Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Happy Birthday to Mel!

Today is Mellow’s eleventh birthday. We find it hard to believe that “small Mel” is now a geriatric eleven year old, although we’re really glad he’s made it this far. We never intended to get Mel, except I called his breeder the day our old borzoi Bonnie died, and she told me that she had a bitch that was due to whelp that night and she would save a pet puppy for us. I figured it was kismet, and said okay, let us know when we can pick up the new puppy. We ended up with Mel because he got sick when he was five days old. Because it’s still chilly in upstate New York in the end of April, his breeder had to take him away from his mother in the kennel and bring him in the house to stay warm while she nursed him back to health. When he was better and she returned him to the kennel, his mother didn’t want him, so he was essentially hand raised by humans. We figure this is why he’s never really acted like a dog, and has always seemed to put himself on an equal footing with us status-wise – as far as he’s concerned, he’s human. And, this is why Cathy gave him to us as pet, since she didn’t think he’d be very happy as a show dog with his attitude.

Mel on the beach on the Costa Esmerelda (Emerald Coast) in Mexico.

He’s been a challenge from the beginning. When we took him to the vet for his puppy shots, she got down on the floor to talk to him – and he jumped up and humped her arm and shoulder. She raised an eyebrow, and commented that we might have a few dominance issues to deal with as we trained him. We did some marginally effective obedience training at home, and when he was about a year old he and I went to obedience school. Having had a few other dogs go through obedience school before Mel, when I showed up the trainer asked why I was doing it with Mel. I told him that we were having a few issues with Mel because he was so dominate, and Bill was in the middle of pooh-poohing my concerns when he looked down and realized that Mel, who was standing between us, was taking a leak on his leg. He stopped his reassurances mid-sentence, and for the rest of the class whenever he needed to illustrate how to deal with a difficult dog, Mel was the sample pupil.

At some point, Mel seemed to accept that Tom and I were his superiors, although our position has always been tenuous, and we’ve never been able to trust Mel around other dogs. His attitude is that he’ll grab them by the throat, flip them on their backs, and establish his superiority over them before the doggie sniffing rituals can even start. However, he’s been a marvelous companion for us, and I can’t even count the number of times we’ve laughed at him – or ourselves – as he’s attempted to outsmart us, and frequently succeeded. And Mel has shaped our pack, since the only reason we now have Jack Russells is because Mel wanted one. The one he really wanted was Fiver, who belongs to our friends Del and Vicky. He didn’t get Fiver, and Lou has never been acceptable to him, but he and Nock used to play all the time. As he’s gotten older, he spends more time sleeping on the bed by himself and less time running and playing outside, but we still occasionally see him with his front feet splayed out in front of him as he invites Nock to play, then he jumps in the air, twists, twirls his tail, and takes off. He’s pretty weak at this point, so he doesn’t jump as high as he used to or run as far or as fast, but he’s still getting around, and seems as sharp mentally as he’s always been. He’s the reason we drove rather than flew here, so we have him to thank our wonderful adventure on the way down. We joked that if he died on the way, we were going to strap his carcass to the top of the truck since he was going to make it to Belize, dammit, but we’re really glad he arrived still breathing and is still breathing three months after we arrived. I hope to be writing a tribute to Mel next year for his twelfth birthday, and it’s very possible, but since ten is old for a borzoi and eleven is very old, we’re just glad he’s made it this far with us and has managed to become a well-traveled expat dog living in Belize!

Tom and Selwyn spent another long day working on the water line. Tuesday morning, they had about a dozen sections of pipe, which they all thought they could do in a day. However, the first four of those sections were about 25 feet up in a tree, so by the time they got them down and rerouted, that was the day. They hope to do the last six or eight sections on Wednesday so the water can be back on by Thursday. No new pictures since they didn’t take the camera yesterday, but they took it today so I will post pictures of the finished pipeline tomorrow.

Tom has been exhausted the past two nights, but overall he seems to actually be enjoying the work they’re doing. He said he’s having a little bit of a hard time not jumping in and managing the project, but since the San Antonio town supervisor is managing the crew, Tom is managing to keep his mouth shut, and said he’s actually learning a lot about managing this type of work crew by watching Julio, the supervisor. Tom is pretty impressed with Julio’s leadership skills; he says he even moves like a leader, and Tom has noticed that all the men, himself included, automatically look to Julio if they’re not sure what they should be doing. Tom feels good about what he’s doing on the project because he said he’s not only managing to do his share of the work, but they’re using many of the tools Tom brought here from the States. Every day, he and Selwyn pack in a backpack full of wrenches, mallets, and ropes, and yesterday they even lugged in his battery-powered DeWalt equivalent to the Sawzall. The ropes have been especially useful, since everything – men, equipment, and pipe – has to be tied up so it doesn’t go down the hill. The men were very impressed with the nylon rope that Tom’s dad gave us to tie the piano in the moving truck when I flew down a few years ago and drove the player piano from Florida to New York in a Ryder moving van. Both the length and the strength of the rope were probably more than we needed to move the piano, but they’re definitely coming in handy now! And Tom said all the guys loved the saw. At one point, he said they had to cut a steel cable out of a tree, and were worrying about how to do it with a hacksaw, and the guys were amazed at how easy it was with the battery powered saw. Tom doesn’t think he’ll have any trouble finding someone willing to carry it in and out today!

Augusto came over to get water last night, and was telling us about some of the things he’s learning in guide school. He told us that just behind our property is a stream that runs into a cave, so next time Tom and I are looking for a place to hike, that will be our destination. He also said there are a number of very large caves up behind Caracol. He said they’re difficult to reach, which is why they haven’t become tourist destinations, although he also said they were told at guide school that this will probably be changing since Belize is becoming known as a caving site. As he was explaining the light went on in my head for another Spanish word. When we were driving to Caracol a few weeks ago, we saw a sign pointing off to the left for Las Cuevas. I thought it was just the name of another small village out in the bush, but I realized as Augusto and I were talking that it means The Caves. Doh. So there’s one more place to go explore, although that’s definitely a trip where we’ll be taking a cave guide with us.

Augusto also told me last night that he’s enjoying guide school because guiding is a lot like teaching, and he had originally gone to school to be a teacher. We found that he and I are both teaching school dropouts for the same reason – both the Belizean and American teaching schools expect teachers in training to pay the schools for their initial teaching experiences. Both of us were at points in our lives where we needed to be making money for working, not spending it to work, so both of us did all the coursework for teaching degrees, but never became teachers in the public schools. I taught at Finger Lakes Community College, where the teaching degree wasn’t necessary, and Augusto is now going to guide school, where the teaching degree also isn’t necessary. It’s good to know that the systems in both countries provide options so people like us can teach even without the certification, although it’s a little disappointing to know that both countries have set up a system that in many ways discourages people from becoming teachers if they can’t afford to not work for a period of time.

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