They Call Him Fluffy

Every dog has a signature move.

They have some weird quirk, or funny game, or strange physical ability.  Every single one.  If your dog doesn’t, it just means you haven’t noticed it.

Riker, our two-hundred-pound Anatolian shepherd was, literally, a big crybaby. 

He cried when he wanted love.  He would lay in the living room, look as pitiful as caninely possible and weep and wail.  He also cried at night when he went to bed, until I went over and tucked him in with his blanket and gave him a goodnight kiss.

Yeah, he wasn’t spoiled at all.

But the big payoff was when you went over and showed him some love, he would actually purr.  Like a sofa-sized kitty.  Purr.

When we go on walks, Crowley, our current pup, has one of the nuttiest moves I’ve ever seen.

He’ll take a few steps, lower his left shoulder, and drop like he’s been shot.  Then he lays there, on his side, and laughs while looking to see if I’m watching him.  If it’s not 1000 degrees or I’m not in a rush, I run over and make a huge fuss over him, “Oh poor Crowley fell over!  Whatever shall we do?”  He thinks the whole production is hilarious.

Our boy, at 4 months.

Turns out, it’s the actual technique for stuntmen to fall dramatically and also something the army teaches for hand-to-hand combat.  I’m not quite sure how Mr. Crowley Pants learned it, but I’m seriously thinking about trying to get him a gig as a self-defense instructor.

 All the love and knowledge that I have to show my dogs came from the original dog; Fluffy.

We got him when we lived in Puerto Rico.  He was the surprise love child of a chow and a Borinquen terrior, which was the colloquial term for a mutt of indeterminate lineage.  He and I would sit on the curb, watch the world go by, and share a Charms pop (I took a lick, he got a lick…).

My big brother Homer who was also stationed in Puerto Rico adopted Fluffy’s brother.  Unlike his black, extremely hirsute littermate, Eric was short-haired and as red as Opie Taylor’s tresses.

Just like that.

As for Fluffy’s move, he jumped.

He didn’t leap into swimming pools like those frenetic pooches you see on ESPN when there are no human sports to televise.  He didn’t jump over felled trees and across brooks and streams like National Velvet.

From a sitting position, he would leap straight up.  If you held a piece of cheese as high as you could, he would vault toward the ceiling, grab the nosh, and land again into a sitting position.  And all in the blink of an eye.

My dad is 6’4” and his reach is somewhat north of eight feet.  No sweat for Fluffy.  That dog would make Zion Williamson weep with jealousy.

He had one other odd “talent”.

In San Diego, we lived in a house with a chimney.  In that chimney was a beehive.  Periodically a bee would fly out of said chimney.  The first time we saw it after we moved in, Mom freaked.  She was just about to call an exterminator when Fluffy walked over and caught it and ate it.

We were afraid he’d get stung and swell up and get sick.  Never happened.  The dog just loved the taste of bees.  And for the entire time we lived in that house, Fluffy never missed one.

That dog and his insect predilection would have come in very handy a few weeks ago.  Instead of stinging me more than twenty times, Fluffy could’ve just gobbled them up.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at

Puppy On The Couch

Mr. Crowley Pants.

When The Kid turned 15, Petey and I were constantly high-fiving each other.  We had a teenager who was kind, polite, helpful, and an all-round joy to be around.  We were the best parents in the history of parents.

And then.

And then, The Kid went upstairs for bed one night and didn’t come down the next morning. 

Instead, what came down those stairs was some kind of monstrous, hideous mockery of our sweet child.  We, the parents, were deemed too lame to exist.  There was so much eye-rolling it’s a wonder blindness didn’t ensue. 

We asked ourselves how we could’ve been so wrong about our parenting skills.  No two worse parents ever lived.


Before Crowley, our Yugo-sized Akita, we had another Akita, Steve, and a 200-pound Anatolian shepherd named Riker.

Riker was the most loving dog I’ve ever known, and Steve was as gentle as the breath of a fawn.  Although a full-blooded Akita, he never showed a hint of the aggressiveness that many people think define the breed.

So, of course, Petey and I thought, “We got this.  We could make rabid badgers docile enough to sleep with newborn babies.”

Then, we got Crowley, a black Akita puppy as solid as a tank. 

He and I walk miles a day around our neighborhood, greeting everyone we meet.

Everything went well until Crowley was about eighteen months old. 

He started becoming aggressive.  With us, and a short list of humans that he adores, he was and remains, sweet and wildly affectionate.  But he’d growl when anyone else got too close.

Then came the day my father; the man who gave me my love for canines, the man who’s almost more dog than man, met him.  When he knelt down to him, Riker knocked him over on purpose.  My dad wasn’t hurt, and Riker didn’t bite him, but my heart was broken.

My Dad and Riker. Can you see the grin on that happy dog’s kisser?

I felt like a parent who’d raised a serial killer.  I called our vet, crying so hard I could barely tell her what happened.  She suggested a behaviorist.  We made an appointment.

The thing was, he didn’t do a thing for the dog.

I was the patient. 

I kept saying, “But Steve…” 

Finally, he said, “debbie, this is not Steve.  You need to accept that and help Crowley to have the best life he can.  He’s not dangerously vicious, but he is what he is.”

So, we learned coping strategies to keep him focused and bought a soft, flexible, plastic muzzle for when he’s outside.  It’s really for me (no smarty-pants Gentle Reader, I don’t wear the muzzle).  It’s so that I know no matter what happens, my dog will never bite anyone, human or dog. 

I’ve kept up the long walks, and he’s become calmer and steadier.  We’ve begun carefully reintroducing familiar people, and each encounter has gone well.  We’re cautiously optimistic.

The lesson I learned with Crowley is something we should keep in mind with everyone, every day.  Preconceptions, and assuming someone knows the lines of the script we’ve written in our heads is the road to disappointment, discord, and the deepest of doo-doo. 

Like that dog shrink said, “This may not be exactly what you expected, but it’s what you have.  Deal with the reality you’ve got.”

And that horrible teenager/hobgoblin that resembled The Kid?

About ten months after it showed up, one morning our sweet child came downstairs for breakfast, and the teenaged beast was never seen again.  Heck, every once in a while, The Kid even apologizes for the trauma that pod person rained down upon us.

So yeah, I think we crushed that parenting thing…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Into the Woods

What I truly regret is that I lived here almost 25 years before I explored it.

In the fall of 2013, the Matthews Family Band was shaken to our core.  Petey was desperately ill.  From mid-October to the end of March 2014, he was in the hospital much more than he was home.

Every day I got up and headed to the hospital, staying until evening.  At the beginning of Petey’s illness, The Kid was all the way across the country in San Francisco, doing an internship.  So, I left an empty house each morning and returned to an empty house each night.

But not totally empty.riker layingOur dog, Riker, was my only, my constant companion.  Before I left the house, I took him out.  After patiently waiting for me all day, we’d go for a walk as soon as I came in at night.

After being cooped up, Riker was sorely in need of exercise, and a change of scenery.  After being cooped up, I also needed exercise, and to turn off my brain which teamed with lab tests, prognoses, and bills.Drinking was an option, but I save my calories for desserts and macaroni & cheese.  Riker might have turned to drink, but 200-pound dogs can be really ugly drunks.

One night, about a week after Petey’s initial hospitalization, our pup and I took a new route on our walk.Our street is a dead-end, and beyond is forest.  Instead of walking our usual route which was to the end of the road and back, when we got to our turnaround, for the first time ever, we kept going.

It was beautiful, calm and quiet in those woods.  There were houses all around, but because of the trees, they were silent and invisible.  There were various paths that led through trees and along a creek.


This is a tiny little waterfall; the correct proportions for a Barbie doll.  But it’s pretty and sounds nice-like a young David Cassidy.

As soon as we stepped into the woods, all my worries and fears vanished for the duration.  Petey was still sick, and the related stresses and complications still existed, but a forty-minute walk acted upon me like eight hours of restful sleep.  It rejuvenated both Riker and me.

We kept walking.

When Petey was home I continued to walk in “my woods”.  It was a respite.

Last fall, we lost Riker.  I continued to go into the forest, for both exercise, and to mourn my sweet pup.One day I was walking an unfamiliar path and saw a large German Shepherd coming toward me.

I had two choices: I could try to get away, but there was no way I’d outrun him.  Or, I could stay where I was and hope the dog wasn’t aggressive.  So, I stood still.

It was the right decision.  The dog was friendly and sweet.  We spent about four hours together tromping through the woods that day, with him by my side.  Never having been formally introduced, I called him ‘Mister’.  I later learned his name is ‘Polo’ (I like Mister better).


This is my favorite view in the woods.  I’m afraid my shoddy photography skills fail to do it justice.

I’m so grateful to Mister.  The forest had become a very sad place, which frequently saw me in tears.  I both smiled and laughed during my adventures with that sweet doggo; the first since losing Riker.

Now I take our puppy Crowley, into the woods.  I still love and look forward to every step.  And seeing it through the eyes of my dog has made it new all over again.  But, I don’t think I’ll ever celebrate my euphoria quite in the way he does.

No matter how happy the woods make me I just can’t see flinging myself down onto the forest floor and rolling around in deer poop.


This is how our furry little knucklehead used to sleep.

Thanks for your time.

In Defense of Friendliness

Yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t talk to strangers.  I heard it from my parents when I was a kid.  Later on I heard it from Petey and The Kid (Don’t they sound like a buddy cop movie, though?  Maybe played by Bob Newhart and Tim Curry).  And I still get it when I’m out—pretty much every time.

But I pay them no mind.

Costco came to our town when The Kid was in elementary school.  The folks there, are to a person, kind and cordial.

Uncle Joe knows what’s up.

Shopping there I quickly became familiar, then friendly with the staff.  Since turnover is low, many of the people that worked there on opening day are still there.  And my child adores each and every employee in the place.  Each visit with The Kid is a series of heys and hugs with numerous adopted aunts and uncles.

A quick run for one or two items never takes less than 30 minutes.  But all of those beloved folks were at one time, complete strangers.  And one should never speak to scary, scary strangers.


Our last dog, Riker, was 200-pounds of pure friendliness.  Everyone within a two-mile radius loved him and looked forward to him stopping by.  He was a celebrity, way more popular than anyone else in our family.

Katey_and_Riker 2

The Kid (L) and a young, healthy Riker.

Every policeman, sheriff, school bus driver, mailman, and UPS guy that comes to our neighborhood has selfies with him.

His last illness lasted months, with him getting weaker every day.  Petey and I would put a blanket sling under his belly, and gently carry him outside to lie in the sunshine.  There was a steady stream of human and canine friends coming by to tell their sweet friend goodbye.  When I broke the news of his passing, almost every person cried.  His sweet friendly demeaner endeared him to all those “strangers”.

Every once in a while, my amiable ways can cause things to go a little sideways.One afternoon my mom, a toddler-aged Kid, and I were walking through the parking lot of a local mall to get the car and go home.  Two teenaged guys were working on a car with the hood open.  Having driven my share of less than reliable autos, I felt for them.

Having driven my share of less than reliable autos, I also keep jumper cables in the car.  I asked the young men if they needed a jump, and could I help?

They hadn’t noticed us walking up, so were so startled one of them bumped his head on the hood.  They quickly turned down my offer and walked away.Turns out the pair were attempting some grand theft auto.  My helpful gesture was unappreciated by them, but the rightful owner was pretty grateful for my meddling/helpfulness.

Growing up with a parent in the Coast Guard, our family moved every few years.  We’d land in a completely new city, not knowing a soul.

Once we had unpacked and had some downtime, I would walk around our new neighborhood and reconnoiter.  I’d talk to anybody I saw that was approximately my age.  It’s how I met almost all my friends.  My little brother was a little quiet, so when he was about five or so, I started trolling for kids for him, too.That’s how I met the Murphy’s.  Through them, I met Petey.  So, if I’d stayed home being a good girl, I would never have met the man who was destined (cursed?) to become my spouse, and then there would be no Kid.

So there.

…and I did.

Thanks for your time.


Dog Years

I’m a sucker for a puppy (and all dogs are puppies—always, no matter their age or size).

I’ve had dogs almost my whole life, and every dog has taught me something; even if the lesson was that I needed to be a better pet owner.

When I was in kindergarten, my parents bought me a beagle puppy.  Since my maiden name is Ross, we thought it smart and witty to name her “Betsy”.  I learned two things from the very short time I spent with Betsy.It’s not just a good idea, it’s vital to do some research on dogs in general, and specifically, the breed in which you’re interested.  My family had no idea that in addition to being more energetic than a bus full of sugared-up cheerleaders, they’re hounds, which means they’re loud.  Really loud.  Like, bloodhound loud.

The other thing I learned; it’s kinda important to know if someone in the family is allergic to pet dander.  I was, and it, along with chocolate, threw me into an asthma attack.  I outgrew it by the time I was about seven or eight.

Sorry, not this Snoopy.

After Betsy, we had Snoopy.

One day, Snoopy got out and a neighbor found him and delivered him to our front door.  I learned that there is no angry quite like the angry that a woman can feel when they’ve just had their hair done, and on one end of a leash with a very strong dog on the other end.  To this day I still don’t understand why she didn’t let go when our dog took off through a backyard with a bad septic tank.Honest, she showed up, dripping in malodorous “mud”, hair completely ruined, and thermonuclear danger in her eye.

“Here’s your dog.”

She never spoke another word to anyone in our family.

The lesson?  Sometimes it’s better to just let go of the leash.

In Puerto Rico, we got Fluffy.Fluffy was the one that taught me that a dog can be your very best friend, full of constant, unconditional love.  The two of us used to sit on the curb in front of our house and share Charm’s lollipops.  We’d take turns, lick for lick.

Hey, I didn’t say I was bright, I just said I loved my dog.

After Petey and I married, we were in a mall in Virginia, and in a pet store, saw a chow puppy that had grown so big, he couldn’t sit upright in the largest crate the store had.  There was no way we would be able to look each other in the eye if we left that poor guy in that situation.

That’s how we got Harry.

This isn’t Harry but looks like him.  I was never able to get a pic of our boy because he was afraid of cameras, and the clicking sound they made, and me with my face hidden by a camera…

We’re pretty sure Harry’s mother drank heavily when she was pregnant—Harry wasn’t quite right.  He hid under our bed for the first three days we had him, and continued to fear most of the world.  But he loved us, we loved him, and he had a good life.

Harry’s lesson was that love and patience can change lives and work wonders.


Our Riker.  A 200-pound heart in a dog suit.

Last January, we were heartbroken from the loss of our last baby, Riker.  It was then that I learned one of the most important lessons yet.

I learned that just like falling in love, somehow, the right dog comes along at the right time; when we met a goofy, adorable black akita puppy.  The night we brought him home, I carried the thirty-five pounder.  We named him Crowley, from a favorite book; Good Omens.

Last week our now ninety-five-pound baby turned one.  He fills our home with joy, and dog hair and drool.

But mostly joy.

Crowley before and after

Left is the day after we got Crowley, right is yesterday.  The thing he’s chewing in the new photo is the empty, decapitated head of the bunny in the old pic.  The blue woven rug is the exact same, and it’s the same size.

Thanks for your time.