Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Animal Rescue

The original of image was mostly gray on gray. In the center is the following square design: Next to the imagery of the Weird Sisters Publishing logo seen at an angle through shards of glass, the words say: “The Weird Blog, and all of the Weird Sisters Publishing website, is the casualty of a prolonged website crash this week. We have been struggling to get it back into service.” We updated it later, once the site was fixed. Now it says that, but there’s a new, bright yellow area where it says “WE’RE BACK!”

Weird Blog Woes

By Jan S. Gephardt

When I first wrote this post, I was dealing with Weird Blog Woes. The Weird Sisters Website (including The Weird Blog) had been knocked offline by a persistent software glitch and increasingly-long “repropagation” issues. Cutting to the chase: It was broken. We were (trying to) fix it.

UPDATE! It’s now FIXED! 

But while it was still broken, it was blog day. So, while reserving time to work on fixing the Weird Blog Woes, we thought perhaps you’d enjoy reading three great “fan favorite” posts of the past by G. S. Norwood—plus a BONUS!—via a website you actually might be able to access!

We hope to be back in the next two weeks with a new post on The Weird Blog! But in the meantime, please check these out—and don’t forget there’s a BONUS at the end!

The original of image was mostly gray on gray. In the center is the following square design: Next to the imagery of the Weird Sisters Publishing logo seen at an angle through shards of glass, the words say: “The Weird Blog, and all of the Weird Sisters Publishing website, is the casualty of a prolonged website crash this week. We have been struggling to get it back into service.” We updated it later, once the site was fixed. Now it says that, but there’s a new, bright yellow area where it says “WE’RE BACK!”
Design by Jan S. Gephardt.

Three Great Posts By G. S. Norwood–Plus a Bonus!

Let’s start our quest to fight off the Weird Blog woes with this wonderful post by G. S. Norwood, author of the “Deep Ellum Stories.” They’re normally available through our website. G. has a full-time job with The Dallas Winds, but she’s also an entertaining blogger.

At left, G. with her new kitten in October 2019. At right, comfortable adult Gift in G’s lap.
At left, Photo by Marcy Weiske Jordan. At right, G. with Gift on her lap. Both from G. S. Norwood’s private collection.

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

By G. S. Norwood

Sometimes the Universe gives me a cat.

I write urban fantasy, so I’m fairly open to the idea of magical energies at play in our mundane world. Still, I had no intention of adopting a cat in October of 2019. When my oldest cat, Scrap, died that July, I was comfortable with the idea of being reduced to a two-cat household. “If the Universe gives me a cat, I’ll have another cat. But I’m not going to go out looking,” I told myself. It became my mantra. Read more here.

Those Weird Blog woes are fading, right? Who doesn’t love a great cat story? Now let’s move on to another mood-lifter: Wildflowers!

Three scenic views of the stone buildings, water features, and native plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
The buildings and plantings of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center reflect and honor the local native Texas climate. (See credits below).

Lady Bird and the Wildflowers

By G. S. Norwood

It’s March in Texas, and that means wildflowers—specifically bluebonnets. For the next two weeks, roadsides and fields will be covered with our beloved state flower, a hardy lupine that loves rocky soil and early spring sunshine.

Fields of bluebonnets cover the hills of the Texas Hill Country, often peppered with clumps of Indian Paintbrush. People take pictures of themselves, their sweethearts, their babies, and their pets in bluebonnet pastures. Senior citizens who take up painting as a post-retirement hobby love to paint bluebonnet-filled landscapes.

Why are there so many bluebonnets along Texas roadsides? Read more here.

Have you shaken off the Weird Blog woes by now? Perhaps you’d like some reading ideas “for the road (or the Wildflower Trail?). After all, this is posting in the summer, and summer is the quintessential season for “beach reads” and literary vacations. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy the following.

A hot, hazy Dallas skyline
Dallas has air pollution problems (Dallas Magazine/Getty Images).

My Summer Getaway

By G. S. Norwood

Well. I finally did it. I made it safely through months of writing major grant proposals. Organized three far-from run-of-the-mill concerts. Took on some new job responsibilities, on top of the two full-time jobs I’m doing already. And I survived. Now, my friends and readers, it’s time for my summer getaway.

I’m looking for a place that will allow me to relax. Spend some quality time looking at outstanding scenery. And be much, much cooler than Dallas, both in temperature and in vibe. Read more here.

You’ve made it to the BONUS! One of the very best ways we know to escape Weird Blog woes—or any others—is a trip to Deep Ellum, Texas. Specifically, the magical and amazing Deep Ellum Texas of G. S. Norwood’s Ms. Eddy Weekes, as featured in her Deep Ellum Stories. Here’s your introduction: a free read! Enjoy Chapter One of the first “Deep Ellum Story,” Deep Ellum Pawn.

On a gold-colored background, next to a 3D visualization of the cover on an e-rreader, the words say:
“A solid-gold fiddle, with one Hell of a string attached . . . 
“’I played with the Dallas Symphony.’
“’Uh-huh. And you were pretty good. Then some guy challenged you to a fiddling contest, which you won, and he gave you his fiddle as the prize.’ I rested my hand on the duct tape that covered the violin case. ‘This fiddle, which is made of solid gold.
“Heat, and a faint vibration, rose up from the case as if the instrument inside was alive.
“’It has no resonance. The strings screech like damned souls. And ever since you got it, you’ve had horrible nightmares about giant, slavering bloodhounds with eyes red as fire, tracking you down to carry your soul to Hell.’
“My gaze held his as the color leached from his face.
“Download for free, to read Chapter One of G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Pawn. 
“Book cover art ©2019 by Chaz Kemp.”
Download your copy here! Or read it now online! Cover art © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

The Golden Fiddle

By G. S. Norwood

The guy on the other side of the counter was antsy, shifting from foot to foot, sniffing, taking quick swipes at his streaming nose with the cuff of his faded beige flannel shirt. His eyes, half-hidden by greasy blond bangs, darted from side to side, as if he was afraid Hell Hounds would appear at any moment, hot on his trail.

He probably was. And God knows, the Hounds wouldn’t have any trouble following his scent. He reeked of sweat, adrenaline, and old urine.

I looked from him to the battered violin case he’d dropped on the counter and shoved toward me. I was pretty sure what I’d find inside . . .

Download Chapter One for FREE here. Or read it now online.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood herself, for the photos of her and Gift, her cat. For the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center photos, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided their logo, as well as the photo of their stone entry building, which Jan found via Tour Texas, and the picture of the predominantly yellow plantings, which came via CBS Austin. Texas Highways provided the photo of the Center’s “Garden of Yes” designed for full-bodied fun by families with small children.

We’re indebted to Dallas Magazine and Getty Images for the view of a sweltering Dallas, TX skyline. And the “Download Chapter One of Deep Ellum Pawn” Banner was designed by Jan S. Gephardt. Cover art for the story is © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.

The Definition of “Dog”

By G. S. Norwood

I love dogs. When I was growing up, we always had at least one dog around the house. Penny, my mother’s dog during my childhood, was my earliest definition of “Dog.” She died at the ripe old age of 16. After that, the dogs were mine. Penny was followed by Burr, a collie mix, then Finnian, an Irish setter. Then Lightfoot—who went to live with Jan—and Nigel, K.D., Bashō, Liam, . . . you get the idea.

Four dogs from the family’s past – 2 from the Norwood side and 2 from the Gephardts – all have those distinctive black-and-white markings. Also included: a painting by Lucy A. Synk of Jan’s fictional XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo, reveals that they look extraordinarily like a red border collie and a black-and-white one.
Our “once and future definition of ‘dog’” is clear to see. At top, Bashō (with cat Ella) and Liam nap in the Weatherford, Texas home of Warren and G.S. Norwood in the ‘00s. Left bottom are Wolf (Ty Gephardt’s dog) and Cole (originally Grandma Janet’s dog, but at that point the dog of Signy Gephardt). Bottom R a sweeping view of Jan S. Gephardt’s fictional Sirius River Valley on Rana Station forms the backdrop for a romp by XK9 mates Elle and Tuxedo (who bear a striking resemblance to a red border collie and a “classic” black-and-white border collie) in a painting ©2020-2022 by Lucy A. Synk. (See full credits below).

My Mother’s Dog

But Liam taught me something I just hadn’t figured out with the other dogs. Liam was a seven-year-old border collie who clearly had professional herding experience when he fetched up on my doorstep. My mother had just lost her long-time pup, and I thought she might like Liam. Penny, that dog of my childhood, had been a border collie and she was the best dog ever, according to Mom.

Penny had belonged to neighbors back when Mom was pregnant with Jan. Through the long, humid summer, in the days before air conditioning, Mom spent her afternoons in her relatively cool garage, reading and resting. Often Penny, left outdoors and not confined, came over to keep her company. Mom and Penny bonded. Then, one day, Penny disappeared. Mom learned that the neighbors, tired of a dog they never paid attention to, had dumped her out in the country.

Two weeks later Penny came back—not to the neighbors who had neglected and abused her, but to Mom. My mother promptly went next door to inform her neighbors that Penny had returned, but she was no longer their dog. Mom claimed her, as Penny claimed Mom. The two of them remained loyal to each other through two children, three moves, a crumbling marriage, and all the rest. Along the way, Jan and I grew up with a strongly imprinted archetype. In the deepest parts of our brains, “Dog” equaled a black and white border collie. I didn’t fully understand this until I saw Liam, and realized he was the definition of “Dog” for me.

Four views of G.’s black-and-white border collie Liam, two from his old age and one with a tiny black kitten.
The dog who taught G. her definition of “dog” was Liam, seen here in four different stages of his life. (All photos courtesy of author G. S. Norwood).

The Definition of “Dog”

Since that time, I have only looked at border collies. I first noticed Tam at an adoption event because he had border collie lines. He turned out to be a border collie/golden retriever mix. After Liam died, I started volunteering with a border collie rescue group.

Chess was my first foster, and first foster fail. Zoe was the dog I was really looking for—a classic black and white female like Penny—and Kata . . . Well, okay, Kata looks like a smooth-coated sable border collie if you get her in the right light. She was stranded at a high-kill rural Texas shelter and got classified as “border collie enough” so she could get out of there. The four of them became my Texas Pack.

Clockwise: Zoe, Chess, Kata and Tam in a photo montage that has appeared on this blog before.
Until recently, this was G.S. Norwood’s “Texas Pack,” described in loving detail in an earlier blog post. (See credits below).

An Opening in the Pack

Back in October, however, Tam, at age 13, lost his battle with lymphoma. His passing left a huge hole in the Texas Pack but opened up space for me to start fostering again. I wasn’t eager to get another dog, but I did check the shelters for border collies from time to time.

Which is how, in mid-November, I happened onto a photo of a sweet young border collie boy who looked like he was smart, a little wary, and more than ready to get the heck out of my local dog pound. Those big brown eyes hooked me, with his direct gaze and knowing attitude. I called my current rescue group’s coordinator. She said it was okay if I wanted to evaluate him, but she warned that she didn’t think we had any fosters available.

Three photos of Tam on a “rainbow river” background image.
G.’s dog Tam recently crossed the proverbial “Rainbow Bridge,” but she got some great photos of him while she had him. Here are three of the best. (See credits below).

Harvey Needs Help

I went to the shelter anyway. Once I saw the overcrowded conditions, I knew this dog—shelter named Harvey—needed rescue. It seemed everyone in my county had decided to surrender their pandemic pups in time to have a dog-free home for the holidays. I like my local shelter. The folks there do a good job of keeping it clean, treating the animals well, and moving them through without euthanizing healthy animals to create more space. But they were bursting at the seams, and crating dogs in the hallways. They needed some help to clear the shelter before Christmas.

The shelter worker was happy to show me to Harvey’s kennel. He seemed to be a calm, friendly dog. I asked to meet him in a private space and was led to an outdoor exercise pen. When the shelter worker brought Harvey out, she warned that he hadn’t been out all day, and was a little slow to warm up. As if he knew why I was there, Harvey came directly to where I sat and put his head in my lap for a friendly meet-and-cuddle before he trotted off to do his business like a house-trained guy who had been holding it for a while.

I knew right then I was not leaving this dog behind. I called the rescue coordinator again and offered to foster him through the holidays, until she could find a long-term place for him.

Two photos of “Harvey” – later renamed Slater – taken at the Collin County, Texas Animal Shelter.
These two animal shelter photos piqued G.’s interest in learning more about “Harvey.” (Photos via G. S. Norwood from Collin County (TX) Animal Services).

Harvey Goes Home

How could she refuse an offer like that? Harvey left the shelter with me—then spent fifteen minutes refusing to load into my car. Apparently getting into cars meant strange, bad things were about to happen.

Once home I discovered that the recently-neutered Harvey still had the urge to do a lot of territorial marking. Which spurred the long-neutered, completely house-trained Chess to mark his territory right back. Great. But we made it through Thanksgiving week, which included a lot of outrage from the cats and an emergency trip to my vet to treat the upper respiratory infection Harvey had picked up at the shelter.

It also included a name change. Rescue groups handle a lot of dogs, but we try not to repeat names, so we always know which dog we’re talking about. They can’t all be Zoe, Molly, or Max. This guy couldn’t be Harvey, either, since the group had already had a Harvey. And a Shiloh. And a Dylan. I dug out my name book and he became Slater.

A large photo of Slater in his “forever home” back yard is surrounded by smaller photos of his canine and feline housemates Kata, Ella, Gift, Chess, and Zoe, underlain by a fabric pattern of cartoon grey squirrels and the words “Squirrel Patrol.”
Slater (center) now lives in a new domain with canine housemates (L-R) Kata, Zoe, and Chess, as well as felines (L-R) Ella and Gift. Ever vigilant, he enjoys his new “Squirrel Patrol” duties. (See credits below).

Slater Meets the World

And eventually—probably inevitably—he became Slater Norwood. The cats are still adjusting, but the rest of the pack has agreed to tolerate this new guy. Slater is slowly coming out of his shelter shock and learning the ropes of his new life: pottying happens outdoors, it’s okay to cuddle on the bed, but he can’t chase the cats. Ever.

He is discovering squirrels. He is learning his new name, and that he really should come when I call him. Things are starting to make sense to him. One thing he definitely knows is that I am a kind person who will reassure him if he gets confused and love him even when he transgresses.

Border collies are smart about things like that. That’s one reason why they are my definition of “Dog.” As Jan so wisely observed, our mother would have loved him.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to G. S. Norwood and Jan S. Gephardt, who provided nearly all of the photos for this post. The montages are all Jan S. Gephardt’s fault.

We would like to thank Lucy A. Synk for her wonderful painting ©2020-2022 of XK9s Elle and Tuxedo at play on a meadow high above Rana Station’s Sirius River Valley (characters from Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 novels). Our gratitude goes to Evgenii Lashchenov and 123rf as well, for the “Multicolored-Magical-Rainbow-River” digital illustration that provides a backdrop for the “Memorial to Tam.”

We deeply appreciate Collin County Animal Services for the two photos of Slater when he was known as “Harvey” and was up for adoption. And we’re very grateful to Jessica Prout of Little Arrow Design via Spoonflower, for the cute “Squirrel Patrol” fabric pattern for the “Slater in His Domain” montage. Prout’s design is available in fat quarters or yardage on Spoonflower.

The sisters in their childhood, and their books published through Weird Sisters Publishing.

Not a Blog Post

By Jan S. Gephardt and G. S. Norwood

Fair warning: This is not a blog post. G. and Jan are both dealing with health issues. This is beyond writing a blog post about taking a sick day (besides, Jan already did that). Neither one of us is feeling energetic enough to create a complete, well-rounded blog post this week. Since both of us have lifetimes of experience in deadline-driven careers, this is a hard thing to admit.

But sorry. This is not a blog post. We have been a lot more “on the ball” on past occasions, however. So instead of offering a new post, we thought we’d offer kind of a smorgasbord of some favorite past posts.

The first two stories in G. S. Norwood’s “Deep Ellum” series are “Deep Ellum Pawn” and “Deep Ellum Blues.”
Artwork ©2019 and 2020 by Chaz Kemp. (Courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing).

Not A Blog Post, but Several

First, how about spending some quality time with pets, through some of our favorite past blog posts from G? If you’re familiar with the work of G.S. Norwood, you know her dry wit and her keen observer’s eye.

She has brought those qualities to her ongoing urban fiction series, the Deep Ellum Stories. These, not incidentally, include a range of wonderful animals, including Tidbit and Morsel, Ms. Eddy’s feline siblings who are considerably more than they seem. Then there’s Ace, the reformed Hell Hound, and even Fred, the back-yard mosasaur.

Read more about them in G’s novelettes Deep Ellum Pawn and its follow-up, Deep Ellum Blues. And stay tuned for G’s upcoming story, Death in Deep Ellum (set to be finished after she gets well). Meanwhile, even while this is technically not a blog post, we hope you enjoy this trio of G’s blog post “pet-classics.”

L-R: Fictional Tidbit meets real-life Scrap.
G’s cats in art and life L-R: Ms. Eddy’s cat Tidbit, as envisioned ©2019 by Chaz Kemp, and Tidbit’s real-life inspiration, G’s cat Scrap, complete with her trademark curly tail. (The Weird Blog).

Cats in Space?

G. S. Norwood examines the roles of dogs and cats in Weird Sisters Publishing’s fiction, and makes the case that there will be cats in space. We hope you’ll enjoy her post Cats in Space?

Because – can we talk? – if we humans actually do take to the stars, we won’t want to leave our companion animals behind. Science fiction is full of cats, dogs, and other critters who’ve voyaged with us in our fictional forays into the Final Frontier. If art mirrors life, there will be canine and feline spacefarers traveling with us.

Meanwhile, we think you’ll enjoy this post.

At left, Gift as a sickly kitten in a shelter. At right, G. with her sleek, healthy grown cat, Gift.
In just one year, the scrawny, snotty-nosed little calico G. found in the shelter underwent a remarkable transformation. But she still likes to cuddle. (Photos from G. S. Norwood’s private collection).

The Universe Gives Me a Cat

Urban fantasy writer G. S. Norwood, open to everyday magic in reality, says sometimes “the Universe gives me a cat,” when she heeds intuition. What do you do, when the Universe has decided to give you a cat? Here’s G’s story.

Dog trainer Cesar Millan is fond of saying “You don’t always get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need.” We think that definitely goes for cats, too! Did G. get the cat she (didn’t know she) needed? Decide for yourself.

The members of the Texas Pack.
Clockwise from the top: “Sheriff” Zoe, a rather “wolfy” Chess on the prowl, and Kata with all-black Tam in G’s back yard. (The Weird Blog).

The Texas Pack

The Norwood household not only includes cats. It has a full cast of canine characters, too. G.S. Norwood introduces readers to The Texas Pack, her four border collies who each have distinct personalities, and who have informed her fiction.

Do you recognize any of the personality types she profiles in her blog post? Perhaps you’ve known dogs or other companion animals with similar approaches to life. Whether they’re interacting with humans or with each other, their personalities shine through.

Covers for the three XK9 books in print as of this post.
Prequel novella The Other Side of Fear, with Books One and Two of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy: What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. Cover art ©2020 by Lucy A. Synk, and ©2019 and 2020 respectively, by Jody A. Lee. (Courtesy of Weird Sisters Publishing).

A Blog Post Series for Dog Lovers

Science fiction writer Jan S. Gephardt has done a different take on blog posts about pets – specifically dogs – and their unexpected capabilities. Even if this is not a blog post, if you’re in the mood for one, why not give these a try? Her series on canine cognition outlined some of the research she did for her science fictional universe. As veteran sf readers know, the “science” in science fiction means that writers ground their stories in actual, real-world scientific ideas.

Jan’s stories feature a pack of uplifted police dogs called XK9s. They help uphold the rule of law on Rana Station, their adopted space station home. Written as adventure mystery stories, they also offer glimpses of the sometimes-humorous ways in which truly sapient dogs might interact with the human world.

Hundreds of people have enjoyed her XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, a series of books which has earned some excellent niche rankings. The first two are available now from a variety of booksellers worldwide, as either ebooks or paperbacks. The third book in the Trilogy is set for release in 2023. Some may prefer to take a “test drive” with her prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear. It’s also available widely for sale as an ebook or paperback. Or get it FREE as an ebook if you sign up for Jan’s feature-packed monthly newsletter!

An illustration showing “social gazing” patterns of dog and humans.
A Finnish study demonstrated similarities between domestic dogs’ and humans’ “social gazing” behavior. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Dog Cognition: How Much Does Your Dog Understand?

How much does your dog understand? A lot, actually, and on a more sophisticated level than many people think. “The Artdog” begins a new series on the research that convinced her dogs could someday be uplifted to be sapient beings.

Dogs may even be likelier candidates for future uplift than primates or cetaceans, for several excellent reasons. And seriously! What pet-parent wouldn’t love to know what their companion is trying to communicate sometimes? If only they could tell us in words! Turns out, maybe someday they can.

Chocolate Labrador “Fernie” responds to written commands.
Can a dog read? “Reading Dog” Fernie (here with his human, Nik Gardner) inspires elementary students at Headmaster Gardner’s UK primary school to learn to read. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Dogs: Verbal Virtuosos?

Dogs as verbal virtuosos? When it comes to canine cognition, researchers are finding that dogs are real verbal virtuosos who know word meanings and can combine meaningful phrases. Alert readers of Jan’s novels might also recognize where she got the names for a couple of XK9s, after reading this blog post!

Jan wasn’t just anthropomorphizing (well, some – but not entirely!) when she gave the XK9s the ability to read and compose verbal replies. Until they get prosthetic thumbs, the ability to physically write won’t be in their, um, grasp. But they wield words (sometimes in several languages) pretty doggone well. And here’s her justification for thinking they someday really could!

Three dogs hug their humans.
MRI studies of brain patterns suggest these dogs aren’t just going through the motions. (Artdog Adventures Blog).

Could it be Love?

Could it be love? We’ve long worried that we’re anthropomorphizing when we say our dogs love us. But more and more studies reveal the answer to “could it be love?” is YES!

Unfortunately, the video at the end of the blog post Could it be Love seems to no longer be available, but we hope you have seen similar behaviors in dogs (sorry – Jan had no energy to spare looking up a new video, but if you have time to go down a YouTube rabbit hole, we bet you can have fun finding more!).

Do the XK9s love their human partners? Absolutely! Pack is Family for XK9s, and their humans – including a few “extended Pack members” – are included in that circle.

Not a Blog Post, but we Hope You’ve enjoyed it

We hope you have fun reading through this “not a blog post” full of blog posts. We’re hoping and planning for one of us to be back in the saddle with new content for next week.

IMAGE CREDITS

We’ve pulled our images this week from the Weird Sisters Website and from the blog posts featured in this “not a blog post” article. Follow the links to the blog posts for full information on our image sources.

Sabrina and I met in the McAlester OK Wal-Mart parking lot.

How I Met the Hillbilly Girl

By G. S. Norwood

Last Thursday was National Rescue Dog Day. Technically, it’s Jan’s week to write the blog, but she is busy rescuing dogs in the nail-biter finale of her upcoming novel, A Bone to Pick. So I thought I’d mark the occasion with another story about one of the dogs I’ve helped rescue. I’m calling this one, “How I Met the Hillbilly Girl.”

Rescue Required

Rescue groups coordinate their efforts all the time. So it wasn’t really a surprise when somebody from Mo-Kan Border Collie Rescue got in touch with the group I volunteered for early in March 2013. Headquartered in Houston, All Border Collie Rescue had outposts in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Oklahoma City back then. Mo-Kan had spotted what looked like a pure-bred dog in a small shelter in east central Oklahoma. She needed to get out, but Mo-Kan didn’t have a foster for her. They hoped we did.

The woman who worked at the shelter said the dog’s situation was dire. Not only did the shelter euthanize dogs when they ran out of space, they didn’t have separate runs for the dogs. This young female border collie—the shelter called her Sabrina—was in a big pen with a bunch of pit bulls. Some of them were unneutered males. Plus, Sabrina clearly hated the shelter. She was starting to shut down emotionally.

Sabrina in the shelter.
You can tell by the look on her face, Sabrina is saying, “Somebody get me out of here!” (see credit note below).

A Stake and a Chain

One potential foster backed out. Another couldn’t take the dog until the foster got back from a business trip. Meanwhile, the woman at the shelter was getting frantic.

“A man looked at her today,” she told us. “He said he didn’t have room, but he’s gone to ask if his nephew can keep her in his yard. He said he’d pick up a stake and a chain, to chain her out! If I tag her for rescue now, she won’t be available for him to adopt. Sabrina is a great dog. She deserves a better life than being staked out on a chain.”

Somebody had to step up. Even though I lived in a rented house at the time, and already had all the dogs my landladies would allow, I said I’d take Sabrina for a week, until the other foster got back from her business trip.

Warren’s purple truck.
I used Warren’s Dodge Dakota pickup truck for a lot of my dog transports. It’s easy to spot in a parking lot. (G. S. Norwood).

How I Met the Hillbilly Girl

A Mo-Kan volunteer in Fort Smith, Arkansas, agreed to pull Sabrina from the shelter. I would drive north to McAlester, Oklahoma. We’d meet in the Wal-Mart parking lot so I could take Sabrina to my place in Texas, where I’d hold her for the week.

It was cold and cloudy when I pulled into the McAlester Wal-Mart parking lot that Saturday morning. It wasn’t long before I spotted the blue Hyundai I was watching for—and she spotted my infamous purple Dodge Dakota pickup truck. (It was Warren’s. It’s hard to miss.)

Sabrina was more than happy to get out of the car and take a deep breath of freedom. Then she sat on my feet, leaned on my leg. Jumped up to wrap her front legs around me and give me a kiss. Wendy, the Mo-Kan volunteer, took some pictures, then I loaded Sabrina into the front seat of my truck, and we were Texas bound.

Sabrina and I met in the McAlester OK Wal-Mart parking lot.
Sabrina was really happy to get out of that shelter and meet me for her ride to Texas. (Photo by Wendy Mac).

Transport Failure

Some dogs fresh out of the shelter are so bouncy I have to crate them so it’s safe to drive. Not Sabrina. She curled up on the seat and fell asleep almost instantly. Little by little, as I drove south, Sabrina moved closer to me, until she was pressing against my leg. As we crossed the Red River I said, “Congratulations, pretty girl. You’re a Texan now.”

She let out a huge sigh, put her head on my knee, and fell deeply asleep.

I had been looking to adopt a classic black and white female border collie for the past five months. I thought a female would be a better fit with my very shy male dog, Tam. I had a foster dog, Chess, but he would be up for adoption soon. I wanted a second dog to keep.

When a volunteer agrees to foster a dog, we’re supposed to help the dog be adopted by someone else. If the foster decides to adopt the dog herself, we call that a “foster failure.” By the time I got Sabrina home, I knew she wasn’t even going to be a foster failure. She was a transport failure.

Zoe the first night out of the shelter.
Zoe’s first night in her new home. Note the untouched chicken in her bowl. (G. S. Norwood).

Meet Zoe, the Hillbilly Girl

I was on the phone to my chapter coordinator as soon as I got home. Sabrina became Zoe. I brought her home on a Saturday. On Monday, she went into her first heat cycle. We had pulled her in the nick of time.

She wasn’t used to fancy dog food. That first night out of the shelter she completely snubbed some home-cooked chicken and rice I’d made her. The next night I sprinkled a little Purina Dog Chow on the chicken. Now THAT was good eatin’!

She showed other preferences as I got to know her better. She was super tuned in to pizza and Whataburger drive-up windows. She liked men in their late 20s to early 30s. And she always perked up when she heard a motorcycle drive by. You can tell a lot about a dog by the things she likes, and Zoe’s tastes were distinctly redneck. That’s how she got the nickname Hillbilly Girl. Still, she’s a class act. I don’t know what we’d do without her.

Three photos from Zoe’s current life.
The Hillbilly Girl Zoe is now the “Sheriff” of the Pack (photos L-R by G. S. Norwood, Christine Lindsay, and Julia Rigler Photography).

IMAGE CREDITS:

We have several sources to thank for the photos in this post. The first one is Sabrina’s shelter photo (Maybe they’ve been able to improve conditions since then, but we’ve chosen to redact the shelter’s name). The series of Sabrina and G. meeting is by Wendy Mac, the Mo-Kan volunteer from Arkansas (montage by Jan S. Gephardt). And the photos of Warren’s purple truck and Sabrina/Zoe on her first night in her new home are by G. S. Norwood. In the final montage, L-R, the photos are by G. S. Norwood, Christine Lindsay, and Julia Rigler (again, montage by Jan S. Gephardt). Many thanks to all!

Kirby with Dan’s 2019 Airstream Sport 22FB parked at the Marfa Yacht Club.

Airstream + Dog = Happy Trails (and Tails)

by Guest Blogger Daniel J. Hale

RV travel with Man’s Best Friend is an irreplaceable bonding experience. It’s also the very best kind of travel, especially during a pandemic. Airstream + Dog = Happy.

Montage: Kirby outside the RV and in its doorway.
Here’s Kirby with Dan’s 2019 Airstream Sport 22FB: At left, parked at the Marfa Yacht Club. At right, on the doorstep of adventure. (Daniel J. Hale).

I’d been jonesing for an Airstream since I saw several of the streamlined aluminum travel trailers during a road trip to the Great American Southwest in 2001. By early 2019, after my second stint as Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. (best known for the Edgar® Awards), I’d logged roughly a million miles on commercial airliners. I was tired of flying and leaving my dog in the care of others. My laid-back border collie dude Kirby had already transitioned to life as a senior dog, and I became increasingly aware how much each moment with him mattered. I made a firm decision to take Kirby with me whenever I traveled from that point on.

Travels with Kirby

In July 2019, I bought my first Airstream from a terrific dealership in Fort Worth, Texas. Kirby and I traveled with it a lot. We towed the shiny trailer to Marfa, Texas; Natchez, Mississippi; the Florida Panhandle; Lajitas, Texas; the pine thickets of Southwest Arkansas; the French Quarter in New Orleans (yes, there’s an RV resort there); and the Caddo Lake area. I grew more and more fond of the experience with each trip. Kirby seemed to love it as much as I did.

Kirby sees the sights: at left, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, LA. At right, outside the Airstream with Lajitas Mesa in the background. (Daniel J. Hale).

Being able to work from a place like New Orleans was key. When I took a break, I could leash up my pup and walk to Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets. There are few things in this world better than strolling through the French Quarter at dawn with your pup, his nose still sprinkled with the powdered sugar from the pastry he tried to pilfer from the table. I’m forever grateful for the quality travel time I was able to spend with my good boy Kirby.

Airstream + Dog = Happy Memories

In April 2020, the pandemic in full swing, I headed west with the Airstream. My new rescue, a sweet shorthaired border collie I’d named Fox Mulder rode shotgun. The original plan was for us to go to Southern California and back with stops at the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Monument Valley and Joshua Tree. I’m here to tell you that towing a mobile studio apartment is a great way to stay safe while traveling during a pandemic. I’ll also let you know that, at the time, the constantly changing menu of various state restrictions made travel unpredictable and precarious. We got as far as Marfa, Texas, and then we dropped anchor.

Two scenes of Fox Mulder the border collie traveling.
On the Road with Fox Mulder: at left, Fox finds the Airstream’s forward bed acceptable. At right, he and Dan get the heck out of Dallas. (Daniel J. Hale).

The terrific all-Airstream Marfa Yacht Club served as our home base for a month. Fox and I took side-trips to Lajitas, the Davis Mountains, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Alpine, Terlingua, Fort Davis and Presidio. (Big Bend National Park was closed at that time due to the pandemic.) After four weeks in Marfa, we towed the shiny aluminum trailer to South Padre Island. There, I showed Fox Mulder that wading into the ocean wasn’t scary but rather a lot of fun. Five weeks in close confines with the new rescue pup served as an irreplaceable bonding experience. By the time we returned to Dallas, Fox and I knew we belonged to each other.

Fox Mulder in a chair outside the Airstream, and in the surf at South Padre Island.
Fox Mulder, dog about Texas: at left, taking in the sights from beneath the canopy. At right, frolicking in the surf at South Padre Island. (Daniel J. Hale).

Airstream + Dog = Happy Family

The pull of the open road once again grew too strong to ignore after a few weeks in Dallas. While Fox Mulder remained well cared for at home, I once again set out for California. This time, I made it to San Diego and Joshua Tree National Park. I had no doubt that bringing Fox along would have carried additional risks – mostly risks to him – but Airstream travel just didn’t seem right without my fuzzy co-pilot. Lesson learned. When I made my last month-long excursion near the end of 2020, Fox Mulder was riding shotgun again. Balance had been restored to the world. To my world, anyway.

Many RV owners will tell you that they bought their expensive homes on wheels for and because of their pets. They may chuckle when they say it, but they’re dead-serious. So am I. Life on the road is good. Life on the road is much better with a canine (or two) in your entourage.

Three views of Fox Mulder in and around the RV.
On the Road Again: At left, Fox sits inside the Airstream. Center, Fox Mulder as Gladys Kravitz – on a stakeout. At right, Fox Mulder at the Marfa Yacht Club. (Daniel J. Hale).

Airstream + Dog = Happy Trails (and Tails)

Our Guest Blogger Daniel J. Hale is an Agatha Award-winning author and a two-time former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. He’s an FAA-licensed unmanned aerial vehicle pilot – his three aerial photography exhibits were sold-out shows. Hale speaks fluent French and is the recipient of the Diplôme Superieur de Français des Affaires de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris. He holds degrees from Cornell University, the Bowen School of Law and Southern Methodist University. When he and his trusty border collie are not in Dallas, you’ll find them traveling the country with their shiny silver Airstream in tow.

IMAGE CREDITS: All photos are courtesy of Daniel J. Hale Photography (Jan and G. recommend a deep dive into his gorgeous online galleries for some amazing and beautiful photos!). Many, many thanks! We deeply appreciate his willingness to share a glimpse of his adventures with his canine co-pilots on The Weird Blog and Artdog Adventures! Dan, you’re a rock star!

A healthy Chess makes the rounds in his back yard.

Rescue Me! Adventures as a Dog Rescue Volunteer

By G. S. Norwood

Rescue Me!

Over the years I’ve taken in a lot of strays, and helped many animals find good homes. In 2013, after I my beloved border collie, Liam, died, I contacted a border collie rescue group to find a new friend for my remaining dog, Tam. That’s when my adventures as a dog rescue volunteer really began!

WARNING: You may find some of the photos in this blog post disturbing. Please be assured this dog is now healthy, and has found his happily ever after.

I figured volunteering for a border collie group, and maybe even fostering a dog, would be a great way to meet a lot of dogs. After decades of having male dogs, I wanted a classic black and white female to befriend shy boy, Tam. But, to keep my options open, I regularly scanned the website for my local shelter. That’s where I spotted the picture of a dog whose face all but screamed, “Rescue me!”

Three shelter images of a very sad-looking dog.
Look at those eyes! You know he’s saying, “Rescue me!” (Collin County Animal Services).

Border Collie Enough?

I wasn’t even sure the dog was a border collie, although his overall conformation looked collie-ish. It’s hard to judge how large a dog is from a shelter picture, with nothing in the background to use for scale. I figured he was a big guy. His shelter name was Fontaine, but he looked like a Chester to me. He also looked like he was headed for big trouble. With no hair, he was a candidate for the Red List: marked as unadoptable and tagged for euthanasia.

Although I was living in a rented house at the time, my landlady allowed me to have two dogs. I only had one. So I contacted the rescue group’s intake coordinator and offered to foster this poor, unadoptable mutt. The intake coordinator agreed that he was probably “border collie enough.” I called the shelter as soon as they opened, and made a date to meet Fontaine. I even took off work early to make sure I got to the shelter before it closed.

Long Road to Recovery

Scraggly dog with bald patches, on a leash
One hour out of the shelter, and he was already a happier dog. (Gigi Sherrell Norwood).

My first surprise, upon meeting him, was that he was actually tiny—only 22 pounds. The shelter estimated his age at 1-2 years, but they really had no way of knowing, beyond the fact that he had all his adult teeth, and they were pretty clean. He was a mess, with very little hair and scabby, infected skin. Mange, we figured. That meant I’d have to keep him quarantined from Tam and my four cats. The rescue group had a local vet, so I could get Fontaine treated right away. I put a rescue hold on him, and all the shelter workers cheered. He was a sweet guy. They didn’t want to put him down.

I’ll Call Him Chess

I took that Friday off work and picked up Fontaine as soon as the shelter opened. We went straight to the vet. In person, this happy little guy didn’t look like a “Fontaine,” and was much too sassy to be a “Chester.” I decided to call him Chess.

At the vet, Chess’s skin scrapes came back negative for mange. It took about six weeks to diagnose his problem as severe allergic dermatitis. During that time he lost almost all of his hair. But, looks aside, Chess turned out to be an absolute doll.

Two photos of a black dog with almost no hair. In one he wears a sweater.
At his worst, Chess lost almost all of his hair. (Gigi Sherrell Norwood).

Chess became my constant companion when I was at home. He played cheerfully with Tam, and was gentle with the cats. He learned everything I wanted him to do so quickly I only had to show him once or twice. And he grew. Starting at 22 pounds and about half Tam’s size, he eventually topped out at 44 pounds and every bit as tall as Tam, although much more delicate of frame. Making a quick calculation of adult teeth + half adult size, the vet and I figured Chess was only 5 months old when he was picked up by the shelter.

Finding Forever

Right from the start, Chess decided he had found his forever home. He snuggled up next to me on the couch, waited for me outside the bathroom door, and slept by my side all night long. He loved to go for walks, but preferred I leave “that other guy” at home so we could savor our walking time together. I kept telling him I was just a stopover, and that someday, when he was completely healthy, we would find him an awesome forever home. His hair grew back, and I started taking him to adoption events. Nobody paid much attention to him, but I figured sooner or later somebody would see what an awesome dog he was.

Beautiful border collie with a lustrous coat—hard to believe it’s the same dog.
I started to take Chess to adoption events. (Julia Rigler Photography).

Then, about ten months after I brought him home from the shelter, we went to an event at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Chess was Mr. Perfect that day. His hair was long, and starting to get wavy. He greeted potential adopters politely, and even let one little girl with Down Syndrome cuddle with him. As we roamed the Stockyards, side by side, he never pulled on his leash or barked at the longhorns. He even waited patiently until I was ready to share a bite of my burger.

Ya Think?

The intake coordinator who had let me pull him from the shelter was watching us. “When I decided he was ‘border collie enough,’ I didn’t realize he’d turn out to be a purebred,” she said.

“Chess? A purebred?” I was stunned. I was used to the classic black and white look and larger frame American border collies usually have. Chess was a delicate thing, with long, thin legs and a thinner muzzle. He had tri-color markings instead of black and white. And yet, when I looked at border collie web pages, I realized Scottish dogs often looked like Chess. Could it be?

Chess and a Scottish border collie look strikingly similar in this montage.
The dog on the left is Chess. The dog on the right was a poster boy for Border Collie Rescue Scotland. What do you think? (L: Eva Loukas; R: Border Collie Rescue Scotland).

The Light Dawns

“You know he never takes his eyes off you,” the intake coordinator said. “Adopters aren’t asking about him because they think he’s your dog. You maybe ought to think about that.”

I thought about that. When I got home, I posted on Facebook about my day in Fort Worth with Chess. A friend of a friend—a woman I know, like, and am sure would be a wonderful dog owner—responded to by saying, “I want Chess!”

And I thought, “Like hell! You’re not getting my dog.” Which is how I finally reached the same conclusion that Chess, and everybody else in the world, had figured out months ago. The sad, ragged dog the shelter called Fontaine—the one they’d red-listed for euthanasia because he was unadoptable—had finally found his Forever Home.

Happy, furry Chess claims a corner of G.’s office at the Dallas Winds headquarters.
Chess still likes to go with me everywhere—even the office. (Cora Allen).

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Collin County Animal Services for the composite shelter photo of “Fontaine.” We also want to thank Julia Rigler Photography, Eva Loukas, and Cora Allen for other photos of Chess (see photo captions), and Border Collie Rescue Scotland for the photo of a beautiful Scottish Border Collie. Other photos, as noted, are by G. S. Norwood. “Naked Chess” and “Chess-Scottish Comparison” montages assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. With gratitude to all!

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