main source of heat.  The radiant floor heating will be able to warm us 24/7 without the need of an axe.  But a lot of people with radiant heating mention liking a second heat source to warm the air, so we decided to go ahead with a wood stove when we found one on craigslist cheap.  It has the added bonus that I can still roast marshmallows (unlike a fancier fireplace insert/gas stove) and it is protection against us freezing should something go wonky with the floor heating.

The second, smaller but incredibly useful, improvement was to install a cat door.

The interior living space of the cabin is sandwiched between a front and back porch.  The porches span the entire length (or width) of the cabin, and are almost entirely glass windows.  They are wonderful to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors while inside.  But they are horrible at retaining heat.


Back (road facing) porch entrance.  Did you know when you have property on a body of water, you call the water-facing side the front?  I hated that as a child and refused to conform, calling this the front because it’s the side of the house we always enter from.  I gave up on this sometime in my twenties but my family STILL insists that I insist.  And now Tom is just thoroughly confused and calls this the front porch half the time even though I don’t anymore.

In the beginning, before we settled on radiant floor heating, we thought we’d have to completely abandon the porches for the winter.  This was frustrating since they take up a huge chunk of useful space, namely where we store all the pet paraphernalia.  I had already stuffed one cat litter box in the kitchen pantry and hated it.  Where would I put the other one once it got too cold?


Front (lake facing) porch.  Hands down the absolute best ever dinner spot in the entire world.

Luckily, the radiant floor heating is going everywhere under the house – even the porches.  With their glass make-up we still probably won’t want to entertain on them in January.  But we do think the temperature will stay warm enough that the cats will want to go out there.  We just needed a way to keep the doors closed from drafts.


A door within a door!

Here’s the cat door from the kitchen to the back porch.  It took them a day to get used to it, and will still lurk around and see if someone is going to open the “real” door and make a dash instead of using the flap.  They had one at the condo to go out on the balcony, but that was completely see-through with see-through walls all around.  So the solid wood door with a magical opening where another cat could lurk on the other side and pounce isn’t what they signed up for.  But when their feeders go off, they suddenly think nothing of it.

The culmination of this work will be a cat door located in our bedroom.  There is a window in there to the front porch (where I relocated the kitchen pantry cat litter as soon as we realized it wouldn’t freeze.  A cat litter free kitchen!  I haven’t had that since…2004?).  The actual door to the front porch from the living room is a pretty glass-paneled deal that would not take kindly to any remodeling.  Putting the cat access in our bedroom window also allows us to easily lock them multiple rooms away from the main (back porch) entrance.

And yes, this means we will end up almost never locking the cats out while we sleep.  You’re shocked, I know.

Currently we simply leave the window ajar.  My side of the bed gets more of the cool air coming in from the porch and I am antsy to have this little bit of project crossed of the list.  But Tom has another priority.


This is currently our 2nd guest bedroom.  He’s up in the attic, prepping to blow all that insulation in tomorrow.  Before he loses his slave labor (moi) to an office job where I won’t have to type next to bales of cellulose.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Autumn is here in the north woods.  Leaves are changing colors, geese are flying migration patterns overhead, and the temperature is dropping to downright chilly overnight.

The family has done little to landscape in the past, keeping the yards mostly trees and ferns.  This is beautiful and low maintenance (on a daily basis at least) and really makes you feel like you’re in the woods.

But once you start looking at it from a home owner’s perspective, you realize that a half dozen trees could collapse the house during a good storm.  Also, the amount of sun they block is incredible; we have moss on our roof because of lack of light.

This natural UV protection also means that the house doesn’t get warm easily on its own.  This is ideal for a summer cabin.  For a 35 degree night where the daytime high won’t reach 60, it’s a recipe for hibernation.

We can’t even have indoor fires right now because we’re prepping to install stove pipe and hook up a used wood stove we got for a steal.  The chimney sweep was here yesterday and gave the all clear so now the pipe has been ordered.

For myself and Tom, the coldness of the cabin during the daytime is motivation to keep busy.  Not so for the cats.  But somehow they survive.  They all carved out warm niches in the house and stayed there until after 2pm today.


Spike was most conventional, choosing to snooze on our bed.  We have one new, portable electric heater and we are trying to only use that one (very, very old inefficient electric in-wall heaters in most of the rooms but they cost a TON to use).  We’ve set the new one up in the bedroom and keep it on low all day so that bedtime will be comfy and cozy.


Pixie gets the “most spoiled” award.  That’s the box my 25lbs of tomatoes came in.  Paired with the heating pad I wish was under my back right now.  Oh well.  She’ll get out some time…right?


Celeste (along with Paddington bear) was most creative.  This is an old lamp with a three-way switch and I believe the highest wattage on the bulb is 150.  Her black fur soaks it up; I love snuggling her after she’s had some “sun” therapy.  This was my grandfather’s reading lamp.  My grandparents were always worried we’d go blind reading by dim light.  Maybe they were just chilled?

Pet Prep

Reminder to those not playing the home edition:

Tom and I have three cats and Lady dog. We are packing up our condo, storing things, hiking the Appalachian trail (all 2,000+ miles), then moving to Wisconsin immediately after.

We have found an awesome pet-sitter for the three cats. (Lady is going to my mother’s). We listed the condo for rent for six months on Craigslist at roughly $600-$700 less than comps in our area, with the stipulation the renter cares for the cats.

This way, the cats get to stay together and in a familiar setting. And we have a lot more control over their care than a traditional boarding setting.

We knew the renting scenario would be a win-win stituation for the right person. We just had to find them. We got three good prospects, but AwesomePetSitter was the best fit by far.

Then came the busy work…

All animals were updated on their vaccinations. The vet has AwesomePetSitter listed in our account notes and has our credit card on file that she’s allowed to use. Their microchips have been scanned to ensure they work. And the microchip websites (24PetWatch and HomeAgain) have been updated with good contact info.

But since not everyone knows about chips or will not take the time to go to a vet with a lost animal, we also got them collars.

Or, as Pixie would call them, evil rings of neck evil. (She figured out a few times how to engage the break away feature. But we finally got the collar adjusted right and now all she can do about it is hiss and scratch.)

On their collars, each animal is wearing a tag with their microchip #, a county “tag for life” registered with our info, and a make-it-yourself tag featuring their name and both our phone numbers.

It makes the collars a little unwieldy. We found out later about ones you can mail order with tags that slip on like a belt buckle(? Best description I can think of) and sit flush against the collar. We’ll definitely look into that when these need replacement. For now, Tom put some tape around the metal tags so they don’t jingle quite so much. And Pixie does like to try and catch the sunlight that reflects off hers onto the floor.

We stocked up on 6+ months of cat food, dog food, cat litter, water filters, cat flea medicine, dog flea medicine, dog heart worm medicine, dog treats, cat treats, and even got rolls of coins so AwesomePetSitter is all set to get the filtered water our precious babies drink.

It was a bit expensive and time consuming (it took over three weeks of daily superstore lurking to stock up sufficient cat litter) but in the end it means we made it as easy as possible for them to be cared for well.

Even with all our preparations and soul-searching that we placed them in capable hands, it was very hard to leave them. They probably all gained a pound on guilt treats before we left.


Pixie Don’t Give A Shit. Move along, lady.

I made it! Um… two days ago

Lady is getting along wonderfully here. The first night I suggested all sorts of soothing options (mostly stuffed animals) for bedtime. But evidently all she needed was a one-time pat of invitation to Mom’s bed and she slept soundly.

She’s probably extremely grateful Mom’s furniture is all here. And no one has moved her food station in order to schlep a dolly full of boxes out the door.

Mom is off to a baby shower for one of my cousins. (Yes, it is a tad sad/weird I’m not going. We didn’t really keep in touch since grade school and its not a small family affair.). This means I get some alone time with Lady. So far this means watching the weather channel (most interesting thing available via antenna) and feeding her crackers.

The Right Pair of Eyes OR What We Will Put Up With In The Name Of Pets

As you may remember, Tom and I are hoping to find a renter/cat sitter for the condo while we hike.  I don’t know if it’s unreasonable for us to ask someone to pay us in this situation, but everyone with whom we’ve outlined the plan thinks it’s a great bargain and that we are asking, if anything,  for too little rent.  Of course, these people also know how easy-going our cats are, how awesome our neighborhood is, etc.

Hopefully we’ll soon get feedback from renter/sitter candidates on the offer.  Hopefully real soon.  Really, really soon.

In preparing for potential renters to tour the condo, I’ve tried to remove the “We live here and this is just how things are”-colored glasses.


1) Since I moved in, in 2004, there has been a cat litter pan at the bottom of the kitchen pantry.  It was the easiest, most discrete way to accommodate a feline commode on the main floor.  (There is also one on the patio and one in the loft hallway.)  When we switched to an all natural corn litter, it became a huge pain because the litter is very light and fluffy.  I don’t know if it gets more on the cat’s paws or if more gets thrown around when they dig or what.  But the entire main floor is always speckled with corn particles, even with daily cleaning.  HEY!  I thought, why can’t we have TWO litter pans on the patio we rarely use and the floor is a smaller, contained area?  I haven’t run the Roomba since and yet my feet are not covered in the makings of johnny cakes!

2) Speaking of Roomba-ing, we have a wall dedicated to the animals’ food and water.  The cats three automatic feeders are perched together on a homemade platform (they have been modified so little cat paws can’t reach up and self-serve) and then we have the animals’ drinking fountain.  This area was small and cramped and Roomba never could clean it well because the bar chairs backed into it.  Also, the plug for the drinking fountain is so long that unless we remembered to wrap it just right, Roomba always unplugged it.  Sometimes getting snarled and giving up right then and there.  HEY!  Maybe we should move this table and provide adequate room for our animals to eat? And position the water fountain, oh I don’t know call me crazy, two feet further down on the other side of a cat bed so the cord is completely stretched out and pinned to the wall?

3) Maybe a year ago, we started feeling bad for Lady-dog and how hard it was for her to jump up in bed.  (Let’s all remember when Tom and I first moved in together and we agreed we’d keep animals not only off our bed but out of the bedroom entirely.  HAHA!  Those were great delusional times!)  So in order to lower the bed, we put a piece of plywood over the frame and removed the box spring entirely.  This meant getting used to the idea that “crawling into bed” was literal in our situation.  Every night I wondered if I would poke my eye out on my nightstand corner.  Not to mention I could barely squeeze into my side because the only storage space we had for the box spring was against that bedroom wall.  And the thing is, Lady still had a hard time jumping up.  She’s also since had x-rays and been told she has the hips of a five-year-old.  The jumping issue is psychological (isn’t everything with that dog?), not physical.  YET WE STILL CONTINUED TO SLEEP IN OUR HOBBIT BED.  The very minute we re-arranged everything back to normal?  She hopped up there no problem.

My point is, none of the things I’ve changed around the house have really inconvenienced the animals (I was a bit worried moving the litter, but it was readily accepted and is now the “favorite”).  And all of these things GREATLY improved the living quality for the people.  So why didn’t we open our eyes to these changes when we could enjoy them ourselves a bit longer?  Are we so kowtowed to our pets that we just assume we must live uncomfortably for their benefit?

Yes, I’m aware that’s rhetorical.

Another Short One

For someone with a barely part-time job, I seem to be staying quite busy.

So today’s tidbit is that it is finally cooling off in Florida. And Pixie could not be happier.

As part of staying cool yet solvent, we don’t use a blanket in the summer- just a top sheet.

A few weeks ago cleaning the bedroom fell on a particularly fall day. So I decided to add the thinnest of quilts to the ensemble.

Since then, Pixie has only left to eat and terrorize Spike.