Category Archives: Norah

Animal Voices

There is nothing funnier than a human speaking for an animal. Except maybe a human balancing something on an animal’s head, that can be funny too.

I wonder if one reason I’m not in love with Norah is that I can’t find her human voice. We spoke for Emily all the time. Maybe it’s a necessary part of bonding and perhaps we can’t develop one for Norah because there’s nothing going on in her head. She doesn’t have anything to say.

Anyway, I’ve watched this three times. I’ve cried every time. There’s nothing funnier than making a cat speak. Nothing.


Norah’s a swimmer, not just a fetch-the-stick kind of swimmer, but an I-can’t-see-her-anymore, she’s-been-gone-for-an-hour, the-neighbors-called-to-say-she’s-headed-for-the-straits kind of swimmer.

One morning on the island we’re walking to my parent’s house at low tide, and while Josie and I turn over rocks looking for tiny crabs Norah leaves land to swim after a seagull. The crabs all scurry into the water and mud or under other rocks before we can catch them. All except the hermit crabs that stop where they are and retreat into their shells. Josie picks one up and pets it with her index finger.

Thirty minutes later, we’re done playing with crabs but Norah’s still gone. I scan the water looking for that tiny dot of a blond head on the horizon. Once she’s offshore, once her feet have left the rocks, we can call her all we want, but she will not come. She’s irretrievable. We’ve thought about leashing her on the beach but she loves the long swim so much and our fear of her drowning doesn’t seem enough to keep her from it. Instinctually she must know when she’s getting tired, right? We’re trying to trust that she will come back even if it’s an hour or so later.

This time when I spot her head I also see the brown heads of three otters. These aren’t the cute little sea otters that float on their backs, cracking open clams. These are river otters, overgrown brown rats that live in family groups of a dozen or so. There’s an island rumor that they lure dogs into deep water where they attack with their claws.

One otter dives and pops up further out. The other two stay at her sides – she’s surrounded. I think I’ve mentioned before that Norah is not really my favorite, beautiful, dream dog. She’s good with kids and nice enough, but she’s a black hole of screeching, whining neediness. People have recommended training, but really, I just don’t care. I’m trying to convince an almost three year old to hold my hand in parking lots, to wipe when she’s done with the potty and to use her words instead of her fists. And, after living with a dog who had a bad habit of biting people, a little (or a lot) of screeching doesn’t seem like a trainable offence.

Even so, Norah has grown on me. She’s become part of the family. I’d be sad to see her go if she slipped under the water never to return. But I cannot handle the thought of death by otter. I cannot handle the thought of her suffering. I cannot handle the thought of her blood spilled on the sand.

An otter dips under the water and pops up a few feet further out. It looks back at us and back at Norah. It dips and pops up again. Even though I know it will do no good I stand on the beach screeching Norah’s name. Once, I think she turns to me. I think she hears me but then she’s swimming out after the otter again. I yell her name over and over and over “norahnorahnorah.” She turns her head but it never lasts.

After watching her paddle after the otters for 15 minutes I have to leave. I take Josie up the stairs to my parent’s house and leave Paul to the dog. When I get to the top I can’t help but watch from the deck. I try to let it go; to leave it up to fate.

Forty-five minutes later, Norah crawls up on shore unharmed, thin and shivering from the cold. She trots up the path to the house and gives me a good shake and her usual what’s your problem look. I realize how similar that look is to the one I give her when she’s screeching at me. I pat her head and she walks past me without a hint of neediness to her favorite spot on the deck where she stretches out in the warm sun.


Heaven help us.

The other day, Josie, Norah and I went for a walk. Josie wants to hold Norah’s leash and walk in the middle of the road. I bring her back to the side. Then again. I tell her she can walk on the side of the road or she can ride in the stroller. She walks down the middle of the road. I bring her back to the side. Again. I say it’s time for the stroller. She slips from my hand and runs up the hill into someone’s yard yelling nonononono! I can’t go after her. If I do she will sprint away and she’s too fast. With that much of a lead, I won’t be able to catch her. Finally, I pretend I’m leaving (the only thing that ever works) and she starts sobbing, I put her in the stroller and head for home.

My adrenalin is pumping mad as I push that damn stroller up the hill. A neighbor I have never met comes out of her house as we pass her deck. She has a pan lid in one hand and a spoon in the other. Oh, she says looking surprised to see a screaming red-faced toddler and her glaring red-faced mother. Oh, she says again, I thought the cats were fighting outside and I was going to break them up.

That’s right, me and my girl, like two cats. That’s how we are some days.

Chewable, Floatable and Less Likely to Get Caught in a Tree

The dog chewed her first bumper/throw toy apart almost immediately, but a quick duct tape repair lasted a few months until she recently tore it apart for good. I went to the pet store and bought her a foam ball with a shock cord loop designed to work as a slingshot. She chewed it to bits within days, and I’m still finding mysterious piles of blue foam in the forest (what kind of fungus is that?). This time I bought another bumper like the first because it was my only choice. Paul took that bumper by the rope, wound it up a few times (that champion waffle ball pitcher’s arm of his can really launch a dog toy) before letting it fly off the end of the deck right into the upper branches of a douglas fir. Perfect. Back at the pet store, this time I decide to buy a Frisbee. It’s durable, chewable, floatable, less likely to be caught in a tree and bright orange so it can be located in grass or water. I think it’s a winner.

Norah’s a fast, aerodynamically-shaped dog with nothing between her ears to slow her down. She could really be one of those Frisbee dogs. She could totally pluck that orange disk right out of the air. Go Norah Go! It’s time you make something of yourself! It’s time you start pulling your weight around here. I show Norah her new Frisbee and all I get is her frantic wheresmyball, wheresmyball, ohmygod, someoneispayingattentiontome howcouldInotfindballatatimelikethis, mustfindball reaction. I throw the Frisbee off the deck. Nothing. She has NO interest (wheresmyball). I try several more times over the weekend, again and again. Still nothing.

Then, miraculously, the lost hanging-from-a-tree-like-its-a-Christmas-ornament dog toy drops from the sky. We’re back in business. Until… Norah tears off the outer layer of fuzz and cracks it open like a pistachio. Done.

I’m not even going back to the pet store because I know they don’t have anything else. We’re out of options. Anyone out there got any ideas for me?

Maybe I don’t need a pet store at all. Maybe I need an athletic store where I can buy cans and cans of tennis balls. She can chew right through them and we’ll always have another. Or maybe we don’t need any store at all. Maybe we just need a beach with sticks. Only driftwood for this dog. Or, maybe I just need a kitchen and a few strips of (nitrate-free) bacon. Yes, that’s it. Next up: frying the Frisbee in bacon grease. To be continued…

The Swim About

A girl and her dog

As I’ve mentioned before, Norah is new to us. We bought her from a breeder. She was four years old and had just finished having a litter of sweet, tiny, golden puppies. She’s slightly neurotic and dumb as a pile of rocks, but nice enough company. She’s good with kids and small so she can fit into tight spaces. She’s the Honda Accord of dogs – very practical.

One day, Josie, my mother, Norah and I go for a walk on the beach. We head left and Norah takes off to the right. She’s gone, around the point. We play around for a minute, calling her and waiting for her to come back. Nothing. Josie works on her beach relocation project – she carries rock after rock down to the water’s edge and throws it. Finally after calling and calling, I walk around the point and look down the beach. No Norah. She’s vanished. Fortunately, we’re in a small community where we know almost everyone and I know she’ll make her way home eventually.

I start walking down the beach while my mother and Josie throw rocks. It’s a clear warm-ish afternoon. There’s a layer of high clouds and a little blue sky. The sun is nearing the horizon and marking a patch of orange over a neighboring island. The water is completely still. There’s not even a bird or otter around to break the surface. I turn back to tell Josie that I’ve found the perfect rock for her to throw when I see something in the water coming around the point.

A kayak? It’s an animal but it’s moving so fast. Polar bear? No, pretty sure there aren’t polar bears in the Puget Sound, even in the winter. Beaver?

I remember seeing a beaver swim in Lake Washington. It was a dark almost unidentifiable form that was mostly under water. Only its nostrils stuck out. It was like a ripple – a single wave, moving through a clear surface. It was like you didn’t see the animal, only the water it displaced.

But this animal isn’t a beaver, of course, it’s Norah. But she doesn’t look like any other dog I’ve seen in the water. Most dogs I know snort and huff and paw at the surface. As she round the point about 15’ offshore, I call her but she doesn’t hear me, doesn’t look at me, just keeps going right on past us.

As Paul says, she’s made for speed, streamlined, even her head is shaped kind of like an arrow – “not much room for brains but she sure is fast.”

I worry she isn’t smart enough to come back to the beach before she runs out of energy. Assuming she started swimming right away, and that is why I couldn’t find her on the beach, she’s been swimming for about 15 minutes. But it looks like swimming is as easy as walking for her. I call her name again just as she’s swimming around the far point and out of sight. Finally she veers toward the beach but then back out again. Each time I call, she veers toward me then away. I call her name over and over and over and gradually – like Josie to a packet of string cheese – she’s pulled in. When she finally washes up on shore, I’m nearly hoarse.   

Norah has a good shake and when I give her a good pat on the head, I notice that her fur is completely dry from the top of her head down through her shoulder blades. She looks up at me like, what’s the big deal lady? I was just checking things out.

OK, maybe she’s not the Accord of dogs. Maybe she’s something a little sportier. Maybe she’s a Civic. Maybe she’s an Impreza. Maybe she’s an Impreza with a spoiler… and a hood vent.