The Love of a Dog for Her Bag

Yeah, I know I said I was going to blog every day this week about what an informationist does, but to be honest, I started reading a really good book and the blogging just didn’t happen.  I will certainly regale the internet with more tales of the research informationist life at some point, but right now I’d like to tell you about Ophelia and her bag.

Some of you reading the blog may be viewers of Ophelia Cam, which is essentially a live webcam of my dog sleeping soundly for nearly the entire 9-10 hours I’m at work every day.  Those of you who view Ophelia Cam may have noticed that my floor is littered with dog bones, toys, and what looks like a large pile of material.  That is actually Ophelia’s bag, and she loves it.

Ophelia and her bag.

Ophelia and her bag.  She normally doesn’t like being in photos, but she was happy to pose with her bag.

Ophelia’s bag is a large tote bag that I sewed for myself before I went to yoga school in the mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado.  I needed something that was large enough to hold a yoga mat and various other stuff that I would need to carry around with me, and since I couldn’t find anything that fit the bill to purchase, I designed and made my own.  A few weeks ago I had the bag out to carry something in, and in the middle of cleaning up the house, I set the bag on the floor in the living room.  In that time, Ophelia found the bag and adopted it as her own.

The bag has multiple purposes. One, it is useful as a place to bury things.  Because we are urban, apartment-dwelling folk, Ophelia and I lack a yard.  For a dog with a strong urge to bury things, this has been rough.  Ophelia has destroyed several dog beds and also ripped up a very nice set of sheets in an attempt to bury her bones, evidently not realizing that a bed does not functionally work the same way as, say, a pile of dirt.  However, the bag has proven to be an ideal hiding spot for various and sundry treasures that Ophelia inexplicably feels the need to hide.

Secondly, the bag is like home base for Ophelia during games of catch.  Ophelia is a very smart dog, but I have tried and failed on multiple occasions to teach her how to return a ball to me after I throw it.  She will sit across the room and stare at her ball, barking and chomping at it in frustration, while I implore her to bring it over, yet she just can’t quite get the concept.  However, she has a natural instinct to return the ball to the bag.  Realizing this, I now simply place the bag near me when I went to play catch with her, and our problems are solved.  She drops the ball on the bag, and I can reach down and grab it and our game continues uninterrupted.

The other nice thing about the bag is that when I have to take trips and Ophelia goes to stay with someone else, I can put all her stuff (food, food bowl, toys, blankie, etc) in the bag and take it with us.  We have only traveled once since Ophelia fell in love with her bag, and I was too embarrassed to explain what the bag was for and that it should be laid out on the floor for Ophelia to interact with. 🙂

Ophelia, Before and After

I’ve been reading about Batman the Awesome Wheelchair Dog going to his new family.  He, like my dog Ophelia, is a Formosan Mountain Dog who came from Taiwan.  He broke his spine and lost the use of his back legs when he was hit by a car.  The driver left him for dead and he dragged himself into an alley until some people came by and helped him.  I don’t know for sure, because I’ve heard different versions of the story from different people, but I believe Ophelia was also hit by a car.  Compared to Batman, Ophelia was much luckier – she broke her femur and has a metal plate in her bone now, but she does great, and you’d never know.

Being with Ophelia every day, I don’t notice how far she’s come until I think back to what she was like when I first got her.  I will warn you, the image below is sort of graphic if you’re a dog lover.  Maybe it’s just because I’m her mom, that picture of poor Ophelia with her ribs sticking out and her tail between her legs and her ears in an unhappy, scared position just breaks my heart.


Poor Ophelia.  (BTW, anyone read Chinese?  I’d love to know what the caption says.)  But even though looking at that makes me really sad, I’m less sad when I think of how far she’s come.  She’s just the coolest, smartest, most awesome dog I’ve ever met (okay, maybe I’m biased).  She may have lived on the street and gone through terrible stuff before, but now she sleeps in bed with me, gets cheese on her kibble, and lounges about when she’s not busy chasing a ball or her Squirrelly.  So I will leave you with a happier picture of Ophelia now – this was taken when we were visiting my parents’ house at the holidays.  Isn’t that quite a difference in a year and a half?

ophelia on the bed

Who Rescued Who: Bad Grammar, True Sentiment

A little more than a year ago, I met the girl of my dreams. That’s her in the picture above, my very sweet dog Ophelia.  In this picture, she’d been in this spot for almost two days straight while I was sick in bed, just staying by my side.  The last year of my life has been pretty big, with lots of things going on at work and in other aspects of my life, but I think the most significant thing to happen to me was the journey that Ophelia and I went on together.

I’ll start by saying I’m partly writing this post to encourage people to get rescue dogs, when it’s feasible.  Having a rescue dog is not always easy.  There’s a lot of unpredictable behavior, some apologizing to people, many hours spent training.  All the dogs in my family right now (3 in total) are rescues, each with their own crazy little quirks, and I’m pretty sure all of us have wondered at times if we had made a mistake in adopting these dogs.  But I think we would all agree that these three little beasties, as troublesome as they can be at times, are really the best things that have happened to us.

When I was looking for a dog, I really wanted a hard case.  I started my search looking for a black dog, because I knew of “Black Dog Syndrome” – for various reasons, black dogs are way less likely to be adopted (plus I wear mostly black, so hey, black fur works! ;)) .  I knew I had found a very interesting dog when I stumbled on Ophelia’s listing on Petfinder.  I watched her videos and I could immediately tell she was super smart, cute, and playful.  The first time I met her in person was when her very awesome foster mom brought her to my apartment.  Ophelia jumped up on the counter to check out my kitchen reference books (yes, I’m a librarian, so I do have a reference section in my kitchen).  Then she rolled over for a belly rub.  Then she chomped at me!  I was in love.

I saw the pictures of her injuries later – the metal plate in her femur, the way she stood looking at the camera in the utmost despair, pain, and fear.  I cried when I saw that picture.  I’m still not quite clear on exactly Ophelia’s past is, but I know it was very awful, so I’ve tried my hardest to give her the best life I can. And I’ve been rewarded with the most cuddly, adorable, sweet little dog anyone could ever ask for.  What makes me feel even more honored is that she rarely shows this side to people.  There are many people who’ve known her for a long time who are still even afraid of her.  She didn’t trust me at first either, but now, she sleeps with her body stretched along my legs, or her chin resting over my ankles.  Right now we’re in the chin-over-ankle position.  And to think, two years ago at this time she was living on the street with no one to love her.  I can’t think of a better way to have spent the last year of my life than on Ophelia.

It wasn’t always easy to come this far with her, but every challenge has been worth it.  So again, I urge you, if you can, to get a rescue dog!  There is nothing like the love you will get from such a dog.  I’ve had many dogs, so I can say this with authority – you will never feel love more truly or deeply than from a rescue dog once you earn its trust.

Ophelia on the Mend

Ophelia recuperating from surgery

Poor little Ophelia.  Today she is recovering from surgery for Ovarian Remnant Syndrome.  Basically this means that when she was spayed, they didn’t get everything out.  My vet explained that low-cost spay and neuter clinics will sometimes do sort of short-cut spays, in which they don’t actually make sure they got everything, but just kind of hope for the best.  Ophelia’s condition is rare, but even so, after everything she’s going through, I would highly encourage anyone with a dog who needs to be spayed to go ahead and pay for a reputable vet to do the spay instead of a low-cost, high-volume clinic that will rush through and maybe not get the job done right.  Getting a spay through a vet is more expensive than getting it done at a low-cost clinic, but I assure you, the surgery needed to correct this problem is WAY more expensive than doing it right the first time.

In any case, Ophelia is all taken care of now, but she has been in a lot of pain since coming home this morning.  For a few hours, she whined constantly and I had to lay in the closet with her and pet her.  She’s doing better now, but every once in awhile, she’ll wander out to the living room and give me a sad look and whimper as if to say, “Mom?  Will you come pet me please?”  For awhile, she was wearing a t-shirt, as in the above picture, to prevent her from licking the stitches in her nearly 8-inch long incision.  She ripped the shirt off and shoved it in her food bowl, which made it pretty clear how she felt about both of those items.  In fact she eschewed her dinner entirely, but would eat hot dogs fed to her by hand.  I am entirely too indulgent a dog mom, but hey, that’s my baby.

I’m really sad for Ophelia that she had to go through all of this, especially since the vet told me that they found a BB from being shot by a BB gun in her.  I’ve been in contact with her rescue organization in Taiwan lately, and I gather that she was living on the streets and was found hiding under a car with her leg so badly broken she couldn’t even walk.  The more I hear about her former life, the more I understand why she’s so afraid of men – frankly, I’m surprised she can still trust people at all. It just breaks my heart to think about her life back in Taiwan, but I think karma has been good to her.  Who would have guessed that a dog who was living on the streets just over a year ago would end up here, with lots of treats, lots of cuddles, training and agility lessons, and all the hot dogs she can eat?  I’m so happy she’s here and feel so lucky to have such a special little girl as my dog.

Oh, the Things You’ll Chomp!

Ophelia loves to learn. Here she is excited to work on jumping through the hoop. (Photo by Monica Waterston)

Last night, Ophelia “graduated” from her Shy Dog class at the Hollywood Zoom Room last night, and I couldn’t be more proud of her and all the progress she’s made.  Going to her class at the Zoom Room, plus the work we’ve done with our personal trainer, the fantastic Rebecca Setler, has made such a huge difference for her.  When I first got Ophelia, I read that it takes about 3 months for a rescue dog to really settle in and get comfortable enough to let their true personality show.  We’re about 5 months in now, and I feel like I’m only just now starting to see the true (and awesome) Ophelia.

Of course there’s an adjustment phase for any dog, but I think for Ophelia, it’s not just that she’s getting to know me and be more comfortable here at my place, but that she’s getting to know herself, in some ways.  I have no idea what her life was like when she lived in Taiwan, except that she was abused pretty badly.  It makes me so sad to think about the picture of her on the day that her old owner broke her femur so badly it required a metal plate that is still in there to this day.  The image is forever burned in my mind, and it just breaks my heart to think of some horrible person treating such a beautiful, intelligent, and special animal like that.  I feel so lucky every morning when she wakes me up (even if it is an ungodly early hour), or when I get home and she makes turkey noises because she’s so happy to see me, or when she gets excited and chomps.  I can’t comprehend how someone could have such an incredible dog and not feel so honored that they have the best, smartest, sweetest dog, much less beat the shit her.

In any case, now that she’s in a safe and happy home, Ophelia is developing quite the personality.  Here are some of my favorite things about Ophelia:

  1. Ophelia is goofy.  She loves to play, and she even seems to have sort of a sense of humor.  For example, while I was in the process of changing my sheets awhile back, she came in and started to jump up on the bed.  I told her no and she seemed to get this devilish look in her eye.  She kept sneaking around the bed, pretending to jump up from a different side.  She totally knew I didn’t want her to jump up on the bed, and she was totally screwing with me.  It was hilarious.  Of course, being a science librarian, I did a quick lit search to see what I could find in terms of research on animals and humor, but I couldn’t find very much.  Perhaps something a UCLA researcher should look into!
  2. Ophelia is loyal.  While she’s not super into meeting strangers, once you make friends with Ophelia, she will love you and remember you even people that she doesn’t see all that often, like my parents (Turkey Grandpa!) or my Dallas friends.  She’s also very protective of me.  I live in a pretty safe neighborhood, but still, it’s a big city, and you never know – so at first the thought of having to walk her at night, in the dark, for potty breaks, seemed daunting to me.  However, if anyone even remotely looks like they might try something, Ophelia will bark and let them know they’d best keep away.  As a single woman in the city, I feel much safer knowing that my girl would protect me no matter what.
  3. Ophelia is wicked smart.  She’s got intelligent eyes.  I like watching her work stuff out.  This also makes training her a snap.  She loves to learn, and she picks things up so quickly.  Most commands, she’s been able to learn in five minutes or less.  It also helps that she really, really wants to please.  And on the rare occasions when she does something bad (honestly, I can really only think of a couple times she’s done anything bad – once she got into the trash, but that’s about it), she seems so upset with herself at disappointing me that I can hardly bring myself to discipline her much.
  4. Ophelia is athletic.  In spite of the plate in her femur, the dog loves to run, especially if she’s chasing a ball.  I’m sure my neighbors below me absolutely hate me for playing catch in the apartment, but Ophelia has so much fun doing it that I can’t NOT let her play (anyway, they play their music too loud, so I feel we’re even).  She also loves agility.  We’ve had a little agility instruction in our Shy Dog class and are going to continue going to the Zoom Room to learn more and hopefully compete in their tournaments.  Last night, she was getting so into it that she didn’t even really want to stop for treats.  I’d offer her a treat after she did something right, and she’d kind of look at it, like, “okay, yeah, that looks good, but let me run over this ramp first!”  I can’t wait to see how she’ll do when we actually start learning and doing it for real.
  5. Ophelia is a chomper, but of course I knew that from day one.  Everyone who sees this is greatly amused by it, including her trainers.  Last night, our trainer at the Zoom Room was determined to get a video of the chomping for YouTube because she thinks it would go viral and get millions of views.  Unfortunately, Ophelia was a little too amped up about training to really chomp properly, so her YouTube fame will have to wait.

Obviously, I love this dog, and I’m so happy we found each other.  I can’t believe it’s only been about five months since I got her, and I can’t wait to spend lots and lots more time together and find out what other little personality quirks will come out now that she is in a place where she can fully express herself and just be.

Four Things About Ophelia

Ophelia loves playing with her ball.

Yesterday marked four months of awesomeness with Ophelia.  In honor of that, I present four lists of four things about Ophelia.

Four Things Ophelia Likes

  1. Watching the toilet flush – she waits outside the bathroom and then I open the door for her and she rushes in to watch
  2. Hot dogs
  3. Sleeping deep in the closet, behind the laundry hamper
  4. “Burying” her treasures (bones, toys, balls) in my bed

Four Things Ophelia Hates

  1. Pugs
  2. Running and/or screaming children
  3. Fruit
  4. Getting a bath

Four Tricks Ophelia Can Do

  1. Shake
  2. High five
  3. Wave bye-bye
  4. Play dead

Four Favorite Ophelia Moments

  1. She used to hate my friend Ali (cause he’s a guy, and she’s afraid of men), but he took her for an hour-long walk, just the two of them, and now she loves him so much that she sometimes just sits there gazing at him longingly when he comes over.
  2. Ophelia likes to chase squirrels and will even try to climb trees to do so.  I don’t know how she did it, but once she managed to jump/climb about two feet up a tree – but she still didn’t even get close to catching a squirrel.
  3. The first time Ophelia met her cousin Harvey (my brother’s dog), who is a big goofy dog probably about twice her size, they “argued” over turkey and she scared him so much that he wet himself and now whenever he sees her, he turns around and runs the other way.
  4. We were working with the trainer outside at twilight and the trainer and I were talking about something.  We noticed that Ophelia was gazing intently up at the sky, and we both looked up at the same moment and saw that she was staring at the moon.

A Very Chomper Christmas

Ophelia is hoping for lots of balls for Christmas.

As usual, I’m spending Christmas in Dallas with my family.  This year, Ophelia will be joining us for the first time.  Although she’s probably around 3 years old, I imagine this is probably her first real Christmas, given her rather sketchy past.  Because I am a weird person who talks to dogs, I have been explaining to her what I’m doing as I wrap presents, and telling her about our family Christmas traditions.  So far, she seems like she’s on board with this, although sometimes she gets a little grumpy about being around some of the other family dogs.  Of course, the real test will be when everyone comes over for Christmas Eve dinner tonight and Christmas tomorrow.

However, I am very happy to say that Ophelia seems to be getting along with her Auntie Bella (ie my parents’ 2-year-old black Lab).  In the morning when we get up, Bella comes to greet us, and Ophelia wags her tail so hard she can’t walk straight.  Then they go outside and run in the yard together, and sometimes work on “projects,” like chasing squirrels or checking out random things in the yard that appear to be very interesting to them.  Ophelia even tried to get some crazy fun playtime going with Bella, who is herself a champion player, but unfortunately, Bella didn’t really get that Ophelia wanted to play.  Dogs are supposed to speak this universal language, but I don’t think chomping is part of that standard language.  Ophelia means it in fun, but it freaked Bella out, so thus far, no playing has been accomplished.

In any case, I’ve been very happy to see how much more comfortable Ophelia is here compared to when we came for Thanksgiving.  She still likes to spend most of her time in her crate, but she’s been coming out more and more to check out what’s going on with the family.  There are some gifts for her under the Christmas tree, so hopefully she will enjoy them.  So, from me and Ophelia, a very happy Christmas to you and yours!

Teaching a Chomper About Love

This is a pic from Saturday morning cuddle time.  Ophelia is as skeptical about
this activity as she looks in this picture, but she keeps jumping up on the bed
almost every day, so I believe in my heart that she will eventually get the hang of it. 🙂

This is Ophelia, my sweet Formosan Mountain Dog.  I call her The Chomper because, when she gets excited, she does this mouth-snapping thing that I can really only describe as, well, chomping. Anyone who knows the least about me is probably well aware that I am a dog lover.  I adore dogs.  I think they are awesome and I just can’t imagine life without them.

My best friend has said that when he dies, he would like to be reincarnated as a Federer dog.  To be sure, if you get adopted by a Federer, I think it’s fair to say you’ve won the dog lottery.  We know how to treat dogs right.  So when the time was right for me to get a dog, I wanted one that would appreciate the awesomeness of being a Federer dog.  I have extended family members (non-Federers, for the record) who have spent thousands of dollars on purebred dogs.  I guess if that’s your thing, go for it, but for me, I can’t imagine paying that kind of money on a dog when there are many, many dogs that have had a rough time and need some love.  Ophelia is definitely in that category.

My sweet girl is a refugee from Taiwan. She has a plate in her hip because her former owner abused her and broke her femur.  She also has a huge scar under her chin from god knows what abuse, and there is reason to believe she either had puppies or wasn’t spayed within an appropriate time frame.  This girl has been through some terrible things.  I hope I never hear all the details of what she went through, because it just breaks my heart to think of this beautiful, smart, sweet girl being subjected to abuse.

Not surprisingly, after this kind of treatment, my little girl is scarred, both physically and emotionally.  It’s been a tougher road than I expected.  She’s reserved, shy, and not the affectionate creature I’d become used to in a family with mostly Labrador Retrievers (aka the outgoing cheerleaders of the dog world).  There are some nights when she hides under my desk and doesn’t want to come out for anything.

But then there are other times when I can see that she is learning what it means to be loved, which is a feeling that I don’t think she’s probably had much of in her three years.  Although she had an awesome foster mom, she wasn’t the only dog in that house, and I think being with me is the first time Ophelia has ever had the undivided, loving attention of a human.  At first, I don’t think she knew quite what to do with that attention.  Now, I think she’s slowly learning what love is.

Starting recently, every night, I give Ophelia a long massage.  I don’t think she’s had much experience with loving touch.  At first, she seemed bewildered, but each night, I see her get more comfortable with this.  And in some strange way, I get more comfortable with it, too.  I’m not typically an emotional person, but having this girl around here has really changed me.  I feel kind of like a mom now, in a strange way.  🙂  I feel so happy when I come home and my little chomper is wagging her tail and making funny little noises to let me know how pleased she is.  To know that I can bring such joy to a beautiful, smart dog who had previously known nothing but violence and fear – well, I can’t think of anything better than that!  If any dog in LA was going to win the Federer dog lottery, I can’t think of one more deserving than my sweet Ophelia.

Life with Ophelia

This is my dog, Ophelia the Formosan Mountain Dog.  We’ve lived together for a little less than a month now, and we’re still getting to know each other.  I love her and think she’s awesome, but I think she’s still trying to figure out if I’m as crazy as I seem or if I’m cool.  I think she’s learning toward thinking I’m cool.

Here are some fun things Ophelia does.

  • When we go on a short walk, she can tell when I’m ready to head home, and she suddenly starts getting very interested in smelling any little thing.  It’s very obvious that she’s trying to drag it out!  I’ll be turning around to head back, and she’s like, “WAIT!  MOM!  I’ve got to smell this!” and then act obsessed with a weed.
  • Once when we were walking through the park, she tried to steal a kid’s tennis ball.  He’d left it sitting there, and his mom was yelling at him, “that dog is going to steal your ball.  You can’t leave your stuff like that.  Look, that dog is taking your ball.”  Of course, I wasn’t actually letting her take the ball, but with the mom going on and on like that, the kid started crying, which upset Ophelia, so we got out of there ASAP.  Hopefully that child learned the lesson that you can’t leave stuff unattended in the middle of LA.
  • Ophelia is a champion chicken bone spotter.  I think she should become a forensic dog or something.  One night, she stole a piece of chicken from a homeless guy who was asleep on the sidewalk.  I was mortified, and after the walk, I went back to take the guy some money, but he was gone.  The next day, I saw the chicken remains and was glad to see it had mostly been bone and it had probably been laying on the sidewalk because he’d discarded it.
  • Ophelia is a chomper.  When she gets excited, she does this weird thing with her mouth that I can only describe as chomping.  This might freak out some people who would think that she’s trying to bite them, but it’s actually a very good sign if she chomps at you, as it means she thinks you’re awesome and would like to play with you.  Chompity-chomp-chomp.