Katya Examining Roll of the Bones
Katya is a disabled dog. She had white muscles disease as a puppy due to a lack of selenium in her diet. Unfortunately the vet misdiagnosed it and Katya almost died of this simple mineral deficiency. Watching her decline over a period of weeks was horrible.
Fortunately I figured out the problem from reading the Merck Veterinarian Manual, the web is good for something. I gave Katya human vitamins which supplied the selenium she needed. That saved her from death and she improved although she’ll never fully recover as the disease fundamentally changed the form of her bones and muscles. Now she can walk again but she’ll never be a fast runner or leap tall fences like her pack. She has a funny stout body shape – characteristic of the disease – and her back legs are bowed and weak.
Recently Katya has started herding pigs when we load each week. The other dogs do this routinely. Herding is a little bit of an iffy situation for Katya since her bones are fragile. I worry about her safety but she’s very excited to participate and imitates my chuff-chuff to tell the pigs to move along. She weighs about 35 lbs. They weigh about 250 to 600 lbs. It is quite the contrast.
Since Katya doesn’t have the superior gymnastic abilities of her brethren she has devoted herself to a life of intellect. When she isn’t following me around, or bossing the other dogs like a little Napoleon, she studies physics, mathematics and other ivory tower stuff. Game theory, or the dog equivelant.
Quite seriously though, she has developed a remarkable vocabulary of signing and uses some of it back to us. All of the dogs understand a lot of our language and hand signs. There are a couple hundred words we use in our work with them. Katya has taken it to a new level, she signs back and talks to us this way. Clear, learned, two way communications that is not part of her natural canine language.
Katya has daily chores which include cleaning up the floor of the cottage. She picks up bits of paper, shoes and other trash she finds lying around and takes them over to the sink. Its her way of helping out and yes, she gets an allowance for her work. Unlike Remus though she has not yet figured out to negotiate and inflate the price. Or maybe she’s just nice. Or maybe I’m onto that trick.
In addition to her chores, each day we play games like Large vs Small, Shell Game, Name that Object and such. She’s gotten quite good at these. They are intellectual stimulation that both explores her boundaries and pushes them. It’s about the level of playing with a three year old, no E=MC2 but it is fascinating to see how much she can do.
Large vs Small is where I hold out two items. Then I ask “The Question.” Her job is to pick the large one Large or Small – my choice. To win she has to get it right. I switch hands, sizes, object types and other controls. She’s quite good, although she wants the Large, after all it is more, she knows she has to pick the correct one to get anything.
Another game is simply naming things. She knows and will say back using signs, the names of various objects like meat, not-meat (fat), cheese, bread/cracker, egg, etc. I show her something and ask the question “What’s this?” If she gives the right response she wins a treat. When she gets really excited sometimes she’ll flash through all of her treat words in rapid succession and say “Good! Good!” to me. Chocolate gets this. Then she has to calm down and name it correctly.
For Shell Game, think of the classic street corner gambling. I hide a peanut under a cup or in one hand and then switch my hands back and forth (my hands never leave my wrists). She has to remember which hand or cup the peanut was in and track it. She’s very intent. If she picks the wrong one she loses. “Eeee! Wrong answer!” If she gets it right she gets the treat – “We have a winner!”
She’s gambling, intellectual game playing rather than heavily physical, and she really likes winning. Our son Will commented that I’m a game show host and she’s a contestant. She’s a beautiful contestant with claws and sharp teeth.
Well that is all fun and good but there is a practical side to communicating. Katya will tell me when the whey truck is coming round the mountain, a pig out of the field, that she hears ravens (they prey on piglets), when Holly is arriving home, when there are coyotes over the ridge and many other things. She also speaks for the other dogs, telling me that Lili, who tends to be very quiet wants something. All the dogs ‘talk’ to some degree but Katya’s ‘speech’ has gone further, probably because she is not as physically enabled so she focuses more on the things she can do, thinking things. I doubt she thinks of herself as disabled. She’s just differently enabled.
Outdoors: 78°F/48°F Cloudy, Rain all last night
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/67°F
Daily Spark: Without deviation from the norm there can be no progress. -Frank Zappa