Tam Goes to Puppy School

The late Travvy got me into dog training: when he hit adolescence, I knew I needed help. This opened a whole new world for both of us and gradually turned us into a damn good team. What if we’d started earlier? Could I have avoided or mitigated some of the challenges we had to deal with later, like reactivity and resource guarding?

Once I decided that my next dog was going to be a puppy, I started reading up on early puppy development and training. From the moment I picked Tam Lin up in Canandaigua three weeks (!!) ago, I’ve had “socialization” on the brain: introducing Tam to an array of new experiences.

Tam is turning out to be a pretty brave and resourceful guy. He’s met goats, chickens, and dogs as well as lots of people. He’s been to an abortion rights rally, my town’s caucus to elect delegates to the state Democratic convention, two weekly meetings of my writers’ group, and the monthly meeting of the MV Dems (formally the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard), where I managed to take minutes while paying attention to him when he needed it.

When he could no longer slither under a fallen tree on the path, he gamely scrambled over it.

Sometimes going under is not an option.

If you can’t go under, go over.

Puppy class started last Tuesday. Our instructor leases space at the Ag Hall, so we meet outside in a temporary enclosure made of snow fencing, zip ties, and metal posts. There were four other teams in the class, and Tam was at almost 11 weeks the youngest of the bunch; the next oldest was fourteen weeks, and the others are now counting their age in months.

Tam did a little fidgeting, and of course I had to put some effort into keeping him engaged, but I couldn’t help comparing this “first class” experience with Travvy’s first Rally Obedience class about 10 years ago. It was held in the indoor arena at Arrowhead Farm, there were five or six other teams in the class — and Trav was so hyper (“over threshold”) in the presence of other dogs he couldn’t even begin to focus on the task at hand unless he was at the opposite end of the arena from everyone else.

Susanna, Trav, and prize ribbons

Trav and some of his loot

Many other dogs have had more spectacular careers in Rally and other dog sports, but I’ll nominate Trav any day for the “most improved” award, or the “they said it couldn’t be done” award. He retired ARCHX P-CRO-CH Masasyu’s Fellow Traveller RL3 RA CGC and I’m proud of every Q (qualifying run) and ribbon we earned.

At the same time — well, I’d just as soon not go through those wild early months again, which is why Tam and I are going to puppy class, and why I was discreetly thrilled by Tam’s behavior in his first class.

Trav wound up being a great roommate. I put his crate away for good (except for traveling) when he was three or so. I could leave him home alone for hours, either on the deck (which I called his outdoor crate) or in the apartment, and know for sure that nothing would be out of place when I got home — this from the guy who at one completely destroyed the passenger seat in my Mazda pickup in his desperate effort to get at some chickens on the other side of the window.

Tam reminds me every day that this too took plenty of work because he has no idea what it’s OK to chew on. Toys and marrow bones: fine. Electric cords, computer cables, the clothing piled up on the office chair I never sit in (mainly because it’s occupied by my backup laptop): not so fine. I’ve taken to keeping my shoes on in the apartment because Tam takes naked toes as a source of challenge.

My challenge is keeping one step ahead of Tam and trying to think like a clever puppy who’s trying to figure out how to make the world do what he wants, all the while I’m trying to figure out how to get him to do what I want. He doesn’t want me too far away or out of sight: I run this way or that, and he follows. While he follows, I say “Come” — and we’ve now got the beginning of a “Come” command. He caught on PDQ that he wouldn’t get a treat unless he was sitting; I’ve been teaching “Sit” the same way.

Do dogs in the wild — or even the not-so-wild — have names for each other? I don’t know. For sure they don’t know the names we give them unless we teach them somehow. For a while there I’m pretty sure Tam thought his name was “Come.” Our instructor taught us a handy game to teach puppies their names: Drop a treat on the ground. Puppy will pick it up and look at you to see if there are more coming. At that moment you say the puppy’s name and give him another treat. Thus he comes to associate his name with getting a treat for looking at you.

Lately Tam sometimes looks at me when I say his name, with no “Come” involved, so I think we’re getting there.

A big task now is to get Tam used to my being out of sight, so I don’t have to take him with me everywhere. My bathroom is on the ground floor. Tam does not like it when I go down there in the morning to do my business: the crying and proto-howling is, of course, heart-rending, but my heart is not easily rended. My practice now is to leave him in his crate with his breakfast then disappear. The crying starts when he’s finished eating.

puppy squeezes through deck railing

Someday soon you won’t be able to do this, kiddo.

The other day I was hanging laundry while Tam was on the deck. He could see me easily, but that wasn’t enough: much to my surprise, he appeared at my side, trailing his leash — because he can still fit between the deck posts and that’s exactly what he did. Luckily this will not be an option for much longer.

Despite being locked in the crate when I’m out of sight, Tam seems to have pleasant associations with it. I feed him in there. I give him peanut butter bones when he’s in there. He goes in voluntarily. So I’m thinking of leaving him home alone this afternoon so I can go to a forum on the 2020 census; the venue, my own library, doesn’t allow non-service dogs. We’ll see how that goes.

puppy in crate

This photo was taken a week ago. Trust me on this: he’s bigger now.

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May License Plate Report

license plate map

Only two in May, but they were both good ones: Arkansas and Montana.

I took two off-island trips in May, one to Boston for my 50th high school reunion, the other to Cananaigua, New York, to pick up my new puppy, about whom you can learn more here and here (if you haven’t already). Boston to and from wasn’t all that big a deal, but Canandaigua sort of was — and in all that thousand-plus miles of driving I spotted only three plates that weren’t already on my map: Michigan, Iowa, and Utah.

True, I was focused on other things, like navigating at 70–80 mph when my maximum speed on Martha’s Vineyard is more like 50–55 (maximum speed limit here is 45) and, on the way home, paying attention to Tam Lin (who hadn’t got his name yet, and who slept most of the way, but sleeping puppies are adorable and most emphatically a potential distraction), but still — I notice license plates.

Michigan was parked next to me at the Super 8 in Bath, New York, where Tam and I stayed because there were no reasonably priced pet-friendly rooms closer to Canandaigua.

Interestingly enough, today, June 1, I spotted Utah. I spotted two Utahs, although they might have been the same car: I was so focused on the license plate that the only thing I registered about the vehicles was that they were both sedans. Now I am wondering if Iowa and Michigan, the other plates I spotted on the road, will show up on the Vineyard this month. They’re both overdue — you especially, Michigan.

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Tam Lin Starts Socializing

Good dog trainers emphasize the importance of early socialization for young puppies, with a focus on the first three months (13 weeks). Travvy’s early socialization was mostly hit-or-miss, which most likely contributed to the, uh, challenges we had later with reactivity, resource guarding, and a self-protectiveness that made him a less-than-model vet patient.

Book cover: "Perfect Puppy in 7 Days" From attending an intro “How to Raise a RockStar Puppy” workshop given by trainer Karen Ogden and studying Dr. Sophia Yin’s excellent Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right I learned that “socialization” is about much more than getting the pup used to other dogs. It involves introducing the pup to all kinds of experiences and sensations, and creating positive associations with them.

Before we even got home, Tam Lin had met a bunch of new people; stayed in a motel; encountered grass, asphalt, carpet, and linoleum; heard traffic and sirens on a busy road; hung out on the ferry; and spent a lot of time riding in the car. I was learning to see all this through puppy eyes (and puppy ears, nose, and mouth).

In his first days on the Vineyard, Tam’s world burst with new possibilities. The immediate neighborhood offered lawn, underbrush, dirt roads, and Zena, the schnoodle next door, who at first was more worried about Tam than Tam was about her. Then they had a get-acquainted breakthrough, and luckily neighbor Willa was on hand with phone to record the occasion.

Tam meets Zena; Zena meets Tam. Photo by Willa Vigneault.

Zena seems to have decided that Tam is not as scary as she first thought, and not as imposing as Travvy. At one point Tam was being borderline obnoxious. She snapped at him and he backed off: good moves on both their parts. I’m not sure she realizes that before long he’s going to be four times her size. I’m glad she’s reading him the riot act now.

Zena, by the way, is a fetching fool; Tam seems bemused by the game. He’ll chase a rolling ball but when it stops he loses interest. Malamute logic goes something like this: You threw it. I brought it back. Then you threw it again. If you keep throwing it away, why should I bother bringing it back? He does like a good game of tug, however.

Tam drinks from the waterfall.

I was surprised the first time Tam scrambled over rocks to drink from water bubbling into my neighbors’ little pond. Timid this little guy was not. Now he considers the little waterfall his own private water fountain.

On his second full day on the Vineyard, we stopped by our vet’s to get him weighed: 12.7 pounds. (By a week later, when he had his first full vet appointment, he’d gained two pounds.)

At the May 21 rally for abortion rights. It’s hard to hold a sign and a puppy at the same time. Photo by Nicola Blake.

That afternoon Tam attended his first political event: a rally in support of abortion rights at Five Corners. He seemed unfazed by all the people fussing over him and by the enthusiastic honking of passing motorists.

Thanks to Facebook, half the world knew that I was getting a puppy, and the puppy-to-come already had a fan club. Now we got to work meeting some of his fans in person.

On Wednesday we paid a visit to Cleaveland House, where mystery writer Cynthia Riggs was especially eager to meet the new arrival. Cleaveland House is heaven for puppy socialization: Tam Lin got to meet goats, guinea hens, and ducks, and the event was amply photographed by Cynthia and by Lynn Christoffers. Lynn is a professional photographer whose specialty is cats — she’s the author of Cats of Martha’s Vineyard — but she’s no slouch with dogs either.

Me and Tam Lin. Photo by Lynn Christoffers.

Tam Lin and Lynn Christoffers. Photo by me.











I am blessed to know so many good photographers. Otherwise I would have no photos with both me and my dog in them.

Tam meets the goats.

Tam and I do a lot of playing, but we also go for walks. We’re now doing the loop around the neighborhood — Halcyon Way to the path behind the school to the Dr. Fisher Road and home on Pine Hill Road. Bert Fischer, a very fine photographer, lives on that loop. The other day we ran into Bert on the path. This is one of the results. See what I mean about knowing good photographers?

Tam Lin watches Bert while I watch Tam Lin. Photo by Albert Fischer.


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Tam Lin’s Journey Home

Back on May 4 I announced that I’d sent off my deposit for an Alaskan malamute puppy and concluded: “By the end of this month the pup will be in residence, and for sure you’ll be among the first to know. Watch this space.”

If you’ve been watching this space, you’ll have noticed that this space has been blank for a couple of weeks, in part because the pup has been a Vineyard resident since we rolled off the 10:30 p.m. boat on Sunday, May 19. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve already seen multiple photos of the new arrival, but here in a nutshell is the story of how he got here.

Papa Fly and Mama Anuk

Tam Lin’s parents: Papa Fly in front and Mama Anuk in back

“He,” by the way, is Masasyu’s Tam Lin. He’s descended from several dogs with magical names: Anuk, his mama, is Masasyu’s Enchanted Hammer (her dad is Masasyu’s Mighty Hammer, whose wildly appropriate call name is John Henry). Papa Fly is officially Masasyu’s Magic Carpet Ride; his mom, and also John Henry’s mom, is Masasyu’s Let the Magic Begin. This got me thinking of ballads with magical connections. At the top of the list were “Thomas the Rhymer,” as sung by Maddy Prior and Steeleye Span, and “Tam Lin,” as sung by Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention.

Unbeknownst to me, Lori, the pups’ breeder and proprietor of Masasyu kennels, was already calling one of the four Tommy, a natural nickname for either Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Lin. Upon learning this I had a strong hunch that this was going to be my puppy. I brainstormed other “Tommy”-related names, ranging from The Who’s rock opera Tommy to Thomas à Becket to Thomas Edward Lawrence, a lifelong hero of mine whose family and friends called him Ned, not Tom, Thomas, or Tommy. Tomfoolery was suggested and rocketed into the top 3, for its allusion to Tom Lehrer and because malamutes are good at tomfoolery.

But as I woke Tuesday morning, with the puppy curled up on my bed, my mind settled on “Tam Lin” so Tam Lin it is. Here’s his song:

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On Saturday, May 18, I made the long but uneventful drive from my brother’s in Stow, Mass., to Canandaigua, N.Y. — a drive I’d made 11 years and some weeks before, to pick up the little guy who became Masasyu’s Fellow Traveller, aka Travvy. Around 3 p.m. I rolled up the dirt drive at Masasyu, which looked both familiar and different: the horse barn was the same, but house and kennel had been rebuilt after the disastrous fire of November 2012.

Susanna holding Tommy

Me and my puppy

Lori and I caught up while watching the pups play on the kennel floor. She’s so pleased with this litter that she’s keeping two of them: Crow, the only girl, and Hawk, one of the boys.

My Tommy was the first to leave home. He seemed not a bit distressed about this on our long journey to the Vineyard. Letting me out of his sight now that we’re home — that’s another matter. We’re working on it.

In the photo at right I’m wearing the same flannel shirt I wore to pick Travvy up. I didn’t realize this till after I’d left home on Friday, but of course I had to wear it to my first meeting with Tam-Lin-to-be.

To my consternation, the motel where Trav and I spent our first night had a NO VACANCY sign on the white picket fence. My consternation grew when the other two nearby budget motels that accepted pets also turned out to be full. Lori called around: seemed there was a big golf tournament in town and everything was full up.

My smartphone came in handy: There was a room available at the Super 8 in Bath, N.Y., about an hour away. By now it was after 6 but there was plenty of light in the sky to enjoy the gorgeous drive down the west side of Canandaigua Lake on State Route 21. We got to the motel well before dark.

I’d bought a puppy-sized travel crate at the thrift shop, but puppy showed no interest in it, either in the car (where he rode mostly curled up in the passenger seat) or at the motel. This was not unexpected. I’d borrowed a crate for puppy Travvy, thinking it would be safer than letting an eight-and-a-half-week-old puppy loose in a motel room, but once closed in the crate Travvy wouldn’t stop shrieking. Given a choice between waking all the other motel guests or taking my chances on a loose puppy, I went with the latter. All went well. I didn’t even try to shut my new guy in the crate. All went well with him too.

I’ve been reading up on the importance of puppy socialization, not just with people and other dogs but with various experiences. At the motel I had my first opportunities to watch my new puppy getting to know the big world beyond his home kennel. He was fine being patted by complete strangers. He was curious about our room but apparently at ease. He was surprised when his water dish slid a couple of inches across the bathroom floor while he was drinking from it, so I put it on the rug instead.

puppy on green grass

Puppy checks out the grass and dandelions in front of the Super 8.

We played on the grassy area between the parking lot and the main road. Sirens went screaming by; he listened and watched but didn’t seem startled.

He was initially reluctant to venture across the asphalt — evidently his paws liked the grass better — but he quickly got used to it.

He was seeming a fairly resilient guy: taking note of new sounds and sensations but willing to check them out. This has turned out to be pretty true. He’s startled by clanging metal — something I noticed when we were sitting in front of the grocery store and someone wiggled a shopping cart loose from its fellows. He also wanted to bolt when a saw started whining at a neighbor’s, but with a couple of treats he was willing to sit still and take it in.


Tam at Fallengutter, with Jan’s hands

Sunday morning we headed for Peekskill on Interstate 86. Sun beating through the windshield made the seat uncomfortably warm for the pup, so he curled up in the passenger foot well, on top of my backpack with a couple of squeaky toys. This wasn’t the most direct route home, but we were going to have lunch with some friends I’d never met in person before. Susie and I had met years ago on an e-list devoted to malamutes, then continued the acquaintance on Facebook. Her partner, Jan, is an Episcopal priest, and I wanted to meet both of them, and their current malamute, Luci. Luci was a tad overbearing and had to be banished inside, but the rest of us had a delightful lunch on the front porch, watching the neighborhood pass by.

Sunday afternoon traffic had been heavy coming into Peekskill, so — mindful that I had a 9:45 boat to catch — I left promptly at 4, fortified by lunch and the travel glass of brewed iced tea that Susie gave me.

My thought was to take Interstate 84 across Connecticut till it intersected I-495, then follow my usual route to Woods Hole. GPS warned me that traffic was heavy on my chosen route and could it offer an alternative? Mindful of the heavy traffic coming in to Peekskill and the fact that the 9:45 was the last boat of the night, I said OK.

Big mistake. GPS routed us through backroads and small towns whose names I can’t remember. Was this going to get us to I-84? Did GPS know I had a boat to catch? The directions were less than precise, I had to make a couple of U-turns, and my bearings were slipping away. Finally I saw a sign TO I-95 — the shore route that would get me to Woods Hole a lot faster than the winding roads I’d been on. Once on I-95 I let GPS calculate my drive time to Woods Hole: it had us arriving between 8:30 and 8:45. Whew. No rest stops for the puppy, but the puppy was fine until we rolled into the Steamship lot and he finally got to pee and drink some water.

One of the Steamship crew on the freight deck was so taken with the puppy that he asked to take a photo. Sure, I said.

sleeping puppy

Tam Lin chills on the boat while I drink my beer.

Since it was the pup’s first trip to the Vineyard, it didn’t seem right to spend it all in the car. Besides, I wanted a beer. Dogs aren’t allowed in the lunchroom, but no one minded that I bought my beer with a puppy in one arm. Quite the contrary. The big challenge was getting money out of and into my wallet one-handed, but the cashier helped.

At about quarter to 11, we got home, safe and sound. I was ready for bed, but Tam, having slept most of the day, wanted to play. After a short stroll around the neighborhood, he settled down.

It was so good to have a dog sleeping on my bed again, though it was strange having one who took up so little room. Looking at these photos from barely 10 days ago, I can’t help noticing how much he’s grown.

Next post: Settling In.

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Adventures in GPS

I got my first-ever cell phone this past January. Why I call it a phone when I seldom use it for phone-calling I’m not sure, but there it is. I use it for texting and private-messaging on Facebook, I use it for looking up words when I’m reading or proofreading something on paper — and this weekend I used it to find my way around Boston.

My 50th high school reunion was scheduled for May 10–11, and though I hadn’t been to a class reunion since the tenth, in 1979, I was determined to go. Winsor, the private girls school I attended from seventh grade through graduation, was pretty conservative, but my teachers were great and so were my classmates, most of whom I hadn’t kept up with.

The logistics, however, were daunting. I didn’t know anyone I could crash with for free.  Boston hotels are pricey and my resources are limited, so my first thought was to find a cheap motel out on the fringes of the metro area and commute. Once I got down to serious online searching, my close-to-town options turned out to be limited. The Motel 6 in Weymouth looked promising — until I learned that it had become a haven for drug-related and other mayhem and closed for good last fall.

Googling Boston hotels inexpensive turned up the Farrington Inn, a guesthouse in the Allston neighborhood with promising reviews and only $100/night (which would get you three- or four-star digs in some places, but not in a major metro area). Its appeal was enhanced by proximity to bus and subway, which I figured I’d be taking to and from the school. Though as a student I’d occasionally drop my father off at his office in Cambridge and then drive myself to school in his 1959 VW bug, I was never much of a city driver — and on Martha’s Vineyard, there are no traffic lights, the widest roads are one lane in each direction, and the maximum legal speed limit is 45 mph.

I’d done a little experimenting with GPS on my phone, but only on the Vineyard, where I know my way around. Could I trust it to get me and Malvina Forester, my 2008 Subaru, to and through Boston and help me find this guesthouse?

mobile phone

My navigator, a Samsung Galaxy J7

I could and it did. I traveled over the Sagamore Bridge, up Route 3, and through Boston and I didn’t get lost or even flustered once. True, it was early enough in the afternoon that the traffic was nothing like what it would be during rush hour, but it was heavier and faster than anything on the Vineyard. A disembodied female voice directed me to the Farrington Inn, where I checked in. A quick consult with Google Maps informed me that Winsor was much closer and easier to get to than I’d anticipated, so  I drove. The disembodied voice got me there, no problem.

The parking lot gate, however, wouldn’t let me in, even though it had opened politely for the car ahead of me. Exiting on foot, the driver of that car told me I had to push a button, which of course I hadn’t noticed. These gizmos are fairly new on the Vineyard; they were installed only last year at the county airport. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

I had a great time catching up with former classmates, the 50th reunion panel discussion was fun, and dinner in the dining hall was excellent. GPS got me back to the guesthouse safely, even though it was too dark to verify all of its instructions by reading street signs. I was becoming a bit cocky about my navigational skills.

Then on Saturday when I headed back to my guesthouse in mid-afternoon, things got weird. My previously trusty navigator first directed me down a street marked DO NOT ENTER, then it apparently wanted me to make  a U-turn on Commonwealth Avenue. Not only is Comm Ave two lanes in each direction, at this particular point there was a median strip with a barrier fence on it. WTF?

I pulled into a handy parking lot to have a talk with my navigator. After some fumbling around, I realized that my navigator thought I was on foot, in which case I could have made a 180 turn on the Comm Ave sidewalk and gone the wrong way down one-way streets. We straightened that out — and belatedly it dawned on me why my navigator had earlier estimated travel time at 40 minutes for a drive that took about 10.

Bourne Bridge

The Bourne Bridge, gateway to the Cape and Route 28

Heading home on Sunday, with a reservation on the 1:15, I chose a route I’ve driven often without GPS: Route 128 to I-95 to I-495, then across the Bourne Bridge to Route 28 and home. My navigator was determined to route me over the Sagamore Bridge when I always take the Bourne. A Google search told me that repairs on the Bourne Bridge had been mostly completed and that during the day the bridge was again two lanes in both directions.

The only way I could figure out how to route myself over the Bourne Bridge was to tell my navigator that the bridge was my destination. (It is now advising me on where to park in that area.) I have since learned that I can realign routes by dragging.

Though I knew the way cold (so I thought), I let my disembodied voice give me directions anyway. All went well till I realized I was being told to take an exit to I-93 North toward Boston. I-93? I wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near I-93. North? Toward Boston? But I just left Boston! After a few minutes of following directions, I was on Route 24 heading south, which I knew would take me to I-495. Whew!

When I got to Woods Hole, almost an hour before the 1:15 ferry sailed, I consulted my navigator again. Why had I wound up briefly on I-93 North? The prescribed route was exactly the one I’d driven often without GPS. I must have missed the exit where 95 heads south and wound up on 93 instead. Evidently I wasn’t paying enough attention to either my navigator or the signs, and my navigator had bailed me out.

All in all, though, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. Now I know how to route myself over the Bourne Bridge instead of the Sagamore. Maybe if I do it often enough, my navigator will get the message.

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Travvy lying down

Trav chilling on deck

From where I sit to work, read, write postcards to voters, and (don’t tell anybody) play too many games of Spider solitaire, I have a clear view out my front door. My front door is mostly glass and opens onto a little deck that I came to think of as Travvy’s outdoor crate.

Whether I’d been gone for one hour or six, Trav’s nose would be sticking between the bars when I came up the outside stairs, biscuit in hand. This is one of the many things I miss now that Travvy’s gone — but this post is about how he remains a presence on my deck, so read on.

Notice the loose fur and grooming tools in the photo above. Malamutes and other northern-breed dogs blow their undercoats a couple of times a year — with Trav the big blow was in mid to late spring and the lesser blow was in late summer. The accumulation in the picture is negligible compared to what comes out during a serious blow. What comes out during a serious blow can fill two or three grocery bags.

earrings and necklace

Malamute-fur jewelry

Malamute fur can be spun into yarn (I’m told it’s easier to spin when mixed with a little sheep’s wool) or felted. I’m not crafty myself but I know people who are, so of course I have some mal-fur jewelry and several fridge magnets. Mal-fur gloves and caps are reportedly very warm, and a mal-fur sweater might be too much for all but the coldest climates.

bird on water dish

Dog dish birdbath

This is nesting season in my neighborhood, and the neighborhood birds know a good thing when they see one. I’ve kept Trav’s outside water dish (the one from which ice disks are made) full of fresh water because the birds use it for a birdbath. Since mid-April the neighborhood titmice and chickadees have been making regular trips to an overturned wastebasket of malamute fur. I’ve got a perfect view from my work chair, and every so often I’m quick enough to take a picture or two.

I doubt I’ll get to see a nest partly lined with Travvy fur, but I do like knowing that the fur Trav left behind will help keep some chicks warm this spring.

bird with fur

Tufted titmouse grabs a beakful of fur.

Not satisfied, titmouse goes back for more.

bird with fur

Titmouse prepares to lift off with bigger beakful.

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What Next?

Travvy’s death came sudden and unexpected. Yes, he was 11, but he was doing fine — until he wasn’t, and a day and a half later he was gone. I’d had it in my mind that since Rhodry, his predecessor, made it to 13, Trav would too. Then I would decide what to do next.

“What next” was now, not two years off.

I messaged Lori, Trav’s breeder, to let her know he was gone. She messaged back:

I know that this offer is way too soon but I want to let you know that we are expecting a litter tomorrow so if you decide that you need to fill the void in your life please let me know. You gave him a wonderful home and a great life. I thank you ever so much for what you did.

Way too soon, yes, in that my future with Trav had abruptly vanished, leaving me on the brink of a void with no obvious path forward.

At the same time, Lori’s message was a sign, a glimmer in the glimmerless void, a possibility to consider. I take signs seriously. I’ve never forgotten that Travvy was born the day after Rhodry died, though it was two months before I knew it.

picture of mama Anuk

Mama Anuk

As it turned out, Anuk didn’t have her pups — four of them: one girl and three boys — till the following Wednesday, March 20, but the seed was planted and, as seeds do, it started to sprout underground.

I was 99.9% sure that there would be another dog in my life. My reasonably methodical mind posed some rational questions: Sooner or later? Puppy or older dog? Malamute or something smaller?

Sooner or later resolved itself pretty damn quick. Walking without Travvy was like missing my left arm. Two days after he passed, I was striding along a path at the Land Bank’s Sepiessa property — somewhere Trav and I didn’t go all that often — when the off-road mountain bikers appeared around a curve, headed in my direction. They came to a halt and the leader asked, “Where’s your buddy?” The off-road bikers do group rides every Sunday, and Trav and I often ran into them on trails and dirt roads closer to home.

Travvy lying down with sock

Travvy and sock

Without Trav to pre-wash pots and pans and plates, food seemed to be going to waste. No one was plucking my sock from my hiking boot to remind me it was time to leave my laptop and do something fun.

Sooner. Definitely sooner. Even though sooner meant my fantasies about driving cross-country would be on indefinite hold — which, to be honest, is where they were already.

Malamute or something smaller? Eleven years ago I had little trouble lifting 80-pound Rhodry in his last year. Lifting 80-pound Travvy was almost impossible. In part this was because Travvy did not like being picked up, but I had to admit that I couldn’t easily lift what I could 11 years ago.

But something smaller meant something other than a malamute, and that’s where common sense hit a rock and went off the rails. Malamutes aren’t for everybody, but if they’re for you, nothing else will do. And besides, there are those puppies . . .

Book cover: "Perfect Puppy in 7 Days"

There’s no shortage of puppy-training books out there, but this one came highly recommended so I bought it.

Puppy or older dog? I’m on Medicare. I started collecting Social Security last year. I know my time on the planet is not unlimited, but puppy or older dog prompted calculations I hadn’t made before. I was pretty confident in my ability to deal with a puppy now. More: the prospect was seriously tempting, because I didn’t get into serious training with Trav until his challenging adolescence made it obvious that we needed help. I’ve wondered ever since if some of those challenges, like reactivity and resource guarding, could have been avoided or mitigated if I’d started training much earlier.

The calculations had to do with the other end of a puppy’s life. Where would I be when the puppy reached 11 or 13 or an even more advanced age? Would I even be on the planet? One upside to living on Martha’s Vineyard is knowing many people living active, creative lives well into their 80s and even 90s. My mother died at 73, but she was also an alcoholic, a lifelong smoker, and not an especially happy or engaged person. My father made it to 86, and my maternal grandmother died a week short of her 105th birthday. Anything could happen between now and then, but my chances of making it to 80 look pretty good.

If I did spring for a puppy, I could make provisions for worst-case scenarios — if I died or became incapacitated while my dog was still alive. In fact, I wish I’d done likewise with Trav: recruited an auntie or two who got to know him well enough that I could trust him to their care in my absence.

Quite a few people asked “What about a rescue?” I’d wash out with most rescues on one or more criteria: I’m single, I’m in my 60s, I don’t own my home, and I don’t have a fenced-in yard. I do have some acquaintance with several Alaskan malamute rescues, but most of them are regional and adopt only to people in that region. Trav and I got to know AMRONE, Alaskan Malamute Rescue of New England, during our four years of attending their annual Camp N Pack weekend, but their website didn’t list any available dogs. (Very sadly, Camp N Pack no longer happens because the gorgeous venue, an off-season Girl Scout camp, was sold.)

Following up other leads, I located an Alaskan malamute and a malamute-husky mix, both in Connecticut. I considered both and was several times on the brink of inquiring about the former; he was in the care of a non-malamute rescue, and his description said they were looking for an adopter with northern-breed experience. Maybe my experience with Rhodry and Trav would outweigh what most rescues consider my liabilities?

Again I hung up on calculations, this time about the dog’s age, not mine. The malamute was six, the malamute-husky mix seven. Would I again be on the brink of the void in four or five years?

The pups at four weeks

Meanwhile those puppies had taken up residence not only in my brain but also on my Facebook timeline. Lori posted photos of the pups at three weeks, then at four. The sooty color of these guys marks them as agouti and non-Domino, a genetic combination that makes it unlikely that as adults they’ll have Travvy’s white face and gray cap.

At the same time, when Lori posted the pups’ pedigree, I was pleased to see Trav’s mom, Mayhem (formally Masasyu’s Bound and Determined), was a great-grandmother on the sire’s side and a great-great-grandmother on the dam’s. And his half-uncle Kaos (Masasyu’s Naughty by Nature) was also a great-grandparent.

So in mid-April I messaged Lori that my deposit check was in the mail, and off it went. By the end of this month the pup will be in residence, and for sure you’ll be among the first to know. Watch this space.

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April License Plate Report

license plate map

A pretty spectacular month! The April scorecard: D.C., West Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Missouri.

West Virginia, Hawaii, or Mississippi! Any one of the three would be cause for celebration, but all three in one month? I didn’t see either Hawaii or Mississippi in all of 2018. With them and North Dakota all in the bag by the end of April makes me dare to hope that at the end of 2019 the whole map may be green.

Michigan usually isn’t all that hard to get, and Alabama has showed up every year for the last several, so I’ve got high hopes for them. Moving west, Iowa is a regular and Arkansas and Louisiana generally show up, though not without producing some suspense before they do. We shall see . . .

support strikers signBy the way, I spotted both Hawaii and Minnesota while holding a sign in support of striking workers at the Edgartown Stop & Shop. (The strike was settled after about 10 days.)

Mississippi turned up in Oak Bluffs, near the Council on Aging on Wamsutta Ave., where I’d just attended dog trainer Karen Ogden’s hour-long presentation “Raising a RockStar Puppy.” Yeah, that’s a big hint. The cat, so to speak, is coming out of the bag. Watch this space.


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Yes to the Housing Bank

Spring is town meeting season in New England, and that includes Martha’s Vineyard. Four of the six island towns — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and my town of West Tisbury — hold their annual town meetings (ATMs) next Tuesday, April 9. Chilmark’s is on April 22, and Aquinnah’s is, as usual, the last of the lot, on May 14.

ATMs are always important, but this year’s are more important than most. Two articles on each town’s warrant concern the creation and funding of a housing bank.

The island’s year-round housing situation is dire. For the last two years or so it’s been virtually impossible to find an affordable year-round rental. (For the last 12 years I’ve lived in a studio apartment that’s included on my town’s affordable housing roster. If I lose it for any reason, it’s likely that my only option will be to leave the island.) Some 900 working Vineyarders and their families are on the wait list for affordable housing. The median home price is $670,00, which puts homeownership out of reach of most Vineyard workers.

Younger Vineyarders, especially those with families, are leaving, and every year more jobs are filled by workers commuting from off-island. Why is this a problem, some people ask, as long as the jobs get done? The answer is that at the end of the day commuting workers take both their dollars and their volunteer hours off-island, where they support and sustain their home communities, not ours. The community we so value is sustained day in, day out, by year-round residents of all ages and from all walks of life who invest our time, energy, and money in making this a good place to live.

Multiple public and private organizations — including the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the Island Housing Trust, Habitat for Humanity, the affordable housing committees in each of the island towns — have been working tirelessly for years — decades! — to ameliorate the problem. The problem is still getting worse.

The two articles on the ATM warrant would establish a regional housing bank dedicated to creating year-round housing, funded with revenue from the local excise rooms tax, which the commonwealth has recently expanded to include short-term rentals as well as hotels, motels, and B&Bs.

It should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. Some town officials have dug their heels in against it. Online discussion about it has been, all too predictably, riddled with misinformation. So here’s my attempt to demystify the housing bank warrant articles creating and providing a funding mechanism for an island-wide housing bank, and to persuade you to vote for them.

The first and most important point is that these articles are only the first step but they are the essential first step.

If we don’t take this first step, the housing bank is dead for the foreseeable future and along with it any realistic hope of coming to grips with our ever-worsening year-round housing crisis.

The idea of a housing bank has received widespread approval on the Vineyard, most recently in the nonbinding resolutions passed by most ATMs in 2017. Each town’s Housing Production Plan includes as an option an island-wide housing bank funded by a tax on short-term rentals.

What we are doing at town meeting is sending a strong message to the state legislature that we want to establish a regional housing bank to support year-round housing, using a percentage of funds from the recently expanded rooms tax. It will take up to two years for the legislature to pass the enabling legislation. During that time we’ll be working out the details of how the housing bank will be run. Once the enabling legislation is passed, the proposal will come back to be voted on at town meeting and at the ballot box.

So what will the Housing Bank look like?

  • The Housing Bank will combine regional focus with local control. Each town will elect one member to the Housing Bank Commission, and the seventh will be appointed by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.
  • The Housing Bank Commission’s decisions on any given project will be made jointly with the town in which the project is planned.
  • Both non-profit and for-profit developers can apply for Housing Bank funds. These might include individual towns, the DCRHA, Island Elderly Housing, the Island Housing Trust, private developers, and so on.
  • Housing Bank funds can only be used for year-round housing and the infrastructure to support it. This might include the purchase and remodeling of existing homes as well as new construction. It can benefit Vineyarders whose incomes don’t qualify for existing programs but who can’t afford market-rate housing either.

And how will it be funded?

  • The warrant article requests that each town allocate 50% of the revenue raised by the newly expanded local excise rooms tax to the Housing Bank.
  • The excise tax is paid by visitors who stay in island hotels, motels, B&Bs, and (now) short-term rentals.
  • Since the expansion of the rooms tax is new, we don’t know how much revenue will be generated, but estimates suggest that if all six towns allocate 50% to the Housing Bank it could be more than $4 million a year.
  • The Housing Bank can also raise funds through grants, town funds, and borrowing or bonding.

Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, some details remain to be worked out. So I come back to my #1 point:

The Housing Bank articles on the ATM warrant are the essential first step.

If we don’t take this first step, the housing bank is dead for the foreseeable future and along with it any hope of coming to grips with our ever-worsening year-round housing crisis.

Current efforts aren’t meeting the ever-increasing need. No other plausible funding mechanisms have come close to even reaching the drawing-board stage. Now is the time. Please vote YES on the articles creating and funding the Housing Bank.

Town Meeting schedule:

Tuesday, April 9, 7 p.m.
Old Whaling Church
Oak Bluffs: MVRHS Performing Arts Center
Tisbury: Tisbury School
West Tisbury: West Tisbury School

Monday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.
Chilmark Community Center

Tuesday, May 14, 7 p.m.
Aquinnah town hall

Posted in Martha's Vineyard, public life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

March License Plate Report

Only three new sightings in March, but they were good ones. Washington state finally showed up, so the West Coast is now complete. With Indiana the eastern third of the country is getting closer to completion, and (sneak preview!) I spotted West Virginia on April 2, so one of the remaining holes is how filled up. Where are you, Michigan?

I’m picking on Michigan because Michigan isn’t all that rare around here, as opposed to Alabama and, especially, Mississippi.

Arizona rounds out the March haul.

By the way, that car with North Dakota plates is still parked outside deBettencourt’s gas station in Oak Bluffs. I really should snap a picture before it goes away . . .

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