My Guardians

Our cats Templeton and Scout play in the backyard during their supervised outdoor time, Templeton in the foreground and Scout back by the window under my office, taken at our house in Portland, Oregon in August 2003

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to meet an oral surgeon to get my last wisdom tooth removed, I wish they had removed them all when I was young but it is what it is. The other lower one was removed years ago while we were in Portland and the dentist struggled to get it out, I was laid up for a couple of days on heavy pain killers. What I remember from those days was waking up every four hours or so to change the gauze in my mouth or to take new meds, and every time I woke up a different cat was sleeping on my chest. It may have been coincidence but at the time it felt as though Templeton and Scout were working in shifts, making sure I was alright, and indeed I was thankful for their devotion. Here the two play in the backyard in 2003 during their supervised outdoor time, Templeton in the foreground and Scout back by the window under my office.

Backyard Beauty

A female Anna's hummingbird looks at me while perching on a bougainvillea branch in front of pale verde trees in our backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

Though I haven’t spent much time photographing them we do get a variety of birds to our small backyard. Our house is on a slope with a narrow common area below the back of the house with some trees and cacti and grasses, although it isn’t easy to get back there it does provide a nice backdrop. This spring a verdin couple nested in a buckhorn cholla below the house and if I angled my lens just so against the metal bars of the fence I could photograph the entrance. As I watched them a female Anna’s hummingbird occasionally flew into the bougainvillea I was sitting next to, eventually I pulled the camera away from its precise setup and took some handheld shots of her. The dark patch on her neck will glow a bright red if the sun hits it from the right angle.

The Early Days

Our dog Ellie sits in the grass in the backyard of our house in Portland, Oregon with her front paw on a tennis ball in January 2009

Ellie in the backyard in January 2009, three weeks after we adopted her. It looks a little posed, her paw on the tennis ball, but she did that in the early days. Did she stop it at some point? I remember her doing it back then but not after that, maybe it’s my faulty memory, maybe it had just been a while since she was able to run and fetch. She’s probably looking at my wife offscreen, she followed her everywhere in those days. Our bond became so strong for so long that it’s easy for me to forget that it took some time to form. The love was immediate though, on both sides, to know her was to love her.

Fall Ballgame

Fall Ballgame

Ellie waits for me to kick the ball in the fall of 2013. We spent countless hours playing in our backyard in Portland, either with one of her balls or one of her many hedgehogs. I’d either throw or kick them and she’d chase them down and bring them back and toss them at my feet. Over and over and over. She had a big black spot on her tongue, when her tongue was hanging out far enough to clearly see it I knew she was getting pretty gassed and it was time to call it quits. I think she would have kept playing until her legs fell off.

Good with Children

One of the neighborhood children pets our dog Ellie in our backyard in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon in November 2013

When we adopted Ellie in 2009, fortunately for us her previous owners (who called her Sidka) filled in a detailed questionnaire about her when they left her with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington (who transferred her across the river to the Oregon Humane Society where we adopted her a day later). They had at least two kids of their own and it was obvious from their responses that Ellie had been dearly loved.

In the section on behavior with children, to the question of “How will your dog react to a child approaching while he/she is sleeping?” they answered “wanting love”, which brings tears to my eyes even now. To the question of “Would you recommend this dog live with children?” they checked yes and added “Good with kids. Very loving (good for slow or disabled child)”. I felt a little guilty upon reading that when we adopted her as we had no children of our own and didn’t need a dog who was so loving towards them.

We did need a dog who would be loving towards cats and they often go hand in hand, and it turned out Ellie had experience not just with children but with other dogs and cats and got along well with all. I was a little worried too that she would miss having kids around but looking back now, knowing how deeply she bonded to my wife and I, I needn’t have been concerned.

The picture is from the fall of 2013, some of the neighborhood kids had come over into our backyard and joined me in playing with her. Everybody loved her.

Nearly everyone. One of the elderly neighbors was afraid of dogs so when we passed on our walks I’d give her the heel command and she’d pull up tight to my side and keep watching me until she got her treat. I started doing the same with dogs who were afraid of other dogs and even though Ellie loved meeting other dogs, she quickly picked up on her own which dogs would rather pass by so I didn’t even have to give her the heel command, she’d immediately come to my side and watch me until she got her treat.

Which caused an issue when I realized some dogs would give her a wide berth at first until they saw that she was friendly, then would turn around and eagerly want to meet her. I had to laugh as she’d give those dogs the side-eye, trying to keep her distance, as she didn’t want to risk giving up her treat for having ignored a dog who didn’t want to say hello. I learned to quickly give her a treat so she’d say hello, then she’d want another treat for being gentle with the dog and not scaring it.

She always got the second treat.