Earl the McNab

Earl the McNab
Earl the Mcnab

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Household Harmony: McNabs, Cats and Papillon

Molly McNab at Six Months
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
It has been nearly a week since Mattie-Kate the Papillon joined us.  That week has required constant vigilance -- not just for signs of imminent bodily functions, but for Mattie's protection from the hazards that constantly face little quarter-pound fluff balls.  Here, those hazards include being tumbled over by an exuberant McNab puppy (Molly) or being eviscerated by a very sensitive ginger cat (Froggy).  For days, Froggy growled, bared her teeth and hissed at Mattie-Kate, letting out that plaintive low "yowww" in warning.  When I crated Mattie-Kate and prepared to leave the house for the first time without her this week, Froggy did little to reassure me by perching atop the crate, peering over the side, and growling at the puppy.

Froggy Isabella the Ginger Cat
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Something clicked yesterday, though. Froggy joined me in the bathroom -- yes, the bathroom -- and emended the usual both-hands-required petting she likes.  Suddenly, and surprisingly, she stretched herself up towards my face and reached out to gently pat my cheek with one paw.  Three times she did this.  Now, I know humans are humans and cats are cats -- but her message was clear:  Froggy was reassuring me that she was trying to be a good cat.

I'll understand if you think I'm crazy for anthropomorphizing this way.  Still, Froggy's behavior has been markedly different since then.  She has abruptly quit hissing at the puppy. She has stopped the "stalking" behavior she demonstrated for five full days. Mattie-Kate has bumped into Froggy accidentally in the hallway -- literally bumped into her, muzzle broadside into Froggy -- and Froggy walked away without swatting her or acting overly miffed.  Mattie has approached Froggy several times and Froggy has not hissed.  This morning, Mattie had the audacity to chase both Froggy and Willie -- and they both ran, good-naturedly.  At the moment, Froggy lies beside me on a chair, dreaming happy cat dreams, whiskers and paws twitching - and Mattie lies beneath my chair, dreaming her own dreams.

Earl the McNab has lightened up, as well.  He pouted, nearly despondent, the first few days after Mattie arrived. Now, he is grinning his happy grin again.  Yesterday, I trusted him with guarding the puppy on the front patio as I fed the chickens.  He lay a few feet from her, watching her, quite serious. Mattie was in good paws.

As for Molly the McNab, she continues to adore that puppy. Mattie quickly became Molly's sidekick.  They wrestle several times throughout the day.  They share the same dinner bowl, despite my efforts to separate them. Molly goes with me when I take Mattie out to relieve herself throughout the night.  Mattie climbs all over Molly, growling that priceless, fierce puppy growl, and Molly turns to look at me, grinning exuberantly, proud of "her" puppy.

As for Shotgun Willie, our laid-back Big Mr. Sexy of a grey tabby?  Mattie chases him, gnawing on his legs, and he minds not at all.  His life is probably easier thanks to her presence:  Molly wrestles with Mattie now rather than tackling Willie and pinning him down.  Willie and Mattie shared the cat tree this morning, Willie reclined on the lower platform while Mattie lay beneath him.
Shotgun Willie (top) and Mattie-Kate
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
The difference, now, is that they all trust each other.  Mattie-Kate came to us an innocent, trusting of all.  Earl had to learn to trust that she would not steal the attention and affections of Russ and myself. Molly, still a trusting puppy herself, had to trust that she could play with the new arrival without being scolded (as I do when she chases the cats, teases Froggy and tackles William).  Willie is a confident cat and quickly trusted that Mattie-Kate was a pal -- he was merely cautious at first.  Froggy was toughest:  she had to learn to trust that she could continue her normal, happy life. Froggy loves her routine and Mattie disrupted it. Now she has learned to co-exist.

Strangely, Froggy even lightened up more toward Molly this week.  Yesterday, Froggy took refuge in the shower.  Molly joined her and they touched noses affectionately, sitting next to each other on the cool tile. Soon, I expect Mattie will be curled up beside Froggy in a warm spot in the sun.

We're back to normal, now -- as normal as a house full of active young animals can be.  All are getting along; any tension has dissolved. All are happy.  All is well.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be used, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, are encouraged and may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, +1'ing, forwarding, tweeting, sharing or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Incredible, Instinctive Nurturing Nature of the McNab

Molly McNab and Mattie-Kate Papillon
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

When I decided we'd add a puppy to our furred family, I was apprehensive.  I've had Papillons (or a Papillon-Chihuahua cross) for nearly 20 years, and I've always had large dogs at the same time; yet this time, I worried. Our young McNab, Molly, had just turned six months old -- and what a bundle of happy, energetic, persistent puppy-ness she is. Whereas Earl the McNab is more sensitive and retreating, Molly is spunky and unsinkable.  She'll tease and cajole, be it her humans, her horses or her cats. She herds the cats and the horses and she "rounds up" her favorite things.  I was concerned she'd be too energetic and careless around a puppy as small as a Papillon and that she'd trample the new pup beneath her feet like the tiny butterfly Mattie-Kate is.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Too, I worried about my relationship with Molly.  We're close.  I work from home and I'm here with my critters close to constantly. Molly is ever at my side; as I type, she's sleeping behind my chair. At night, when I'm in the tub, she's either on the bath mat or sleeping at the doorway. She's at my side when I do the livestock chores and she's my companion when I'm having an afternoon nap.  Perhaps a hundred times a day she gives me those ecstatic, loving kisses she delights in -- her paws on my lap, maybe on my shoulders if I'm kneeling to greet her, covering  me in affection.  I love that darned dog and I didn't want anything to change our mutual adoration.

Finally, I was concerned that the strong personality of a Papillon -- and make no mistake, they have huge and courageous personalities for small dogs -- would clash with Molly's big personality.  Molly's resilient, physically and mentally tough, and perhaps a tad bit domineering. She bowls Earl over physically and emotionally. She bowls me over with her joie d'vivre and her happy-go-lucky nature. Sometimes she'll get snarly when Earl or Froggy the cat approaches her dish.  I wondered how she'd accept a tiny, vulnerable pup. Would she snap at her when the puppy tried to play with her toys?  Would she growl when she approached Molly's dish?

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
And then we brought Mattie-Kate home after nine long days of waiting with alternating excitement and apprehension.  Molly greeted the fluff ball with cautious curiosity, perhaps a bit abashed.  Then, something wonderful happened: Molly, just a puppy herself, took Mattie under her wing.  She began gently playing with her, wrestling carefully on the bed just as Earl had wrestled with Molly four months ago.  Just as Earl had done, she brought her favorite toys to Mattie and gently bumped them against Mattie's nose.  As Mattie gave her what-for, leaping at Molly and snapping playfully at her cheeks and muzzle, Molly became more comfortable playing with her.  Soon she was pinning her down with one paw, grinning from ear to ear, and licking her.  When Mattie began to grab Molly's tail -- hard -- with her little barracuda teeth, Molly looked alarmed -- for about two seconds.  Now she just wags and turns circles.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Molly not only didn't snarl when Mattie joined her at feeding time, but she lets Mattie eat out of the same dish at the same time.  Mattie, of course, prefers doing that to eating out of her Mattie-sized "princess" dish, even though the food is the same.

What's most amazing, though, is how protective our young Mollster has become of her little pal.  She keeps her in constant sight when we're in the backyard, often touching her with her nose.  When Mattie is sleeping, Molly quietly and tenderly touches her muzzle with her own nose, smelling that puppy breath.  When Froggy the petulant ginger-cat approaches (and Froggy still has not accepted Mattie), Molly steps between them and chases Froggy away.  Crate-training has not been easy with Mattie -- and when she shrieks that special Papillon banshee-shreik, Molly consoles her through the openings in the crate.

It is rare we raise our voices to our dogs.  McNabs are sensitive and don't require scolding; a simple "no" in a conversational tone can be devastating to them. Now that I'm teaching Mattie, I can barely utter a quiet, "No, Mattie" without having Molly bolt between us and lick my face, wiggling in protective concern.  Russ calls her our "police dog" because she intervenes in any conflict, real or perceived, trying to protect her little Pap sister.  Mattie isn't just Moll's playmate; she's more like Molly's own puppy.

It's as if my puppy Molly grew up overnight. Suddenly she's more serious, more focused. I didn't expect that, even from a dog from such good working stock.  Neither did I expect this dynamic:  Earl is depressed, feeling left out.  Just a few days ago, HE was Molly's mentor and protector.  Nightly, they played tug of war and wrestled before snuggling bed with us.  Now, Molly is turning to Mattie for her playtime.  The paw is on the other foot.  Earl's not happy about it.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller 
We're spending more time engaging Earl (and Froggy the cat) until the household normalizes.  Meanwhile, Molly happily shares her boundless affection with the new arrival.  I've marveled many times at how protective our Mcnabs are:  how, when we walk, Earl waits for the person or dog in the rear to catch up and will wait behind if they stop.  Now I marvel again, watching this solid, bounding Molly puppy babysit the tiny handful of a Papillon.  Not only do I no longer worry about Molly behaving aggressively towards the feisty fur ball, but I know that when Molly is on the job, no one else is going to hurt little Mattie.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
And is that any wonder, after all?  These dogs were bred for generations to work livestock and, to some degree, to "train" and nurture the rookie cattle dogs beside them.  Bred selectively for rounding up wilder cattle on rugged land, they carefully ensure they've located and brought in the cattle hiding in thickets of brush well away from the herd.  It shouldn't surprise me that the same traits are reflected in their relationships with their humans and canine counterparts.  When Earl waits for me when we're walking the fence line, it's this innate trait that emerges -- leave no one behind.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Amazing dogs, these McNabs.  How blessed we are to have them in our lives.

Copyright © 2014 * All rights reserved * No part of this article may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, are encouraged and may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, loving, sharing, forwarding, +1'ing and tweeting and otherwise helping grow my readership -- and most of all, thank you for stopping by.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Introducing Mattie-Kate, Our New Family Member

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

In November we said goodbye to our little human in a fur coat, K8 the Gr8.  Katie was a Papillon, a warrior princess in sable-and-white.  For thirteen years she told us all what to do -- and we happily did it.  K8 developed lung cancer, glaucoma and breast cancer, and thus -- when the time came -- we said another hard goodbye.

I swore to myself I'd never get another small dog.  I've always kept three (sometimes four) dogs at a time -- one small one among the big dogs.  It has been the perfect combination.  But here, in the desert, the little ones are so vulnerable -- needing extra protection from the wild things that grace us with their presence.  Like our kitties, they need extra care and vigilance. From hawks to rattlesnakes, coyotes to great horned owls, the little ones are easily snatched up.  We can't let them go out unattended, even in the fenced part of the yard; we can't take them on trail rides or let them off-lead on hikes in the Tonto.  

But K8 left a huge chasm in my heart.  We have been so happy with our Earl and Molly.  McNabs are our perfect dogs.  Yet small dogs are different entities than their larger counterparts -- almost, in my mind, a different species altogether.  Maybe it IS their vulnerability that endears them to us so closely, our human need to protect and nurture a creature so easily harmed. Maybe having that little pipsqueak around -- with the special needs a small dog has -- answers to that better part of ourselves, the part that wants to tend and protect.  

Still, I didn't give in.  I missed K8 every day -- her intelligence, her way of vocalizing very clearly what she wanted, needed and demanded.  I missed her sense of humor and her feistiness and the way her pantaloons swished side to side when she trotted. I missed her in every way.  I avoided thinking about her. The card the veterinary hospital kindly sent me when she died remains unopened, next to her boxed ashes.  I can't speak of her without crying.  I avoided doing so and I pushed her from my thoughts to keep that familiar lump from rising in my throat.

A few weeks ago, a severe storm with record-breaking rainfall struck. It washed away much of our newly-graveled driveway, eroded channels into our footpaths, carried away sand and dirt and a great deal of stock fence.  We ordered new gravel last week.  As he was leaving for work, Russ greeted the driver until I was able to make my way through the tangle of furry creatures blocking my way to the door.  By the time I got shoes on and made it outside, a fluff of tan and white was waiting on the front porch.  I burst out with, "A Papillon!" to no one in particular as I knelt to greet the little dog.  I turned to the driver, Knate, and said, "I miss my Papillon so much," with tears in my eyes.  He grinned and said, "We've got puppies!" just as my partner-in-crime, Russ, called out, "They've got puppies!"  I looked at him mournfully and he said, "I'll buy a puppy."

And so it came to be that Mattie-Kate joined us.  She is tiny and fluffy as a milkweed puff-ball.  We wrestled with a name:  Hannah, Cleo, Lucy, Mattie.  After bringing her home, we decided on "Mattie" after Mattie Ross, the feisty girl from True Grit. Within hours, she began showing her K8 the Gr8 tendencies:  lying on her back and pulling your hand toward her belly where she wanted to be scratched; burrowing into the blankets and pillows while making joyful Papillon noises; giving orders.  Russ said, "Her name is Mattie-Kate."  

Mattie-Kate's First Night with Us, Carefully Tended by Willie the Cat and Molly McNab
Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller

Earl quickly welcomed Mattie-Kate, while Molly greeted her apprehensively, ears and tail low.  Shotgun Willie the cat immediately gave her a warm and happy nose bump.  Only Froggy Isabella, our sensitive and complicated ginger cat, is unhappy.  She shoots Mattie-Kate the stink-eye from across the room and growls and hisses at her whenever near. On the first night, as Mattie slept beside me on my pillow, I awakened to Froggy hovering over us and growling at the puppy.  I hissed at her and she briefly vanished, only to waken me again a bit later with a growl.  Dozey, I didn't open my eyes until Mattie screamed in terror -- Froggy had apparently swatted Mattie's head before skulking off in a dark mood.

It has now been three days. Froggy has yet to accept Mattie, but the rest of the household adores her.  Earl is now shy but gentle around her, as he once was with the kittens.  Molly?  Molly has adopted her as sister, friend and playmate.  Mattie-Kate is already showing signs of ruling with the regal iron paw that K8 had.  What Mattie wants, Mattie gets -- just as K8 did.  She sleeps snuggled in among the pillows, sometimes on top of my head, sometimes stretched out paws-behind-her in swimmer fashion, nestled beside Molly. Mattie keeps up well when we walk to the barn or feed the chickens -- and she and Molly play constantly.  Throughout the day she is at my feet, sometimes growling and attacking my shoe, other times snuggled beside them and sleeping soundly at perfect peace.

So we are now a full house with three dogs and two cats, all of them wild cards.  It's rambunctious and yippy and funny and busy. We sleep among two McNabs and a little fur ball like pieces of a strangely-textured jigsaw puzzle.  We wend our way through the house surrounded by happy, energetic creatures. We've returned to normal, again.  All is well.  All is as it should be.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this article may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author * Links to this page, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, +1'ing, sharing, forwarding, tweeting or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for reading! Don't forget to sign up for email updates!

Next Up:  The Nurturing Nature of McNabs!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Molly McNab at Six Months

Oh, fair reader, I know you've missed our Molly McNab updates. Forgive me, for I've been preoccupied playing with a very rambunctious, smart, and oh-so-sweet six-month-old bundle of happiness.  We call her "Jolly Molly" for the sheer joy that radiates from her sleek black-and-white self.  Whatever she is doing, even when she's being scolded, she is exuberant.

I hate to say it, but I enjoy her naughtiness try as much as her occasional good behavior.  She's so … happy. She barks at the horses and tries to herd them with every happy ounce of her being.  She gets too warm in the Arizona sun and she throws herself down into the muddiest, coolest place she can find. When I scold her -- and there are times -- she grins, ears down, and wiggles to me in the happiest act of contrition she can manage. She loves it, I think, when I tell her "bad dog."  That's when she's at her wiggliest.  She works her way into my arms and licks my face with special enthusiasm.  She's my bad, bad, good, sweet dog.

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Molly at Six Months
And how is she naughty?  Let me count the ways.  She loves to attack William the cat.  Lovingly and playfully, of course, but unaware of the fact she outweighs him by 30+ pounds.  She wrestles with him and gnaws on his neck until his beautiful, rabbit-like coat is pasted together with puppy-slobber.  She harasses Froggy relentlessly; sensitive, temperamental red-headed ginger-cat Froggy.  Froggy takes the high ground and bats at Molly's grinning face. They've come to quite the understanding, those two.

She acts out as when I leave without her. She empties the few wastebaskets that don't have hinged lids and she shreds the dried out teabags I've invariably left in the office trash. She drags dirty clothes out of the hamper in the closet and stores them in a proud collection of her favorite things, kept on a leather cushion in the living room.  There, we retrieve our shoes, shorts, the cat's collar -- whatever we can't find in its proper place. She doesn't (with a notable exception) chew them up; she collects.

The exception?  Last week I had just opened a new tube of Burt's Bees chocolate-blueberry lip balm. (It's even more wonderful than it sounds.) I stuck it in the pocket of my work shorts and, when I dressed to go out, tossed shorts in the hamper. When I got home, I could smell it:  chocolate-blueberry wafting through the bedroom.  Molly had chewed "through" the pocket and crushed the lip balm without ever ripping the shorts.  Could I blame her?  Chocolate-blueberry! Who could resist?     

She licks my face like I've smeared a liver masque on myself.  She loves to give almost frenzied kisses. I laugh or say, "No, enough!" which only accelerates the speed-of-lick. I don't care about dog germs. I love it when my dogs lick my face. Maybe in my next 50 years it'll kill me. What a way to go!  

She's relatively vocal. Unlike our McNab Earl, Molly is a yipper-snapper.  She barks in excitement as we go out to do chores. She barks when she herds the horses. She makes countless varieties of noises as she and Earl play tug-of-war with the tiger-ring toy. She barks when someone drives up the drive -- that's a good thing, by the way.            

She puts her paws on the edge of the kitchen island and watches us as we cook, eat, or work on the iPad. I have never had a puppy so heathen. Yet it's because she's such a joy, we have willingly abandoned nearly all rules. We love that our dogs are dogs and our cats are cats (when the dogs and cats aren't being human and when the cats aren't being dogs). We let them get away with things and we watch them in the act and look at each other, my husband and I, and we laugh. 

And in the ways it matters, she's perfect. She won't leave the property. She comes when we call her. She loves the cats and she loves her older brother Earl. She is reliably good-natured. She won't chase the cottontails or bark at the chickens. She's physically tough, has endless energy, and her antics amuse us more than "formal" entertainment ever could.  She's a wildly histrionic actress; when we tell her, "Bang! Bang!" or make a finger-gun gesture at her, she throws herself over like a character actor in a B-grade western, lies still for a minute and then pops her head up at us to make sure we were watching.

Most of all, her happiness is as contagious as Ebola. She brings such enthusiasm to all she does. Who can help but get caught up in her games of keep-away and tag? Who can't laugh to see her barking at the horses, her nose inches from theirs?  

There was a time when I thought dogs should be trained to the point they were not disruptive. Now, I love having my dogs disrupt my life. It's rewarding to see them express themselves as dogs, not as sterile, submissive furry robots. 

Go ahead, Molly, steal my shoe. Do be gentle with the kitties, though. We love them, too. 

Copyright © 2014 MJ Miller
Let's Here it for the Naughty Dog!