Monday, December 31, 2007

Shiner, the teacher

I blame myself for Shiner’s behavior, because I could have treated him differently and let him know he wasn’t in charge. Therefore, I feel pretty guilty. I don’t think we did the wrong thing, because in the end the safety of my kids is more important, and we did exhaust our other options. Still, I loved Shiner and considered him a member of the family, so I can’t help but blame myself and think about how this could’ve been avoided. But I think it’s ok to feel this way, because it’s a product of how much I loved Shiner and how much he meant to me. He’ll always hold a special place in my heart as my first dog on my own (although he was actually a gift to Charlise, the point is that we raised him, not my parents).

Maybe that’s part of the guilt. He was the first dog on my own, so maybe I screwed up. There’s also the possibility that, given his change in behavior over the past year and some of the health problems he’s had, perhaps something physical was the cause for his increasing aggressiveness.

Either way, I’ve learned from Shiner. We’ll never own two dogs at the same time, because Shiner and Ziegy never really seemed to get along, and Shiner definitely became more aggressive once we got Ziegy. Ziegy now seems more relaxed and happy without Shiner bullying him. We’ll see if that changes as time goes by, but that’s how it seems right now. I’ve also learned a few training techniques to let the dog know he’s not in charge.

Because Charlise and I love dogs so much, we’ll probably always have one, and we’ll always treat them like a member of the family. They’ll get tons of attention, be doted upon, and get spoiled. They’ll also know they’re not in charge, and training and care will be split more to make sure they don’t get too attached to one person. The joy Shiner brought to us will continue on and be even better thanks to the lessons he taught us.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Eulogy for Shiner

We put Shiner to sleep today. He was our Black Lab. He wasn’t old – he was just over six. He wasn’t sick or in pain. His problem was aggression. In the past year he’s attacked our two-and-a-half-year-old boy Roark twice, snarling and snapping, knocking him down, scaring him to tears, but not causing any injury. He’s growled at the other two dogs in the house and fought. Finally, yesterday, he snarled and lunged at my wife. That was the final straw. He’d been a very sweet dog for the first five years of his life, and still was most of the time, which is why we kept him after the first attack. After the second, we looked at our options, but with his issues we really had none, so we thought we could work with him a little more. We were out of options, and couldn’t risk something worse happening. But it was awful. He didn’t know what was going on, but was still scared. I held his head in my arms, petted him, and told him he was a good boy until his head dropped. Then, with the help of the veterinarian and her assistants, I laid Shiner down on the towel they’d laid out, and with my wife and I both crying we left the room with our boys, who thankfully are too young to have understood what just happened.

That’s what happened and why, and it’s horribly sad. I miss him. My wife and I are suckers for animals, but especially dogs. And Shiner was a great pet and friend, which is what I prefer to think about.

Shiner Bock (his full name) was a birthday present to my wife from some friends of ours. We picked him out of the litter from a breeder when he was about a week old. Once he was seven weeks old, we were able to bring him home. At the time, my wife lived in an apartment on the third floor. Shiner was tiny, and the bed was raised, so he’d go to the end of the bed at night and whine for us to let him down so he could go pee. I couldn’t believe how often that damn dog had to pee every night. Down three flights of stairs we would go, then stand there shivering (it was November) while he took his own sweet time wandering around sniffing at bushes and grass until he found the perfect spot. Then back up three flights of stairs, only to do it again three or four hours later, waking up several times because I thought I might’ve heard him whine. But it was ok because he was a cute little fifteen pound or so bundle of energy. We tried various means of housetraining him, but the best method was just putting up baby gates to keep him in the kitchen area, and covering the floor with newspapers. Very high tech. Because we never knew exactly when he needed to go, we’d take him on 20-30 minute walks until he went. Just this tiny little puppy running along behind or beside us, no leash required because he was too little to run away.

When we were being shown a potential house to rent in December 2001, which just happens to be the one we own now, Shiner promptly squatted in the living room and took a dump. What proud parents we were.

He was nuts for playing ball. I’d throw a tennis ball about three or four times a day for 10-15 minutes each time, and any time a moved he would leap up and follow my every move hoping I’d pick up a ball. If a ball was on the floor, he’d bring it over and drop it at your feet, and if you didn’t immediately pick it up and throw it then he’d pick it up and drop it on your feet again. This would go on until you threw the ball or put it away. When we went on walks I’d always bring a ball and throw it until he was exhausted. Then his knee went out on him a couple of years ago, and although we paid for TPLO surgery, which is the best, most sophisticated, and certainly most expensive way to fix the knee, he was never really able to play again. We tried, but after running full out a few times something would happen and he’d lay down crying. So we officially retired him from ball.

After having Shiner for about a year, we thought he’d like another dog to play with. We’d seen some dogs in Santorini on our honeymoon, and one in particular followed us around like he was our protector and even slept in our room one night. We felt sorry for all the stray dogs there, and wished we’d adopted Santos, which is what we’d named him. So instead we decided to adopt a dog from Great Dane Rescue. He’d been left to die tied in the backyard with no food or water in the July heat of Texas for at least a week when they found him, and they’d managed to nurse him back to health. He was still very thin and had some mange when we got him, but otherwise he was fine, except for the emotional scars left by his abusive owners. We named him Ziegenbock, and have always called him Ziegy. He wasn’t full Great Dane, with perhaps some pit bull or something in him. When we brought him home, Shiner had to establish he was the boss, and they had some pretty ugly, knock down drag out fights, but amazingly no blood was ever drawn. But that seemed to change Shiner a little. He became more pushy and bossy, and a little more aggressive. In retrospect, I think Shiner preferred being the only dog in the house, and from now on that’s probably how we’ll keep it.

I’ve worked from home for years, and Shiner spent most of his time curled up at my feet, always eager to play ball or go for a walk. He followed me everywhere, and according to my wife moped when I was gone. Once we had the boys, my mom moved in to help take care of the boys, bringing her dog with her. Now we had three dogs and three new people in the house. When the boys were on the floor or, more recently, walking around, we kept the dogs in a separate room to keep them away from the food and harassment that goes with having little kids in the house. Shiner adjusted, but he didn’t like it. He’d watch us over the baby gate and whine. He always wanted to be with us. If we were outside, he wanted to be outside, and if we were inside he wanted inside. Perhaps he was too dependent, but it was only because he loved us, which he showed everyone in the family by licking them half to death.

There are so many other memories I could write about: Shiner at the dog park leaping into filthy, stinking water and having a blast, at Eagle’s nest running wild with Ziegy until he couldn’t move he was so exhausted, and so on. Maybe I’ll write about those some other time.

Overall, Shiner was a great dog, and everybody in the family loved him very much. We’re saddened by what happened and miss him very much. I’ll always remember him, and in that way he’ll always be a part of me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Everybody in the house is sick. Have been for at least a week. Nothing serious, just a common, very annoying cold. Which makes me wonder, what exactly is a cold? Guess I should look it up, but to show how stupid I am I’ll guess first. Common symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and headache. No fever, because if you’re running a fever it’s called a fever, not a cold (there’s a duh sentence for you). So is it viral or bacterial? It’s viral, but I cheated. I looked. Courtesy of


Although more than 200 viruses can cause a common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common culprit, and it's highly contagious.

A cold virus enters your body through your mouth or nose, but it's likely you also had a "hand" in your own illness. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. But it also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by using shared objects, such as utensils, towels, toys or telephones. Touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact or exposure, and you're likely to "catch" a cold.

This certainly helps explain why every cold rips through our household unabated. With twin two-and-a-half-year-old boys, hell yeah there are shared objects, hand-to-hand contact, sneezing and coughing all over the place. This one started with Roark, and I quickly followed. I’ve been sick for over a week now. This is my second or third cold this year, which is pretty uncommon for me. I guess that’s one of the joys of having young kids. Colds are so freakin’ annoying. I hate headaches, sore throats, runny noses, all that crap. Who doesn’t? Give me a fever any day. I actually like the chills and aches that come along with that, as long as that’s all I get. It’s a good feeling to stretch out under several layers of covers, warming up while letting the aches drift away. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get a fever this year, but for now I’m stuck with these damn colds.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Work in progress

He’d been attending the Stephen F. Austin High School Baseball Invitational for years and always loved everything about it. The pavilion, a fancy name for a few folding tables set covered by a tent top, was a great place to hang out. The smell of the barbecue grill cooking up hot dogs and hamburgers was enough to draw him as a younger kid, and the high school girls hanging around to talk to the freshmen and junior varsity baseball players that manned the pavilion was a bigger reason to stay. For the past couple of years, he’d been one of the players manning the tent.

There was plenty of buzz about the top players on the teams in the tournament. “Yup, he’s got a scholarship from Texas, but I hear he may get drafted in the first round.” “I talked to one of the scouts, and he said he was throwing mid-90s.” These overheard comments built the excitement.

Now he was a varsity player, proud to be one of the ones in uniform, so everyone knew he was a participant. Not one of the ones the buzz was about, mind you. In fact, once the game started, he usually rode the pine. But thanks to a dislocated shoulder in last week’s game to Casey, the starting catcher, he’d be a starter throughout the tournament.

His dreams of going on to play college and possibly pro ball had been dashed a year ago, when he was sent down from the varsity to the junior varsity as a junior, not a sign of a star player. Then came the shoulder injury that had never really healed, and the awkward throwing motion he’d developed from trying to throw through the injury.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Same old routine

I’d hardly say that today I turned over a new leaf and became a creative soul. Sunday’s at our household are pretty full, what with playing with the boys, paying bills, walking dogs, doing laundry – geez, writing it down really makes me see how boring a routine can sound. But the boys keep us on our toes, so it’s not quite as boring living it as it sounds. I suppose I could laud my creativity today in the amazing choices I made in ornament placement on the Christmas tree. Side note: I love the smell of Christmas trees, and that combined with the act of decorating it really puts me in the Christmas spirit. The beautiful near 80 degree weather wasn’t exactly Christmas-like, but it cooperated a little by getting cold later, although I preferred the warmth. Back to the main topic, aside from that we went out to look at some really cool Christmas lights, the ones where they choreograph the lights to music played over a radio station broadcast from their home. So, I got to see how creative some other people can be. And now I’m exhausted, but I still have some work to do so I’d better wrap up. The beauty of it is that although my goal of finding some way, big or small, to be more creative got lost in the shuffle today, I can always try again tomorrow. Nobody’s keeping score or rating me on how I do.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Creativity - the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination

My wife recently wrote about Cassie’s artistic ability and creativity ( I’d already been thinking abut this for a while, primarily my lack of it. Like her, I wonder where creativity comes from, why some people seem to ooze it and others seem to be practically reading life from a script. Where do I see myself in terms of creativity? Poor.

It seems to me everybody starts out creative. Just watch young kids play and you’ll see it. As you get older, life tries to squeeze it out of you. Kids make fun of those who are different, so conformity rules, except for those who resist it (how the hell do they do that?). Join the business world, where quantitative methods, processes, Six Sigma quality control, endless meetings, and mind-numbing business speak designed to make you sound somewhat smart (debatable) while not actually saying a damn thing concrete and thereby avoiding being held accountable for anything that might go wrong all combine to continue squeezing the creative juices out of you. Add marriage and kids, two of the great joys of my life – don’t get me wrong – but they add other priorities that take precedence and, with so much going on, I find myself falling into various routines.

I hope, though, that the creativity isn’t actually removed, but simply pushed aside, crammed into a corner of the brain, or perhaps sleeping, waiting to be called forth, awakened, put back to use, brought back into the light to flourish. Because there’s lots of ways to be creative, not just writing, painting, acting, or something like that; it could just be evidenced in coming up with something really fun for the kids to do, or creating a new bedtime story from scratch, and while I currently seem incapable of these simple little things, I hope that if I force myself that it’ll start coming easier and, instead of being a chore, an uncomfortable break from the routine, it’ll instead make life more enjoyable overall.