Hard Candy – Thankful

General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” 

– Hugh Grant, “Love, Actually”

Christmas, in my world, starts about a week before Thanksgiving at the latest. If I can get away with it, it starts November 2. I can never, I should note, get away with that. And part of celebrating Christmas, to me, is celebrating Thanksgiving. I suspect that’s because I tend towards the misanthropic, so the idea of gratitude makes for a nice respite.

So, without further preamble, here’s my list of things for which I am grateful.

My old friend, Frank. Eleven years ago I was not in the holiday spirit. I was, in fact, downright Grinchy. Frank suggested we go see Love, Actually, which was unusual because he was forever dragging me to dramas that sounded good until I sat down in a dark theatre. I slept through a lot of fine cinema in Frank’s company. This time, though, he must have sensed I could use a boost. I left that movie feeling as good as I felt as a kid opening presents at my parents’ house. It, along with Home for the Holidays, The Ref, and Holiday Inn, are among my favorite holiday movies.

New sewers. Wow, that’s a 180 in gratitude, I know, but I need to do this, because I’ve harassed Gulfport’s Public Works Director Don Sopak in print and in person about this so much I’m amazed he hasn’t filed a restraining order. Last week, the city started evaluating the sewers to determine the extent of repair needed, and while I called Don to complain about the gurgling noise the testing made my toilets make, I neglected to mention how happy I was we were doing this.

Liberals like Mayor Sam Henderson and Yolanda Roman, and any liberal, anywhere, in office. This election scared me, both in the lack of turnout and the results. As I drove through Georgia last week I realized how strongly the Tea Party has divided this country and fostered hate. Stay strong, please, and also, local guys, thanks for keeping your partisan politics out of our local politics.

Vice Mayor Christine Brown, who has been an endless source of surprises. She’s been able to put partisan politics aside for the good of Gulfport, and you would never know she was a Republican by watching her in meetings. I actually suspect she may not be, but I don’t want to be the one to tell her that.

Ward One Councilman Dan Liedtke. I have to sigh when I say this. He’s so incredibly conservative, I want to dislike him, but I can’t, because he’s our token conservative. He makes my brain hurt when he gets started on any sort of conservative rant, but he also makes me think. On a local level, he’s the one who gets aggressive about saving the city money, and while I don’t always agree with how he wants to do it, I appreciate that someone’s paying attention.

Lesley DeMuth and Jim O’Reilly. Lesley is Gulfport’s city clerk and Jim is our city manager, and I couldn’t report on city business without the level of cooperation they give me. Let me be clear: I’m not friends with these people, and at times our jobs are at odds. Even then, when it would be easy for them to mire me in bureaucracy when I make a request, they don’t. Gulfport is lucky to have them both, and I am lucky to have a job that allows me to deal with city staff that doesn’t see the media as the enemy.

Every one of our police officers and firefighters. I have no way to thank you eloquently for what you’re willing to risk to keep everyone else safe, so please just know that you all have my gratitude.

My editor, Shelly Wilson. She came on board this year after a several-year absence from the Gabber, and I hate her. Oh, not all the time, just mostly on Wednesdays and Tuesdays, of course, where she’s hassling me about doing my job properly. If you’ve seen any changes in the paper lately, that’s her hand at work. We’re making some changes to make the paper better for you, and while bringing a new position into the mix has not been without minor pitfalls, just know that for every mistake you may see as we revamp our editorial process, she’s caught about seven we ordinarily wouldn’t. It’s been an absolute bitch for her to come up to speed, and I’m not certain she knows how much I appreciate having her around.

Our hound dog, Banyan. She could be a coonhound, according to the shelter she called home for far too long. I’d likely call her a goofhound, because this dog is the Jack Tripper of dogs. I am in love with this dog, and although Calypso may not be as thankful as I am for her, I believe she’ll come around and by this time next year they’ll be best buddies.

My mom and dad. They didn’t raise me perfectly, but from what I’ve seen, they definitely scored in the 98th percentile.

El Cap. He saves me every day from being the bitter, cranky old lady I can see in my head. He lets me be myself –which is to say, just crazy enough – without letting me be self-destructive. It’s a fine line. I am no picnic as a partner, rest assured. I’m not sure what he keeps going back to that keeps him from dropping rat poison in my coffee and dumping my body in Clam Bayou, but I’m lucky and forever grateful.

You guys. You read this column, and you write or call to tell me you love it or you hate it. This never ceases to amaze me, and I’m grateful every day that you keep reading and thinking. I love that you care enough to make this column a thing, and, more importantly, that you care enough to keep the Gabber a thing. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Hard Candy appears mostly regularly in print and online for the Gabber Newspaper, but the opinions and attitudes expressed are all Cathy’s. Contact her here.

Why I Love Dogs More Than People (Subtitle: the Bitch With the Kate Spade Bag)

Love me some Stinkyfeet
Stinkyfeet is sick. She’s been ill for a few weeks now, and while we’re all hoping it’s nothing serious (and the tests we’re doing keep ruling out the truly awful things), it’s still a lot of trips to the vet and the vet hospital. I should add that her illness appears not to be terminal, she’s in exceptional spirits aside from the pain, and she’s only seven – for a dachshund, not very old. For all these reasons, it seems appropriate to order the ultrasound and the x-rays and try and cure her. Yes, it costs more than I’d like. 
I am fortunate to be in a place where, although it’s a concern, the cost is something I can handle. We will adjust our budget and make sure she gets the care she needs. Even when I was broke, though, I wasn’t above a payment plan for pet care. I readily accept that choosing to have a pet in your life means that sometimes you’ll have higher vet bills than you’d like. You’re responsible for a life. Period. End of story.
Which is why the little scene I witnessed at the vet hospital today still has me so angry. While I was settling the bill, another woman came up to the counter to pay. She was very upset at her bill. I freely admit I didn’t hear the entire exchange, but I did hear “but it was only one night” and – this gets me – “had I know it would be this much, I would have put him to sleep.”
Now, this particular hospital, Blue Pearl, is not inexpensive, but both times we’ve been there, they’ve given us a “high” and a “low” estimate before they did anything but the exam. It’s entirely possible I mis-heard this woman, but I doubt it – she was six feet away and it wasn’t loud or crowded. When she made the comment about euthanizing her dog – loudly, in front of people and kids who were waiting to see if their own dogs were going to survive the day – I looked over at her.
She had a Kate Spade bag, diamonds, and clothes that clearly didn’t come from the local discount store. Me? I’m in my Old Navy dress and $2.50 flip flops. 
I paid my bill, gathered up my sick puppy, and left for the car, steaming at her. It’s not my business to say anything, and I know full well that her diamonds could have been passed down through her family and the bag could have come from Salvation Army. Still… also in the waiting room was a family who’d been there with their dog for no less than eight hours. They had no clue what was wrong with the dog, and they were clearly sick over it. Nothing excuses that comment and how it must have made them feel. 
This is just a rant because I’m exhausted and worried about my dog and things like this remind me why I love her more than most people. Mostly, though, I pity her dog. He loves her, I’m sure, and trusts her to do what’s best for him, and her reaction is to not only put a price tag on his life, but to announce to all the world that she would rather kill him than pay for the care she believed he needed.
I’m done. I’m going to hug my dog.

Hard Candy (Guest: Calypso) – Where Are My Manners?

I had pretty big paws to fill when I met my human. Maybe you know her – her name’s Cathy and I understand she’s kind of mouthy and opinionated. Her last dog was a Dalmatian. Some of you may remember Madison, affectionately called “Mad Dog”. She was, apparently, a wonderful companion, but she had… well, she had some issues. She was an orphan, and later, the adopted child of a divorce. She grew cranky in her old age, which, to your two-legged readers out there, means leash-aggressive and food-aggressive. Cathy was the alpha dog, but Mad Dog ranked a close second.
Mad Dog didn’t go to dog parks much; she attacked another dog when it came too close to Cathy. Cathy would sneak her down to the non-dog beaches at Fort DeSoto. Mad Dog stopped going to Art Walks, too, heading downtown only when it wasn’t busy, and even then not on a leash. She was perfect under voice command, but on a leash she was mean.
That probably explains why, when I entered the picture, Cathy was a little strict. And by “a little” I mean a lot. She would squirt me with water when we went for bike rides and I barked at other cyclists. And man, if you know me, you know I love to bark. I mean, the Twilight Bark is my favorite thing; it doesn’t even need to be twilight. Cathy also keeps me on a short leash when we go somewhere crowded (and how lucky was Mad Dog to live in Gulfport when things weren’t always crowded downtown, but that’s another column altogether). Worse, sometimes she picks me up and carries me, like I’m a baby. Or a Yorkie.
The thing is, it’s so unfair. Other dogs get to do whatever they want downtown. I’ve seen them. They can wrap their leashes around people’s legs, or stretch across the sidewalk. I mean, yes, people trip, but still, it must be nice to have all that freedom. And dogs are free to be dogs, you know? I mean, sure, sometimes that results in things like people getting bit when they try to break up a dog fight, or certain dogs having “reputations” and apparently that’s why none of us can go into the library anymore, but wow… I wish I could do whatever I wanted, consequences be damned.
Of course, I’m pretty lucky, as far as dogs go. Cathy and El Cap have taken me on a 5,000-mile, cross-Florida journey in a camper. We paddle board, boat, and kayak. El Cap’s mother even bought me a life jacket: pink with polka dots. I go pretty much everywhere and yes, I sleep on the bed even though I have three of my own. I also lick the bowls before they go in the dishwasher, but please don’t tell El Cap. Gulfport Bikes reinforced what Cathy calls my “Wizard of Oz” wicker bike basket so I can ride bikes with them. We’ve been up and down the Pinellas Trail and yes, I barked my fool head off the whole way. I’m allowed to Tweet, and I have my own Facebook page. I’ve eaten a snake skin, get to go to Gulfport Elementary where kids read to me and pet me and let me lick their hands, and I sometimes even get to race through tunnels and almost catch rats. I am a lucky dog.
Even so, sometimes I just want to chill, you know? When downtown gets crowded, I don’t want to be there, because there are way too many people for my tastes. This is one of the few times I don’t mind her carrying me instead of letting me explore. When it’s that crowded downtown, it’s no fun for me, and I can’t imagine it’s much better for the people trying not to step on me or get tangled in my leash.
The other day I overheard something that chilled me to my little puppy bones. Cathy was talking to a friend of hers who said she and some of her friends from Clearwater came downtown for ArtWalk, and the dogs were everywhere. Cool, right? Well, this lady didn’t think it was so wonderful, even though she’s always been super nice to me and seems like she loves dogs. She was talking about how people brought their dogs downtown and then failed to pay attention to how they behaved. That seems pretty cool, I thought, but then I head something else: that these visitors said they wouldn’t be back to an ArtWalk because it was too hard to navigate the leashes.
That’s when I realized that sometimes I get left at home not just because it’s not fun for me at a crowded ArtWalk, but because I really shouldn’t be there. I realize I have a right to be there, of course – I’m lucky I live in the dog-friendliest town in the world – but I was forgetting that rights come with responsibilities. I guess that means I have a responsibility not to go places where my leash could be a hazard, or that I have a responsibility to behave myself really, really well when I’m eating at a local restaurant.
Of course, I’m a dog. So ultimately, it’s Cathy’s job to make sure I behave well enough to be welcome downtown. Do me a favor, guys? I’m lousy at communicating with her. Could you ask your humans to tell her? Because, well, you know… she’s sweet, but she’s human, and sometimes she doesn’t think about these things.
Thanks. Oh, and seriously, don’t mention the “licking dishes” thing. That can just be our secret.

Contact Calypso on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Contact Cathy at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

Hard Candy – “Mayor Sam” the Squirrel

I swerve to avoid hitting squirrels and I shoo spiders outside (or, rather, I make El Cap shoo spiders outside. I don’t want ’em dead but I don’t want ’em on me, either). That said, please don’t judge me for allowing my cats outside. I write this at the end of an election day that seemed interminable. Oh, not the candidates – and thank you, Mr. Ray and Councilwoman Roman for remaining polite and civilized – but the squirrel.
Scuppers (our smart, loud, sweet cat) caught a young squirrel, but failed to kill it. He did, however, bring it through the cat door (of course) while the squirrel shrieked like a banshee. Since El Cap was at work, I had two choices: hope the matter would resolve itself or initiate a one-woman squirrel rescue. What followed was some version of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom. 
To his credit, Scuppers did drop it when I started shrieking at him (on that note, I’d like to apologize to any of my neighbors who may have heard the shrieking and thought I was getting murdered). However, Calypso took this as permission to pounce. She’s very much a hunter, that dog. To her credit, she dropped it on my command. Several times. The squirrel, for its part, fled like an East German going over the wall. 
At some point in the race around my dining room I notice the squirrel has a hurt leg, so of course I try and coax it into a paper bag. Fail. Scuppers begins to once again stalk the squirrel, probably wondering how I can be so very bad at this sort of thing and why on earth I yelled at him to drop the squirrel if I was only going to try to catch it again. I throw a laundry basket over the squirrel. Squirrel escapes from between the basket’s broken handle. I make a mental note to get a new laundry basket, catch squirrel again, this time blocking squirrel-sized handle openings with liquor decanters. Squirrel contemplates getting drunk, opts to hold out for better vodka. 
I kick Scuppers out of house, close the cat door from inside, and walk over to the mayor’s house, because if anyone can handle an emergency squirrel rescue, it’s the Henderson family. The mayor, probably having heard my screams, does not answer his door. I call him. No answer. Then I call El Cap on the off chance he’s on his way home and this whole thing can wait. No such luck. I text the mayor and wait. In the meantime, I do what many of you tend to do when you have nowhere else to turn: I call the Gabber.
My good buddy Shelly answers, who tells everyone in the office I have a squirrel in my house, “because of course” (direct quote). No one tries to hide their snickering, and no one has advice. I hang up, and remember I have cat crate in garage. 
Put towel, peanut, water in crate. Squirrel remains unappreciative, refuses to move from under basket. I lift the basket to better usher him towards the crate – you know where this is going, right? Squirrel escapes. Calypso is on the porch, vibrating about a foot off the ground. I find squirrel in closet, hiding behind vacuum. I move vacuum. We really need to vacuum more in the coat closet; injured squirrel now covered in dust bunnies. I try to shoo squirrel into carrier with Sports section of the Tribune. Squirrel apparently prefers Times, tries to climb paper. Second attempt gets him (or her, I didn’t check) in carrier. 
Mission accomplished. I failed to think ahead as to what to do with trapped squirrel, but as I gaze at the small animal gazing back at me with no small amount of malice, Mayor Sam calls me back and tells me to take the squirrel to the Animal and Avian hospital on Starkey, where they will take in the squirrel, rehab him if it’s possible, and get him to a squirrel foster home. Because that’s a thing, apparently. I do so, and they take in the squirrel, telling me “this is the third squirrel this week” they’ve treated. Which, by the way, they do for free, although they accept donations. They ask for his name. Inspired and grateful, I list his name as “Mayor Sam the Squirrel”, because without the mayor’s input I’d likely be trying make a splint out of popsicle sticks and cotton swabs. 
So, new challenge for Mayors Kriseman, Calabria, and Lowe: forget getting a park or a building named after you. How many politicians have a squirrel namesake? Only Mayor Sam (the actual mayor, not the squirrel, but for that matter, how many squirrels can say they have a mayoral namesake?)
I feel obliged to note that Gulfport election days always get a little weird, but never like this. Well, never until now.
I can’t wait to see what next year’s elections will bring.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com, unless you’re writing to tell her she needs to keep her cats inside. She’s buying Scuppers a louder collar bell this week. Her other cat, Elmo, is very sweet but not smart enough to catch anything, so his small jingle bell can stay.

There is a squirrel in my house. So that’s happening.

So this was my mid-morning. The joys of working from home.

Scuppers caught a squirrel, but failed to kill it. He did, however, bring it through the cat door (of course) while it shrieked like a banshee. Since El Cap’s at work, the job of getting the squirrel out of the house fell to me. What followed was some twisted episode of Wild Kingdom. But not the happy family feasting on prairie grass, if you know what I mean. Here’s what happened after the squirrel entered my home and my life:

To his credit, Scuppers did drop it when I started shrieking at him. However, Calypso caught it. Seems she can’t differentiate between her EarthDog work and a squirrel. To her credit, she dropped it on my command. Several times. The squirrel, for its part, fled like an East German going over the wall. 
At some point in the race around my dining room – me, Calypso, Scuppers, and the squirrel – I notice the squirrel has a hurt leg, so of course I try and chase it into a paper bag. Fail. Scuppers is very puzzled at this point, so he tries to stalk the squirrel, ostensibly to help me, until I yell at him. I try to get the squirrel in a laundry basket. Squirrel escapes from laundry basket. I catch squirrel in laundry basket again, block handle openings with two liquor decanters. Squirrel contemplates getting drunk, decides can muscle through paw pain. 
I kick Scuppers out of house, close cat door from inside. Put Calypso on leash, walk her to Mayor Sam’s, because that household is all about Emergency Squirrel Rescue. No answer. Call. No answer. Call El Cap. No answer. Text mayor. No answer. Call Shelly for advice, because I’m running out of people and she wrote that whole Squirrel Key thing and I figure “Why not?” 
She tells entire Gabber staff I have a squirrel in my house, “because of course.” No one tries to hide snickering. No one has cage. I hang up, remember I have cat crate in garage. 
Put towel, peanut, water in crate. Squirrel unappreciative, refuses to move from under basket. I try to nudge basket towards crate. Squirrel, of course, escapes. Calypso goes nuts on porch. Squirrel runs in coat closet, hides behind vacuum. I move vacuum. We really need to vacuum more in the coat closet; injured squirrel now covered in dust bunnies. I try to shoo squirrel into carrier with Sports section of the Tribune. Squirrel prefers Times, tries to climb paper. Second attempt gets Squirrel in carrier. 
Resting peaceably now. Texted mayor’s daughter, who is in school. She suggests texting her dad. 
It’s not even noon, y’all. I feel obliged to note that Gulfport election days always get a little weird, but never like this. Well, never until now. 

Writing’s Not So Tough…

… all you do is open your veins and let them bleed on the page.

Curious thing about writing. I do it every day, for a living, and have done for the past ten-plus years. But what I’m doing this month, writing for money I will not see for at least a year, is different, because I’m finding it takes more discipline than the shorter articles and smaller projects I do every day.

What’s also odd is that I’m finding the need to write before I write. There’s a great quote from Lord Byron: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” More and more this week, I’m finding that to be true. I have a lot of stuff floating around in my brain, and I find I need to clear out the cobwebs to make any sense at all. That’s what this is, and my apologies for that, but no one’s making you read.

This week is not without challenges. El Cap’s parents are staying with us, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not. They are not hard people to have around, but it takes some getting used to having other people around during the day, to say the least. I talk to myself a lot, which is fine when it’s me and Calypso. It’s just something I do, usually when I get up to stretch or get tea, which involves me walking out of my study (which I call my Bat Cave) and into the kitchen. Calypso usually comes with me because the clever dog knows there’s a good chance there will be cheese.

When you add two other people into the mix, one of whom doesn’t hear well anyway, it gets weird, because they think I’m talking to them when, in reality, I’m really just making words bump together to get my mind working, or talking to the dog to prove that I still have the power of speech. Also, Calypso doesn’t judge me when I talk to her. I can tell her anything. It’s an adjustment not to tell her I need to shave my bikini line or that my butt itches when I go get my tea, because I feel as though the El Cap v.1 and his lovely wife really don’t need to hear about those sorts of things. What’s more, they probably (OK, definitely) don’t want to hear those things.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a nice little routine going. Write things like this, get some tea, and get down to it. In between, I keep having these thoughts that I could very easily adjust to this lifestyle. I mean, aside from the lack of income at the present. So, you know, if anyone wants to just hand me money to do this, you know where to find me.

Eating Our Way West

US 98 in Florida is a treasure trove of food. El Cap and I are eating our way west this week. 

We spent the night on St. George Island, at the similarly named state park. We had a cozy campsite just beyond the dunes. The stars lit the sky like a planetarium and the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep. Calypso, for her part, explored the camp site on a tie-out. She spent the night on my pillow, safe in the tent. She may as well be home, apparently. 
Driving through the dunes, I am awestruck by their grandeur. Calypso remains unimpressed. 
Me: Calypso, you don’t appreciate the experiences you have. After all, some dogs spend their lives tied to a tree and sleeping under the porch. 

El Cap: Is that anything like being tied to a stake and dozing under a picnic table?

Me: Touché, sir. Touché. 

Why Calypso Smells Like Seduction

So, we bought a house. And a huge, wonderful house it is, with a huge, wonderfully neglected yard. In that neglected yard is an even MORE neglected pond. In that even more neglected pond is an algae, mossy substance that I can’t identify by suspect may be what happens when mold has sex with kelp and becomes self aware. We’ve been diligently raking it out, a little bit at a time (we’d do it all at once, but there are more pressing things in this house right now, and raking self-aware algkelp is our little breaktime pasttime. I know that’s messed up but don’t care) and letting it dry in a pile in the yard.

One of the wonderful things about our wonderfully neglected yard is that it’s a fenced yard on the corner, which means it’s a good size and some of it is out of our view from inside the house. Calypso loves this, too, because she can explore off her leash. And, trust me, there is a LOT to explore in this yard. It’s a little slice of “suburbia surrenders” back there, which I love – and so does she.

So tonight I let her out while I’m cleaning up paint and spackle supplies – as I said, it’s a wonderful house that the previous owner ignored, so it needs a lot of paint and spackle right about now – and don’t think anything of it. When I’m done cleaning up and realize she’s been outside for a good long spell, I call for her. She, being my trusty hound and faithful companion, comes galloping towards me.

El Cap had fixed the front hot water heater – it was not, um, heating the water – and a few minutes later I smell something.

Me: Do you smell something burning?

El Cap: I smell something, but it isn’t a burning smell.

Me: Are you sure? It smells… weird.

El Cap: What did we do just now? I was out with the hot water heater (checks garage)… Nope, doesn’t smell out there.

Me (bending down to smell Calypso): JESUS!

Algkelp Fun Fact #1: Regular dog shampoo does NOT work in removing the smell, not even if you shampoo your trusty hound and faithful companion three times with the stuff and let it sit on her a few minutes each time.

Algkelp Fun Fact #2: Victoria’s Secret Seduction Dark Orchid body wash does. THIS is Victoria’s true secret.

Algkelp Fun Fact #3: “Algkelp” is not a real word. I Googled it to check.

Hard Candy: Who Wants Cheese?

 Some days the best you can hope for is cheese.

 Really, I mean that. My washing machine isn’t working, all I want is a steak and all I have on hand is romaine and sweet potatoes, and, at last check, I’ve gained about 25 pounds since college. I’m not having a great day here, and that doesn’t bode well for my evening which, since it’s Tuesday, will be spent listening to the city council decide the fate of the city. Which city? It doesn’t matter. They’re all the same: they do things, someone gets upset, and the meeting goes on. The lawyer talks and the clerk tries not to while the city manager gets to act as some sort of suit-and-tie referee for the whole weird carnival. They could sell pretzels and cotton candy and make a damn fortune.

 I may need a vacation. I notice a definite “cranky” trend, even for me, which is definitely saying something. I’m rapidly losing my tolerance for this nonsense that passes for local government, and I don’t just mean the politicians. I mean the people who forget that there are more important things in life than what your city government does on Tuesday nights.

 OK, I will grant you that I am a big believer that city politics impact your life more than state affairs, and, following this to its logical conclusion, state politics more so than national. I still believe that. But I think it’s time we all get a little perspective adjustment.

 Every morning I stumble to the coffee maker. I use the word “stumble” when I should write “trip over the cats and mumble loudly at things in my path,” but you get the drift. I pour myself a cup of coffee so strong that, at my last office job, I was released from coffee-making duties after my coworkers spent the morning in the bathroom. I wait for the caffeine to hit the blood, get dressed, and head to my office. All I have to say at this point is “Come on, Calypso, let’s go to work!” and she takes off at a dachshund-gallop towards the oversized chair where we work, curls up next to me, and sleeps away the day (I guess if you’re a dachshund, that’s work.)

 While she sleeps I wade through myriads of city documents, trying to understand out how the city plans to pay for the coming year’s expenses (current logic is shells and beads) or how much money, exactly, another city will spend fighting lawsuits about something it did three years ago (I’m not sure but there’s talk of the commission selling their kidneys).

 Calypso, for her part, ignores countless calls to council members, commissioners, my editor, and anyone else I contact. She lives for Friday morning meetings at the Gabber and the Tuesday Market in Gulfport because she gets a car ride and new scenery, but other than that, she sleeps.

 Calypso can sleep through anything but cheese. Some days life isn’t so exciting for her, and, if she’s lucky, around three o’clock, I will get up and head into the kitchen and get a piece of string cheese. The moment – the exact instant – when she hears the wrapper rattle, her endearing dachshund snores and puppy dreams cease and she bolts upright in our chair. I will find her waiting there for me when I return, her ridiculously fluffy ears cocked and her eyes begging me for cheese. She knows – she hopes – that she will get the final bite.

 And, of course, she always does. She is my faithful companion; my friend. More than that, she is the only one in the world who could hope to stay sane while listening to me talk about sewers and discarded wigs and palm tree fires.

 Anyone who has a dog – or has loved a dog – knows that outside of a dog’s heart, nothing else matters. I can be working on an article or column that I swear I’m really, really passionate about, but then I will feel her settle in to my thigh just a little more tightly, or her snout will push hot dachshund breath across my leg. It is in that moment that I couldn’t care less about city hall or meetings or politics.

 Maybe I would have more tolerance for the meetings I could bring Calypso to the meetings. I feel like I could handle some of the ridiculous things discussed there, like whether or not a link on a city web site could lead to people going to the bathroom on TV, if I could feel her snuggled up next to me.

 For her part, she wouldn’t care what anyone was saying, not if she thought there was a remote chance she’d get a piece of cheese at the end. Because Calypso is all about the big picture. She sees what matters. She understands perspective.

 She knows that some days, you can just hope for cheese.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

Hard Candy: Of Dogs and Beaches

The city is entertaining establishing a dog beach, and, for a city that certainly has its share of four-footed residents, the anti-dog-beach outcry on the paper’s Facebook page shocked me. Of course, “outcry” might be too strong a word, as only two people have commented at all, but what amazes me is that no pro-doggie beach people have jumped in to defend the honor of dogs and dog owners everywhere. I know, too, that opinions on Facebook certainly don’t represent the real world (for those of you somewhat addicted to social networking sites, the “real” world is what’s outside your window. No, your other window.)
Those who oppose a dog beach say that the dog poop will contaminate Boca Ciega Bay. Since I work Calypso into this column more regularly than BP comes up with useless solutions to the Gulf oil disaster, I think we all know what side of the fence I’m about to come down. Yup, you guessed it: Gulfport should create a full-time dog beach.
Those of us who live with dogs can tell you how very much it means to them to be able to run down a beach and splash in the water. These aren’t creatures with long life spans by human standards, and that hour of joy they’ll get from digging in the sand or splashing in the surf means more to them than non-dog lovers could possibly imagine. It’s not as though they have other outlets like bowling or going out for tapas with friends. Let’s not forget the benefits of dogs who interact regularly with other dogs: they how to behave around other dogs, making them less aggressive members of society. Couple that with a dog’s need for exercise and running up and down the beach with fellow pups makes more sense than ever. And don’t say they can get that in a dog park; it isn’t the same.
I had the pleasure of spending 12 years of my life with a cranky, neurotic, overprotective, wonderful Dalmatian named Madison. She went through a nasty divorce with me and never really recovered: she was mighty protective, got nervous in dog parks and didn’t much care for other dogs, but get her to a stretch of beach and she was a puppy again. She was a great friend to me and the best reward I could give her was some time at the beach. When we got in the car and headed to Fort DeSoto, she knew. Once we got over the bridge on the Bayway, she’d start to whine in anticipation. She’d run up and down the beach, blowing bubbles when she stuck her snout in the sand and then chasing those same bubbles, which created more bubbles… it could go on for hours. I had to put sunscreen on her snout and behind her ears, because she’d get sunburned.
My best memories of Madison were at Fort DeSoto, and my best memories of Calypso are on the water as well. I understand and accept that unscooped dog leavings contribute to fecal coliform contamination in waterways. But anyone who thinks that a dog beach will create more unchecked dog poop either doesn’t have a dog themselves or doesn’t visit dog beaches much. Dog owners at Fort DeSoto are much more effective at policing the poop than any law enforcement officer could ever hope to be. I’ve seen things get ugly at dog beaches when someone didn’t pick up after their pet, and the humiliation I’ve seen fellow dog owners put others through for not scooping encourages me to always- ALWAYS- have extra bags on hand when I’m at the Fort DeSoto Paws Playground. I am so downright thrilled to have a dog beach that I refuse to do anything to risk having it taken away.
When I hear talk about creating a dog beach, I think about Madison. She loved the beach. On the last day of her life, she couldn’t walk anymore, but I lifted her into the back of my Rabbit and drove her down to Fort DeSoto. I inflated a raft and sat in the water with her for quite a while, letting her float. Her nose quivered at the scent of the salt air, but that was all. After about an hour, I dried her off, put her back in the car, and together we drove to the veterinarian one last time.
I still have the collar she wore that day, and if I try real hard, I can still smell the beach on it. I wouldn’t trade that last hour or two for anything except to have her back with me.
So, to those naysayers, I ask you for this: please let us have a small stretch of beach for moments like that. They mean so much to us and everything to our dogs. I understand your concerns and am not discounting them, but I will tell you that I, as a dog owner, wouldn’t risk not being able to give my dog those moments of pure joy by leaving waste on the beach.
Let’s compromise: let’s see how it goes for three months, then decide. On behalf of Madison, Calypso, and every dog that’s ever yelped with puppy-like abandon when the sand comes into view, please let us have this.
Contact Cathy Salustri at Cathy@TheGabber.com.