Thursday, 26 February 2009

1001 uses for a pet dog

It would take years to count all the ways in which our dogs enrich our lives, but I thought I'd make a start with this one.

Penny is really good at cleaning off any meat from birds' wings found on the ground.

A family member picked up a beautiful wing from a parrot a few weeks ago, thinking to use it in an art project. (It was before the awful fires, so we don't have to feel bad about the death, because it was probably in the natural run of events.) She put it out in the garden so ants could clean it up, but Penny found it and treasured it for days. No-one was allowed close enough to notice what she was doing.

And what was she doing? She was working hard to clean it for us. And the result? Lovely items for a collage.

alligator weed and dogs

What has alligator weed got to do with dogs? As far as I know, nothing. That's why Penny stayed at home when I went to a talk given by ranger Matt Strong on the noxious Alligator Weed, which has made its appearance in the Darebin Creek.

On Friday 20 February I posted about this weed, thinking it was already in Darebin Parklands, where we walk most days, but I was spotting the wrong water plant. The government website says;
Alligator weed Alternanthera philoxeroides is an Argentinean plant that was first reported in Australia in the 1940s and has since spread along the east coast. If not controlled, the weed can completely cover the surface of water bodies and wetlands, affecting native flora and fauna and agriculture.
Matt said it has the potential to be disastrous in Victoria but it's not prevalent in our park yet. His advice to anyone who thinks they've found the plant is to report it to the rangers, but not to touch it, because it reproduces from any little bit. Here's a picture of it.

(I found this photo at the New Zealand site of Environment Waikato and I believe the picture was copyright free for non-commercial use.)

The main distinguishing features of the weed are the fact that two leaves come out at the same spot on the stem and that there are white flowers near the top. The flowers are really a little cluster of flowers and to me they felt quite spiky when Matt passed a plant around the meeting.

I guess Penny and I should keep our eyes open when we walk next time. I wouldn't want this plant to smother our lovely creek.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

swimming in Darebin Parklands

Penny and I took a break from sadness and stress yesterday afternoon and tried out the Darebin Creek. Although there are weeds choking some areas and the level is low, the water actually looked okay. Well, Penny obviously thought so.

Of course, the object of any swim is to fetch a ball.

And when you come out you have to be very focused and ready to leap after the other ball in your human's hand.

Then it was time for another ball-game, this time on land.

And finally, we headed off into the sunset.

Friday, 20 February 2009

dogs swimming in local creeks

Sometimes Penny still swims in the Darebin Creek on hot days, but lately the water level is low and there is a horrible weed growing in the creek. I think I've seen it in the Merri Creek, too. I guess that it's Alligator Weed, because Darebin Parklands ranger Matt Strong is giving a talk about this weed next Tuesday in the parklands environment centre.

With temperatures due to be high again soon, it's great if dogs can swim, but there aren't many places to do it nowadays. We usually walk once a week at Gardiners Creek, but lately that creek's water has become very polluted and everyone who walks there has to keep dogs on lead for fear they jump into the water.

For many reasons I wish it would rain - to water our farmers' crops; to freshen our gardens; to bring our creeks and rivers to life; to put moisture into the air so fires won't kill us, our pets and our bush creatures.

But not heavy rain yet...we don't want all that fire-fighting foam to wash into the dams.

Monday, 16 February 2009

in the aftermath of the fires we reflect on what happened

I walked in Darebin Parklands with Penny today and reflected on the events that have terrified Victorians over the last nine days. The speed with which disaster overtook us has left everyone traumatised, and it will be years before we recover.

We've got plans to make houses safer and a major enquiry will study ways to make the bush safer from fire. But it needs to rain. That's the bottom line. As I walked through the parklands and looked around, I remembered that it all goes back to that basic need. Water. Water to make the plants stay green and water to make our air moist enough that it won't simply burst into flames.

I was reading on mark lawrence's blog the miraculous escape of one of his friends who saw the fire come close:
She told me of how they watched as the very air ignited from the extreme heat and ferocity of the fire. How where as the top of one hill was ablaze, the air at the top of the neighbouring hill suddenly exploded in a ball of flames and set that hill ablaze. The fire was still some 3 kms away or so, sure to destroy their home, and they were prepared to leave when it go too close when the late change came through and started blowing the fire in another direction and their home was saved.
I guess the air ignited because of the oils given off by the eucalypts, but I'm not sure.

From another local blog, by Ross Hill, I followed a link to the Boston Globe Big Picture blog, where there are images of the fires. (You might not like to look at number 16.)

To return to our walk in the park...

The first thing I saw was wonderful, a sign that life goes on, one of my all-time favorite birds was sitting in a tree over the creek. (If you click on the picture it will come up larger in another window.)

And the view of the bridge at the bottom of the hill was great.

Then we passed the duck ponds. And that's when I started to feel sad once more. The water is suffering from the lack of rain and its bright green color is a sign of its terrible quality..

As in our own garden, it's now a question of what to save, where to put the precious water. And I'm grateful for the work the rangers are doing to save the historic Chinese Black Mulberries, planted over one hundred and thirty years ago. Big containers of water and a mix of wetting agent drip constantly into the ground.

It's impossible to save all the plants and it's sad to see some trees die.

I was determined to have a more upbeat post today, but I guess it just hasn't happened.

It MUST rain soon!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

dogs still go walking even in times of trouble

Penny was the one who cut the walk short today, when she sat down and indicated she was ready to head home.

She had gone out with one of her other humans, while I was at church, praying for the people (and animals) affected by these fires. Not just praying, of course - there was a collection and a chance to talk with people whose families have suffered, and to discuss long-term ways the local charity can help, when the first crisis eases.

It's warm, but Penny can usually walk longer than she did today. Probably the smoke in the air affected her. Here's a picture of the usual view over Darebin Parklands compared to today's view:

Saturday, 14 February 2009

many people offer respite accommodation to pets

Emails have been flying around the local Net lately asking people to take in pets from bushfire affected area on a temporary basis. We registered early and we've been trying to think through our strategy for introducing a potentially traumatised dog into the household.

But today I heard that the small firm that is organising the respite care has received ten thousand emails and five hundred calls a day!

People certainly are willing to help.

I think we will wait and see. It's bound to be a long road to recovery.

I heard that someone needs a home for two large pet pigs. They are to be relocated from Daylesford tomorrow. If anyone local is able to help, maybe you could leave a comment here and I'll pass on your information.

We are still reading the CFA updates each hour or so on the weather conditions around Warburton, our favorite place other than Melbourne and the home of our friends, both human and canine.

So far so good.

But we need rain. Lots of heavy rain.
And cool, windless weather.

Friday, 13 February 2009

a boring but thankfully safe day today

Penny has been outside a few times in the hope of some human activity but I'm sitting inside away from the smoke that has blown over metropolitan Melbourne today. By some trick of the wind, we didn't get a lot of smoke from the dreadful fires of last weekend.
Of course, everyone's nervous, so the Country Fire Authority (CFA) site has a reassuring message that most of the smoke seen today is from burns that are intended to deprive the fires of fuel.
Smoke Information
Metropolitan Melbourne
The fires around Melbourne are generating a large amount of smoke. Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are advised that due to extent of bushfires around Victoria in the past week, they may be experiencing increased smoke from both going fires and fire suppression activities being undertaken by DSE and CFA fire crews.

Winds from either the north or east are likely to bring smoke into Melbourne. The smoke may be more noticeable at night or early morning when overnight inversions trap the smoke near ground level.
All day the light has been yellow, but Penny doesn't care. She wants to go somewhere.

She doesn't know how lucky she is to be bored. I was listening to the radio yesterday, which was broadcast from Warburton, a town waiting to know if the fires would swing around - they haven't, thank God - and the interviewer wished each person a boring day the next day. That's today, and so far, it's been quiet.

Not quiet, of course, for the people sitting by the bedsides of burn victims, or preparing funeral services, or sifting through the ashes of their homes.

I know how lucky we are. And I think constantly of those who will need help in the short term and in the long term.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

free vet care for pets injured in bushfires

I copied this from a message passed on in the AboutSeniors newsletter:

Free vet care for animals injured in bushfires
THE University of Melbourne’s faculty of Veterinary Science has offered free care for animals injured in Victoria’s bushfires.
The free care is available for domestic pets and horses and will be provided at the university’s veterinary clinic and hospital at Werribee in Melbourne’s southwest.
Faculty dean Professor Ken Hinchcliff said his staff were “deeply concerned” for the health and well-being of animals and their owners in bushfire-affected regions.
“After ensuring the safety of themselves and their human loved ones, people affected by the bushfires will want to ensure that their pets are cared for and receive the veterinary attention they need,” he said.
“Veterinary services in the regions affected by bushfires will be stretched to the limit.”
Those with injured dogs and cats can phone the veterinary clinic on
(03) 9731 2232 (24 hours).
Those with injured horses should phone the university’s equine centre on (03) 9731 2268 (24 hours).

The original article was in The Australian newspaper

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

pets need foster homes because of the Victorian bushfires

I received this email today from the Darebin Parklands Dog-owners group. I'll print it here in case anyone reading this is local.

We have received two requests for help for bushfire victims - both emails are copied below:

1. From Fun4Paws needing places for dogs
2. For donations of blankets/towels/sheets etc from Marilyn

1. Fun4Paws

Hello all,

Fun4Paws is currently offering emergency respite care to the animals affected by the bush fires, however there are many more animals than we have carers.

There are large numbers of owners with nowhere to place their dogs. If you are able to offer a place to a dog in your home, please contact myself of Lynne Fitzsimmons and we will coordinate.

Luke - 0415 104 044 Lynne - 0428 844 810 or

If you are interested please let us know when your home would be available (dates) and if you have any other pets for us to consider when placing.

Dog Listeners Australia wide have pledged $1000.00 the assist in the costs of food, petrol etc. so we hope that all costs of looking after a dog will be covered.

Please assist us by forwarding this email on to all of your contacts so that together we can help the hundreds of dogs in need of temporary homes.

Luke Williams
Proprietor - Fun4Paws

0415 104 044

2. From Marilyn

I am a co-ordinator for the below and my house at 96 Gillies Street, Fairfield will be the pick up spot. So if anyone has anything to donate please deliver at my house as soon as possible. If I am not home you can leave in my front area.

Sunday 8th February, 2009
I have this morning been in contact with the RSPCA to offer assistance.
Over the coming days the RSPCA expect to be inundated with animals requiring help and care - both domestic and native.
FYI - THEY CANNOT take outside volunteers who have NOT ungone the manditory RSVPA Training Program.

BUT for those of us in the city area, we CAN help!
THE RSPCA VICTORIA ARE IN URGENTneed of the following items:
OLD BLANKETS - if you don't have .. a neighbour might.
OLD TOWELS any size
BAGS OF CAT FOOD - please purchase - just one bag will help
BAGS OF DOG FOOD - as above
DRINKING VESSELS - old bucket, plastic dish (ice cream container)

IF YOU CAN HELP, please confirm your involvement as ASAP so collection of goods for delivery to the RSPCA shelter can be arranged. NOTE: the RSPCA are
co-ordinating with all other relevant authorities regarding the care of injured animals, BOTH domestic and native. Goods will be distributed where the need is most urgent. THE NEED FROM TODAY WILL BE CRITICAL so carers will have enough resources to work with.

Immediately FORWARD this email to friends & relatives in the Melbourne area.
Please copy so I can track involvement.
Request your contacts to urgently forward on to their friends and relatives.
Make contact to friends by phone to say you need their help.
Co-ordinate a group (see info below.)
Try to door knock neighbours.
Be able to use your place as a drop-off & collection point.
Collection of goods will need to be arranged immediately.

If you can act as a Co-ordinator, advise your friends to deliver goods to you TODAY or tomorrow!:
Please confirm if you can act as a Co-ordinator by emailing ASAP your name, address and contact number/s to -
Suzanne Byron
M: 1049 38 12 12

Monday, 9 February 2009

dogs lift our spirits in tragic times

I think it’s a good thing that our dogs want us to walk every day. Penny looked at her lead so often this morning that I finally organised myself to set off for Darebin Parklands. Like everyone else in Victoria I had woken up feeling awful, because of the terrible bushfires that have devastated our state. But as soon as we went down the hill into the park my spirits rose.

The ponds had waterfowl sitting on the surface, looking as if the last two days had never happened.

But when I looked closely at the water’s edge I saw how the ponds are suffering from the lack of rain.

And when I walked around the edge of the pool, I saw the saddest sight of all – a ducking that probably died in the incredible heat of Saturday.

After I had checked for a heartbeat, I reported the find to the ranger, and we continued on, past trees dead in the drought and past limbs dropped by young trees trying to survive.

As we continued on I heard a beating in the sky and looked up. It was one of the wonderful helitankers, heading north to drop thousand of litres on the fires. A reminder that people continue to mourn and suffer.

But Penny doesn’t get downhearted. She thought the water looked pretty good in the creek and waded in, even though we weren’t in an off-lead area. Naturally, that refreshed her, so we headed to the off-lead area to enjoy chasing a ball.

Penny thinks life is good. And I know that life goes on.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

tragic deaths in Victorian fires - animals and humans

The temperature reached 118°F in parts of Victoria yesterday, with Melbourne reaching 115.5° F (46.4°C, the highest temperature ever recorded), and the whole state went up in flames. It's hard to imagine in the twenty-first century, but humankind was helpless in the face of nature.

If human activity has changed the climate of our planet, it looks like Victoria is going to be one of the worst-affected places on earth, unfortunately.

Scores of people died in their homes and their cars. The official death toll keeps rising, as the emergency services get access to the areas that have been burnt out. Terrible scenes of destruction and devastation play out hour after hour on our television and the radio is one continuous stream of warnings and reports. I think the most appalling thing I heard today was the instruction to people in one town not to leave, because it was too late.

Stay in your home, the announcer ordered. And I thought, what if the inhabitants knew their house could not weather the fire storm? Then the man on the radio said to move quickly to a well-prepared neighbor's house, if you thought your own home would burn. Even sitting in my air-conditioned car in the middle of Melbourne, I felt terrified.

And the pets... I looked at Penny, lying on the seat beside me and shuddered for those who could not get back to their homes and knew their beloved pets were locked in the house. In some cases emergency shelters will not take pets. I don't know why - perhaps space is at a premium.

But how could you leave them behind?

And the stock and the wildlife...

You'd think we'd become used to scenes of weeping farmers shooting cattle lying in agony in a burnt-out paddock. But we don't.

I see flocks of birds sweeping across the sky and I think, at least you can fly. But the koalas can't leave fast enough. Or the kangaroos. Or the wombats. Or the lizards. Or the snakes. Or the butterflies. Or the spiders. Or the ants.


Saturday, 7 February 2009

the joy of running

Penny didn't do any running today, because the temperature in Melbourne today was the highest since records began - 115.5°F (46.5°C).

But usually she loves running and we're joining Rusty in celebrating the joy of stretching out at a full gallop. These are some of our favorite pictures, obviously not because of their photographic merit, but because they capture the joy of it all.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

a dog visits Darebin Parklands in the heat

In the cool hours after dawn Penny and I headed for Darebin Parklands to see how the plants and animals have made it through the current heat wave.

One of the first sights was a eucalypt that had dropped one of its branches.

Eucalypts are one of the most common trees in the Parklands and I wondered whether there will be more dropping of limbs if this heat continues, so I had a look around the Internet. I found it surprisingly difficult to locate information from Australia, but I suppose that reflects two realities - the dominance of the English-speaking net by the US and the number of eucalypts growing in the US.

Page 5 of the Danville Weekly of 2006 had an article about 'sudden limb drop syndrome.' They'd been having a twelve-day heat wave - temperatures above 100 degrees for nearly two consecutive weeks. Sounds even worse than here. (I think it must be the Danville in California.)

About why limbs drop suddenly, the writer said:
Researchers are still learning about the syndrome, but they theorize that during periods of hot dry weather, trees suck more water into their branches. This causes the branches, which are already arid and brittle, to snap from the weight of the water...One woman reported hearing a loud crack and then seeing water spill out of a large branch.
That last sentence sounded rather strange, but I'll reserve judgment.

I've heard eucalypt branches snap and drop many times, in the bush - the thump of the timber hitting the ground is frightening but I've never been close enough to be alarmed.

I found a fascinating snippet in an article by Robert L Santos of California State University:
Drought in recent years has made Californians more conscience [sic] of water conservation especially in regard to plant life. Some eucalyptus species have proven to be drought resistant. In the 1917 [sic], there was a drought in California where temperatures hovered between 110 and 120 degrees F. It was found that the foliage on most eucalyptus trees burned with the amount of tree damage being dependent upon type of soil and wind. Trees in loamy soil did better than those on sandy soil because it contained more moisture. A survey was done concerning the number of trees killed by the 1917 drought. It was found that of 2,885 blue gum trees examined only 9 died. The red gum did even better in that only 10 trees died out of 4,461.

I'd say that's true of the Parklands. I think many of the dead trees are wattles.

Two hopeful points, then - the eucalypts are tough; and the wattles are good at reproducing. Penny had a good look at the babies around the dead tree and gave them the paws-up for survival potential.

Anyway, back to our walk...
Many areas of grass were dusty and dead, with lines of cracks stitched across the ground.

We spent some pleasant time chasing balls but we took care to avoid the areas with the potentially leg-breaking cracks. (One of us chased balls; the other is too old and too tired out from the heat to raise a gallop, so she, having the advantage of arms and fingers, threw the balls.)
Then it was time for a cool off in the creek.

Here is another article with information on 'sudden limb drop':Summer Limb Drop on Ornamental Trees by Pam Geisel, farm advisor at the University of California.

Monday, 2 February 2009

dogs and the joy of running

Walks are one thing. Pretty good fun. But running...ah, that is sheer joy for Penny. So I thought I'd find lots of good pictures of her racing across the grass in various places if I searched our 'canine archives', but there are surprisingly few. Surprisingly few in focus - for reasons that relate to my photographic skills and Penny's speed.

I'm looking for photos because Rusty suggested that on Saturday next we bloggers have a 'joy of running' day.I want to take part because it will be fun. But also because it's a message that needs to be sent to 'them'. Those who want to see our dogs walking along beside us all the time on short leads, obedient, constricted, restrained, dominated, leashed... Oh, I could go on for hours seeking the right phrases to express the only way 'they' think a dog should interact with humans.

Not that I don't agree that dogs need to be taught to walk quietly on lead. To interact calmly with humans of any age.

But sometimes they need to run. And we need to make sure our city planners don't take away our right to run off-lead.