Tag Archives: dog stories

Excerpt from BORDERLAND, chapter 8 “Magic Tricks for Puppies”

Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript BORDERLAND: A DOG, A LOVE, A DOUBLE-HELIX (or I might call the book AWESOME DOG, not sure). Anyway, the passages come late the book, from chapter eight, “Magic Tricks for Puppies.”

What you need to know:

Mick, before I knew he was mine.

Mick, before I knew he was mine. Note there is no Ash-Wednesday cross on his brow.

 

I had spent two years searching for my “soul dog,” the dog most perfect for me, and I found Mick, a Border Collie puppy. I was also writing a book about Border Collies, and Mick was supposed to be the happy ending. Shortly after I brought him home, he began to wither away–and so did my writing career. At nine months of age, Mick ended up in intensive care, dying of a disease no vet could diagnose.

In my manuscript, meditations on the power of language interlace with hospital scenes while the vets and I fight for my puppy’s life:

Enchant. En-, upon or against, chant, to sing, “to sing against,” to influence.  Enchant has the same root as “incantation,” which is to chant magical words in order to put a spell upon, to bewitch. Bippity-boppity-border-collie. The word “charm,” also shares the same root, Latin, canare, (canary!) meaning “to sing.” A charm is an object, action, saying, or song with magical power. Puppy.

The next morning, I woke before dawn to what might be called “a panic attack,” and called the vet. The good news was that Mick’s GI tract had begun to function again. The bloat was over. He was eating small amounts of Science I/D. The bad news was septicemia. They’d given him a blood transfusion and begun aggressive antibiotic treatments.

Despite his high fever, he was more alert. They let me take him out of his crate and walk him around Intensive Care. Hunched and uncertain, he stepped gingerly. He stood with his head low, blinking like Rip Van Winkle. My cell phone kept lighting up with notifications from his Facebook family wanting updates on Mick. “His fever’s come down a little,” I wrote. “His mind is clearing. They let me take him out of his cage.”

Mick and the Yorkie.

Mick and the Yorkie.

I posted photos of Mick greeting the tiny Yorkie with a cone around her neck and a bow in her hair, the beautiful black-and-white Border Collie posed as if for a hearth photo on a white towel, the matted Pomeranian who wouldn’t stop yapping. Their gaze and movements showed that none felt so sick as Mick did, and his chemistry profiles bore out the danger he carried inside him. Among humans, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals. It kills within hours. It causes chills and confusion, and Mick shivered, but he did not seem confused. He moved solemnly from cage to cage. Hello, hello. Good-bye, good-bye. His neck had been shaved and thickly bandaged to protect his blood transfusion port. He bowed his head to each of his fellow patients, swished his tail, averted his gaze just enough. “It’s okay,” he seemed to say, with a kind of graciousness you wouldn’t expect from one so young, from one so not-human. “You’ll be okay,” he told them.

The nurses took notice.

What are you in for?

What are you in for?

Spell. The origin of the word “spell” has nothing to do with the so-called correct sequence of letters to make up a word. It comes from the Old English, spellian, meaning “to talk,” “to announce,” the same root as gospel, godspell, “the good news.” In its noun form, it still means “to speak,” only “spell” also indicates a sequence of words or syllables that, if uttered or written in the proper sequence, are themselves an act of magic. Hyperbilirubinemia, hypoalbuminemia! Sometimes spells hide within spells. They breach the membrane between witchcraft to religion: open sesame (from the Hebrew sem name, “in the name of Heaven”), hocus pocus (from the Latin Mass, hoc est corpus, “This is my body,” a magic spell that, presto change-o, turns bread into the meat of Christ); abracadabra, (from the Aramaic אברא כדברא, meaning “I create as the word creates,” or Hebrew, “It came to pass as it was spoken”), reminiscent of the Fiat Lux, from Genesis 1:3 “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” What the Creator decrees, He creates. The Fiat Lux is the original magic spell. The entire universe sprang from a magic word, which probably wasn’t “Big” and wasn’t “Bang.” If we knew what The Word was and we said it, what would happen? Would it tear us in half? Rumpelstiltskin.

Two nurses knelt and offered Mick tiny wet meatballs of dog food. He took them gently. If they knew him like I knew him, if they even knew him half so well as his Facebook friends knew him, would it make a difference?

“Can you say, ‘Thank you?’ Mick?” I said. “Shake.” And he did. Such a simple trick.

Trick, from the Old French, trique, meaning “deceit, treachery.”

The nurses lit up. They smiled at me. Never was Mick in more danger, yet suddenly, they no longer gave him up for dead.

He was too weak for most of his tricks. I had to show the nurses not just that he was in there, but who was in there. “He knows a lot of tricks. Hold up your hand like this,” I said, just the way I told little children. The one nurse held up the palm of her hand. Now say, “Touch.”

Head low, ears flopped to the side, Mick bumped her palm with his nose. She lit up again, just like little children do. He was keen, looking in her eyes, looking in mine. “Trick,” from the Latin tricari, meaning “to be evasive, to shuffle.”

“He’s so smart!”

“Flick your hand like this and say, ‘spin.’”

She did, and, still too tired to lift his own ears and tail, bandaged and weighted by the heart monitor strapped to his middle, Mick turned a little circle.

“Oh, my God!” the nurses gasped.

He loved their astonishment. He ate up their wonder. He wagged and dropped onto his side, clattering over his heart monitor. He gave them his shaved and bony belly to rub.

If they saw how extraordinary he was, saw him the way I did, maybe they’d care more, from the Old English carian, “to be anxious, to grieve.” I said, “Did you see the cross on his forehead?” An illusion, from the Latin, illusionem, “to deceive, to play with.”

Now, they hadn’t noticed, but now they saw it. They marveled.

“Of course he strolled around hitting on the nurses.” I later wrote to his Facebook friends. “He went from patient to patient, offering each an encouraging wag. He was particularly interested in what the other Border Collie was in for.”

“Trick,” from tricæ, meaning “trifles, nonsense, a tangle of difficulties.”

The familiar, if tedious, word grammar meant, back in the twelfth century, “learning, knowledge,” and by the fifteenth century, that learning included “magic, alchemy, astrology, even witchcraft,” wrote Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (3). By the seventeenth century, in Scotland the word evolved into glamor, meaning “magical enchantment, charms, and spells.” The word eventually included the spell cast by beauty. “The bridge between the words glamour and grammar is magic,” writes Clark. “In popular gothic stories detailing the misadventures of witches and vampires, the word glamor (without a u)—as both a noun and a verb—describes a magic spell that puts someone in a trance or makes a person forget” (3).

The nurses forgot who he’d been to them before. Even so diminished, he was charming them. “Maybe you’d like a little walk outside?” said one nurse in her best baby talk.

The photo.

That picture.

Mick and I went into a small, muddy back yard. He knew the yard, I could see, he’d been in it without me. He walked a few steps, sniffing the ground. He squinted into the bright shade. Somehow, more than the fluorescent lights, the outdoors showed how dead he nearly was, bony shoulders poking through his yellow mesh tee-shirt, the yellow tube snaking from his nostril. The earth would have little to reclaim. Perhaps his performance had exhausted him, or the slight breeze was too much for his thin coat and high fever. Afterwards I posted, “Then he went out for a snuffle around the backyard of the hospital, sneezed, and asked me, ‘Do I have something on my nose?’” Publicly cheerful, I didn’t want the Facebook chorus to despair. If they lost faith, who would pray for Mick? With some effort, he climbed back onto the doorstep and turned to look at me, the very picture of misery and defeat. Hating myself a little bit, I took that picture too; something about it was truer than the others, the limp ears, the yellow tube, the heavy head, the world-weariness on the face of a creature who still had yet to hit puberty, and the strange cross stamped on his brow clear in the light he could not bear.

“He’s ready to come in,” I said.

Prayer, too, is magic, from the Latin precari, “to ask, to petition, to beg.” The word “precarious” has the same root, meaning “to be dependent on someone else’s will.” Thy will be done. “Curse,” from the Old English, curs, is just another kind of prayer, one begging evil to befall someone. For good or evil, prayer is a form of spiritual begging, and its power increases according the goodness of the prayer, the desperation and/or selflessness of the supplicant, and/or the number of supplicants all pleading the same plea, prayer chains and prayer requests, palanca, the lever, a rigid bar and pivot point and the cumulative force of supplicants moving the hand of God, the Great Puppet. Prayers often operate on the assumption that God, like an irascible genie or a worn-out dad, will break down and grant the noisiest wish, clamor, a call, an outcry, a plea, a claim, “to demand by virtue or right.” In some ways, prayer is sorcery, which influences fate by “sorting” lots, from the Old English hlot, meaning “portion, decision, choice,” deciding who should live, who should die, who should rise again. He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. Please, Lord. If You please. If it please You.

“He seems a little better,” I said, more as a question.

“He’s better when you’re here,” said the one nurse. “It makes a difference. Nobody else visits their animals.”

The other nodded.

“You’re kidding me.” I couldn’t imagine other people didn’t visit their pets. How could that be? But I realized, every time I’d been in that back room, I was the only person who didn’t work there.

How else can I speak our words to him?

How else can I speak our words to him?

“I have to come,” I said. “How else could I talk to him?” I was addicted to canine conversation, and Mick was my best partner. Who else would half-climb into his cage and whisper, “Come, Mick,” to make him see himself trotting toward me across our lawn? Who else would say, “Let’s go to school. Is that Minnie?” so his tail swished? That was how I conjured Minnie, from the Latin, coniurare, meaning “to swear together, to conspire, to command a demon by invocation or spell, to cause to appear in the mind, to call into existence as by magic.” I would whisper into his ear, “Let’s go upstairs,” and so raise our staircase in his mind. When I said, “Mew,” at the same pitch Audrey said it, Mick raised his eyebrows. His brain filled with the scent, sight, and sound of cat. That’s how I sent his mind’s nose scent-searching for her fluffy butt. “Let’s go downstairs. Want to go outside? Let’s get your collar, put your paws up, paws up, where’s your Frisbee?” Live, keep living, come home, Mickey, come forth! Only in the flesh could I perform this magic, be the magician, from the word Magi, the three wise men, followers of the order of the Magus Zoroaster, Magus Magusian, those who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and gifted us with the word “magician.”

I said, “Mick, my good boy,” from the Old High German guot, meaning “fit, suitable, belonging together.” Stay with me.

“Talk to him,” my stepfather’s hospice nurse had said. “He can still hear you.”

And so as John died, my mother and I spoke of Yosemite, his favorite place on Earth, the soaring vault of Half Dome, the dizzy view from Glacier Point, the summer snow, the sound and the scent of mist at the base of Bridalveil Falls, and the cry of coyotes against the valley walls. With a mighty spell my mother and I conjured Yosemite and teleported him there, but his backyard would have been good enough. If John were to have opened his eyes, he’d have seen the breeze tousle dappled shadows and light. Everywhere the confetti of flowers flew. Bluebirds and goldfinches sailed, blue and yellow, to and fro.

“I have to go,” I said to the nurses. “But before I do, Mick wants to show you one last trick. It’s just a trick, you know. But it’s all he’s got.”

And they agreed to see it. So I took a bit of the food, showed it to Mick, and said his name. Still squinting, he locked eyes with me, because he was keen, because he was biddable, because he was brave, because he was still Mick. I leaned forward and offered my arm for him to put his paws up. He was still game, even when his packed blood cell count was down to eighteen percent. With effort, he stood on his hind legs and placed his front paws on my forearm.

“Say your prayers.”

He bowed his head between his paws. Mick and I froze, and the tableau planted itself in their minds: the brave and dying puppy bowed in prayer. Unseen but right out in the open, I slipped him the treat under my arm.

“Oh!” cried the nurses. They marveled at what they had beheld, and pondered it in their hearts.

The team who saved Mick's life.

The team who saved Mick.

The Truth About Pip: Dogs, Divorce, and Memoir

Casey loved any kind of play

Casey loved any kind of play

Some readers of my memoir, For the Love of a Dog, say the end dissatisfies them. If I loved my dogs the way I did, how could I have just given Pip away to a stranger?

They’re right. There’s something wrong with the narrative–I didn’t tell the whole truth. Continue reading

Amazing Mick News!

Hi, fellow Border Collie fans!

Mick and I have some exciting news! Here’s what happened:

An agent at Fine Print Literary Management, CEO Peter Rubie, agreed to represent Mick and me and our story. He’s taking our book proposal to editors at the top publishing houses hoping to negotiate a great book deal.

The world of book publishing is capricious, and I have a lot of work to do, so it’ll be a while before anything happens–if anything happens. But it’s a hugely encouraging step, and Peter Rubie is warm and wonderful and committed to this story and my career. I couldn’t feel luckier.

My hope is to do justice to all the people and Border collies whose lives are so powerfully intertwined and to explore what home and family mean when we’re divided geographically and united through the Internet and a shared love. I also just hope to tell a good story. It is a good story–I hope to tell it well.

As Peter said when we first discussed the book last October, “The dog has to live.” And he does!

And as my mother would say, I better get crackin’. Luckily, Mick’s been healthy and sweet, and he’s practicing his best tricks because I promised I’d take him to visit his friends at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, known as ICFA. Of course, he’s calling it “Mickfa,” and he gets all full of himself and says, “I am the fantastic in the arts.”

When asked what it’s like to have a literary agent, Mick said, “I’m not sure. Can he throw a Frisbee?”

P1060262

Part 4: The Comfort Zone

by Terri Florentino

 

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

This week the class would assemble at a local dog-friendly park. I was really looking forward to it; the “Beyond the Back Yard” class offers my students an opportunity to become experienced in handling their dogs in all types of environments, and is always so much fun.

One by one the students arrived and gathered around. I greeted them, and when it was time to begin, I said, “Not sure if we’re going to have any late arrivals, so let’s start with the question-and-answer portion of the class. Remember to practice the sit-stay and down-stay exercises while we talk. It’s important that your dog learn to exercise self control.”

We formed a large circle in order to hear one another while we spoke. I placed Debbie and Chase next to my mom and my dog, Bonny. My mom is an experienced dog handler, and my dog Bonny is well trained and able to deal with disruptive dogs with little to no reaction. Everything was going well. The class members took turns discussing their successes and failures, and I offered praise and advice, when suddenly, Chase lunged and barked at Bonny, and Debbie panicked.

“Stay calm. Just back away from the group,” I said.

Chase snarled and leapt at the end of his leash. With fear and tears in her eyes, Debbie strained to pull him away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re going to work Chase in his, ‘comfort zone.’ Take him just far enough away from the group so he can relax enough to behave. I want Chase to sit and face you, okay? Promote eye contact and praise him when his behavior is correct.”

Debbie dragged Chase about ten feet away, and then another five or so before Chase calmed down and sniffed the grass. “Do you think he’ll ever stop acting like this?” Debbie asked, wiping tears off her cheeks.

I had the class practice down-stays while I approached her and said softly, “Yes. He’ll come around, and so will you. Here. Let me take Chase for a while. You take a deep breath and smile, okay?” I took Chase’s leash, and we walked back toward the group. I stopped about five feet away, just as Chase began to slow down and watch the other dogs with prick ears and stiff legs.

“All right, let’s get going. Follow me,” I said to the class. “We’re going to take a walk. There are a few zoo animals down this path, and the dogs are always rather intrigued with them.”

Everybody lit up with anticipation and fell in line behind Chase and me. Debbie followed at my side.

As we approached the zoo animal’s cages, I instructed the group to stay in a line and keep their dogs a few feet back from the cages. “It’s not fair to the zoo animals to let dogs harass them and bark at them while they’re trapped in their enclosures. Our goal is to teach our dogs to be well behaved and mannerly.” One by one we worked the ‘heel’ position back and forth past the monkeys, lions, exotic birds, and other zoo animals. Chase, wearing the Gentle Leader, walked very well with me.

I watched Debbie’s face. She was watching Chase with pride, affection, and hope. “Are you ready to take a turn walking with Chase?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Wrong answer, Deb. You are ready, and you can do this! I want you to work within his comfort zone. I’ll stay right next to you.” I instructed Chase to sit and handed Debbie the leash. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and off we went, back and forth several times past the animals. They did an awesome job, absolutely no overreaction from Chase. The class applauded and praised both Chase and Debbie for doing such a great job.

Shanghai_Zoo_monkey

The monkeys seemed to tease us.

While in the vicinity of the zoo animals, I had the class practice their sit- and down-stay exercises, and everyone did well. “Let’s head down the path to an open field, gather in a circle, sit down to relax.” Once we arrived to the open field everyone took out their bottles of water to refresh themselves and their dogs. We talked about how their dogs reacted to the many zoo animals. We all laughed and shared stories about the monkeys, convinced that the monkeys were teasing the dogs each time they passed by their enclosure. Debbie smiled. “Chase is much more relaxed and behaving himself,” she said.

“He is, isn’t he?” I said. I reminded the class of the importance of exercising your dogs. “I’ve always said that a tired dog is a good dog.”

Next we were going to walk the dogs by a playground. “I want everyone to make sure their dogs sit and stay before you allow anyone to pet them. No doubt some of the children will approach and want to pet them. I’ll manage the kids, you all manage your dogs. Any questions?”

“Chase might lot like the kids approaching him,” Debbie said, her anxiety level rising. “What should I do?”

“Instruct the kids to stay back. Be firm about that. And I won’t allow the kids to approach any of the dogs that aren’t completely accepting of them.”

The Playground

The Playground

We packed up the bowls and bottles of water and got on our way. As we reached the top of a hill you could see the playground off to the left at the bottom of the hill. There were a few children playing on the equipment while their parents sat close by on the park benches. As we got close enough to the playground for the dogs and kids to notice one another, I instructed the class to stop and get in a straight line. “OK, class let’s have our dogs sit and stay politely by our sides. Here come the kids!”

“Doggies!” one of the children cried, and they came running. The parents rose and followed more slowly, talking amongst themselves.

I met the children halfway between the playground and the class. They all seemed very excited. “I’ll bet you want to say hello to the dogs. These dogs are in class learning how to be good dogs, can you help us?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” They jumped up and down.

“I go to school too!” a child said.

“Do you?” I said, feigning great surprise. “Now dogs need children to stay calm. Can you show me how you do that?”

They all stood still and listened to me, eager to participate. “Good. Here are some treats. If the dog you approach is sitting nicely and the owner of the dog gives you permission, go ahead and give the treat to the dog.”

Paige and Linny

Paige and Linny

The kids and their parents made their way down the line of politely sitting dogs, greeting each owner and dog and doling out treats to those dogs who sat nicely. I noticed that Chase was obviously uncomfortable with the kids approaching, so Debbie walked him away to practice the sit- and down-stays at a distance, careful to keep inside Chase’s comfort zone.

All went well. “Thanks so much for your help,” I said to the kids. And off they ran back to play on the slides, seesaws, and jungle gym.

The class and I made our way back to the parking lot where we originally met. We discussed where we were going to meet the next week and addressed any other questions.

“Great class,” I said. “Everyone did a fantastic!” When I knelt down next to Chase, he rolled over onto his back, wagging his tail.  “You had a great day, didn’t you, Chase? Keep up the good work, buddy!”

“Tiolet for Laika, First Dog in Space”

Laika

a poem by Ann Eichler Kolakowski

They sealed your steel sarcophagus;
they made no plans to bring you home.
(Perhaps they thought you Anubis.)
They sealed your steel sarcophagus
and let you burn—like Sirius,
the other dogstar in the dome.
They sealed your steel sarcophagus.
They made no plans to bring you home.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

__________

[download audio]

Ann Eichler Kolakowski: “I didn’t start writing or reading poetry until the age of 33 (I’m now 50), when my father died and I found myself channeling bad poems as a way of processing his loss. This set me on a journey to learn and practice poetic craft that recently resulted in my earning an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. One of the strengths of that program is a focus on form, which I accepted somewhat begrudgingly but have grown to love. ‘Triolet for Laika, First Dog in Space’ started as a villanelle, which I chose for its circular, repetitive nature—a form that seemed befitting of a spacecraft. A wise person challenged me to revise it as a triolet, which is even more confining (but very rewarding to solve). Laika was a stray who was chosen for the mission because she had been especially eager to please during her training sessions. The Soviets had planned to poison her several days into the flight with tainted food, but she died of overheating and stress hours after the launch. Poor pup.”

Read more about Laika.

Read more about the triolet.

Dangerous Chase, Part 2

“Who Saved Whom?”

by Terri Florentino

photo 5

Chase was home for the holidays.

We moved into the living room, which was decorated for the holidays with lots of cheerful color. I asked Debbie to describe how she was handling Chase’s separation anxiety. I wanted to understand what might be behind the clawed-up walls and doors. Why was he going berserk, panicking as if his life were at stake when she left him alone?

“I started by sending Chase to ‘his room’ for short periods of time while I was home.” As she spoke, Debbie gazed at Chase, who was lying on the other side of the living room, head on paws, listening. “Then I’d leave the house just briefly. I never made a big deal about coming and going. I made sure that he had a lot of yummy learning game toys placed around the room.”

Those were fantastic strategies, but for some reason, Chase couldn’t get calm enough to let them work. “Chase is obviously a very smart dog,” I said. Chase’s gaze shifted to me, and he raised one eyebrow. I smiled at him. He looked away. “In time, he’ll be able to exercise self-control. Maybe he needs a consistent and stable routine.” I suspect that his anxiety was brought on by the prior instability in his life. I suggested that Debbie talk to her veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication—just while Chase was adjusting to his new lifestyle. In conjunction with the medication positive, motivational training would be very important. Teamwork, exercise, and clear direction would help him feel more secure. “Tell me about the incident that prompted Chase to bite you and your husband. “

Chase and Sam

Chase and Sam

Debbie’s shoulders slumped, and she turned to me sadly. “Which one?”

“Wow. Okay, tell me about the times that he has bitten both of you.”

Chase sighed and closed his eyes as if he were tired of hearing these stories.

“All the time. He bites all the time. It’s nearly impossible to get out the door without him biting the backs of our legs. Just to get out of the house we have to send him to his room.”

“Ah, okay.” I was beginning to see that poor Chase carried a lot of fear in his heart. He lived in panic mode. I was even more certain he could use the help of the veterinarian and a lot of structure and positive reinforcement. “I’ll tell you what, I want you to keep Chase on a leash while in the house. This way you’ll have more control over him when he acts out.”

Chase lunged and barked like mad at any intruder, even squirrels.

Chase lunged and barked like mad at any intruder, even squirrels.

“Great idea, I never thought of that.” Debbie said that Chase would bark and act out whenever sees the neighbors or any other wild vermin, especially squirrels. “As if the barking and lunging wasn’t bad enough, whenever we try to put a stop to his madness, he just redirect his frustration onto us. He grabs our clothes, shakes his head, and growls. I’ve lost count of how many shirts, jackets, and pants he’s torn.” She added,  “No matter how I yell and scream, he doesn’t listen!”

Just hearing the frustration and anxiety in her voice, Chase sat up, his brow puckered in worry.

“I can appreciate your frustration,” I said calmly. “However, no more yelling, okay? I believe the yelling and screaming is making him more nervous.”

Debbie and Chase each sat watching each other across the room with worried eyes. Debbie had already gotten so frightened and fed up that she’d left him at the shelter. But love had brought her here and brought Chase home. I had to find a way to help them.

“I’ve got something for you that really might help,” I said. “One command. With a firm tone of voice, I want you to instruct Chase to ‘Leave it!” We put Chase on a leash, and I taught Debbie and Chase the ‘Leave it’ command and watched them practice. I didn’t want Chase to think that he’d have the option to ‘Take’ the item that she had instructed him to ‘Leave’, not ever. Down the road, on occasion, with other training techniques, there might come an opportunity for Chase to ‘Take it.’ For now, no, and it should never follow the ‘Leave it’ command. “‘Leave it’ means ‘Leave it,’” I said. “Chase needs to understand that you mean what you say. He needs these limits.” His life depended on it.

“The worst is how Chase resource-guards me,” Debbie said. We stood in the middle of the living room. Chase had walked to the end of his leash, ears pricked toward the window, ready to go into red alert should a squirrel appear. “If Sam tries to sit next to me on the couch Chase jumps between us and grabs and bites Sam’s arm. If I try to push him away, he snarls and growls at me. This has got to stop!”

Chase must never even get the opportunity to behave that way. Next, I taught Debbie and Chase the command ‘Off.” Chase would be on a leash indoors, and when Debbie sat on the couch, she would make Chase lie on the floor by her feet in a ‘Down’ and ‘Stay’ command. “Feel free to give him one of his learning game toys filled with goodies to keep him occupied while he’s lying on the floor by your feet,” I said. “This should be pleasant and peaceful. It’s not punishment, it’s redirection and prevention.”

“Also, a tired dog is a good dog.” We discussed the importance of exercise. “Basic obedience is also extremely important. I’ll show you how to make learning fun.”

“I can’t wait,” Debbie said, raising the pitch of her voice and leaning forward. “What do you think, Chase? Can we enjoy each other?”

Chase’s tail swished.

“The holidays are coming.” Debbie stood straight with a look of fright. “What should I do with Chase when we have company?”

Gianna and Chase

Gianna and Chase

“How is he with new people?” I asked.

“He picks and chooses whom he wants to be friendly with, but he loves my niece Gianna.”

“Your guests can help Chase learn appropriate social skills.” I explained she should keep him on a leash and make use of treats and toys to promote suitable interaction. “When you want to relax, put Chase away in his room and reward him with a delectable learning game toy. Don’t set him up to fail, be pro-active rather than re-active.”

“Chase is nothing like my other dog, Toby,” Debbie sighed.

“We’re all guilty of training our last dog.” I said.

“I’ll never get over how Toby died.” Debbie led me back to the couch. She put Chase in a down-stay by her feet.

“What happened to Toby?”

“We had just come home from vacation, and I was getting ready to leave the house when the phone rang. It was the owner of the kennel. Toby had died that morning. He was found in the kennel. No one knew what happened. I remember hanging up the phone, burying my face in my hands, falling to my knees, and weeping uncontrollably. Even though Toby loved going to the kennel I will never forgive myself for not being there for him.” She stroked Chase’s head. He closed his eyes. “I’ll tell you by the time I adopted Chase from the shelter, I needed him as much as he needed me.”

“I’m so sorry for your pain Deb. It wasn’t your fault.” I told her her comment about needing Chase made me think of a commonly used slogan for rescued dogs, ‘Who Saved Whom.’”

“I like it,” she said.

We smiled at each other.

“Isn’t it charming?” I said. “But especially for a dog like Chase—he needs you more than you need him. He needs you to help him with his fears and his shortcomings.”

There was hope for Chase this holiday.

Maybe there was hope for Chase this holiday.

“I understand. I’ll work very hard to become the person that Chase needs me to be.”

“I know you will. We’ll reconvene after the holiday. In the meantime I’m here for you and Chase. Call me anytime.” We embraced, wished one another a Happy Holiday. Before I turned to go, I bent down to Chase. When his eyes met mine, he sat up and gave me his paw. I grinned and gave him a pat. “Be the good pup I know you can be. Santa’s watching.”

 

Living with Grace

by Judy Bonner

“Can your dog come over?”

The words refocused my attention to Gracie.  We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill.  Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.

Psst! Come on over!

Psst! Come on over!

I looked down at Gracie.  Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling.  Gracie loves people, especially children.  Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?

I looked up.  There was a woman at the next check-out window.  She again asked if my dog could come over.  Why not, I thought.  But wait, what is that in her hand?  A leash?  My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor.  Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.

Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself.  I stood in front of Gracie.  For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.

Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead.  She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class.  She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends.  On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.

Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter.  She is now a four-year-old Border Collie.  I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.

The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now.  “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.”  Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.

No words from Gracie.  I glanced down at her.  Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt.  “It is up to Gracie.”  I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog.  Nope.  Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog.  They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face.  Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy.   Best not to push our luck.  “Good girl, Gracie,” I said.  “All done. Let’s go now.”  Gracie returned to my side.

“Thank-you” the woman said.  I smiled and nodded.  Back to business.   I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand.  We headed to the exit door.

“Can she come over one more time?”

I turned around.  “It is up to Gracie,” I said.  Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt.  “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog.  I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.

The woman started crying.  “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said,  kneeling down to hug her dog.  “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life.  My journey with Gracie was unlike any other.  This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.

Dangerous Chase, Part 1

Fear Itself,

by Terri Florentino

He could be so sweet.

He could be so lovable.

“He’s a Border collie. He’s in the shelter. Can you go rescue him?” The woman on the phone was so upset it was difficult to make out what she was saying. “Please?”

“Calm down, okay? To whom am I speaking?

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Sorry, I’m just so upset. My name is Debbie.”

“Tell me about the problems you were having with your dog and what he did that landed him back at the shelter.”

“My husband and I adopted him from the local animal shelter. We named him Chase. He was quiet and well behaved at the shelter, but not long after we brought him home, he started barking, lunging, and growling at wildlife, other dogs, and strangers.” She took another deep breath and sniffled. “He also suffers from separation anxiety—you should see our spare bedroom.”

I could tell she loved this dog. She must’ve tried to help him. “What steps did you take to correct these behaviors?”

She began to relax. “We worked privately with a trainer. He had us use a shock collar, and now his behavior is worse than ever.”

“Now, you said something happened that made you return him to the shelter?”

“He bit us both. My husband and me. He was lunging and growling at a neighbor outside. My husband was standing near him, and the moment I pushed the button on the shock collar, Chase just whirled around and bit him. When I tried to pull him away from my husband, he bit my hand. I got so afraid of him, I took him back to the shelter.” Her voice started to quaver again. She sniffled. “He’s so lovable when he isn’t acting out.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I can tell you care deeply for Chase. Go back and take him out of the shelter. I’ll put in a call in right now and let them know you’re coming and that we’ll be working together.  Give me three months to work with you, your husband, and Chase. If after that time, you’re still not comfortable with him, I’ll rescue him.”

“Do you really think you can help us?”

“I am going to do my best. Call me once you have him back, and I’ll come out to your home as soon as possible. .”

A couple days later, I arrived at Debbie and Sam’s house. As I walked up the steps to their front deck, Debbie came out the door  holding Chase by his leash. He was pulling toward me, frantically barking.  As I stood at the top of the steps, I pushed open a gate and stepped onto the deck. Shouting over the racket he made, Debbie and I discussed Chase’s current state of mind. I could tell she was very frightened. “First,” I said, “you need to relax. I know it’s hard.”

While we talked, I intentionally ignored Chase. After not receiving any satisfaction, his obnoxious behavior finally settled.

“Go ahead and drop the leash,” I said.

“Really? Just let it go?” Debbie said.

“Yes. Let’s keep talking and ignoring him.”

Full of doubt, her brow puckered in fear, Debbie dropped the leash, and we continued to talk without looking down at the holy terror. He ran over and sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Then, I smiled down at him. “You smell my dogs, don’t you, boy?”

He looked up at me and then, in relaxed, fluid movements, he trotted back to Debbie. He made his way towards the railing on the deck and stuck his head through the wooden slats to get a better look at what was going on in the yard below. Just then, a neighbor stepped out of his house. Chase went into a barking frenzy and raced the length of the deck, back and forth. I calmly walked around a picnic table to the other side of the deck and blocked him from running past me.

Using a firm tone of voice, I said, “Get out of it!”

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at me.

“C’mon on now, inside,” I said. He followed me through the slider door and into the house.

“How is the world did you do that?”

“He knew I meant what I said. That’s all.”

“Can you teach him to listen to me like that?”

“No. I’ll teach you to talk to him. Okay?”

Debbie nodded and wiped away a tear. “I see. You bet. Let’s get started.”

“You said Chase has separation anxiety and damaged a bedroom. May I see it?”

You could see his fear written on the walls.

You could see his fear written on the wall.

As I peered into the room, I gasped. Chase had clawed deep gouges into a wall right below a small, high window. Just looking at the marks, I could see his fear written on the wall. He had almost literally climbed the wall trying to get free.

“He tries to reach the window,” Debbie said, sadly. “I’m guessing to escape.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. Most of the wood trim along the floor had been scratched and gnawed on.

“Look at the back of the door,” Debbie said. We stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. Almost the entire surface of the door was covered in scratches and gouges.

All the while, Chase had been standing quietly beside us in the room. I took a deep breath and bent down to offer him a gesture of my affection. As I scratched behind his ears, we made eye contact and shared a moment of silent, peaceful communion.

Wee, Part 5

An Explorer Extraordinaire

by Wendy Drake

After I spent a day in Cooperstown meeting relatives who’d known my grandfather, many more side paths tempted me. I wanted to know more about these new-to-me relatives, Hugh and Eleanore. Eleanore also played piano and had learned from my grandfather’s sister, Lucy. I wanted to spend more days at the Inn at Cooperstown, which had been the Cooke (my maiden name) family home from 1893 – 1974. Further, Charles’ book held themes, which resonated for my running.

Charles had compared piano practice to being fanatic about healing fractures. Using a bone healing analogy throughout his book, he suggested bracketing the portions of a piece of most frustration to a pianist, practicing them over and over, until mastered. Years may pass, he acknowledged, but the pleasure derived in the process and the strength of the bone at the fracture make the whole piece stronger than it ever would have been without the work.

After healing from three fractures in my feet and many shredded body parts from tripping and falling on trails, I understood that, with work on specific weaknesses like downhill footwork or running uphill, I could get stronger and stronger in my running. After failing to find a path with the letters so many times and continuing to practice with them, I felt my story becoming stronger. I also felt a connection to Charles through my practice. I wondered if Louise had this lifelong relationship with her piano playing as well. I wanted to indulge the endless side paths to which I was being introduced.

While I didn’t want to leave Cooperstown, a puppy awaited my arrival. I reluctantly retreated from these new paths to proceed onto the one I’d planned. It was time to meet Terri and the team of people who surrounded Wee with infinite puppy love. As the miles increased on my journey toward Wee, so did my excitement. By the time I met Terri, I could hardly wait to meet him. When I finally did, he seemed as eager to greet me as his brother Ace, who was twice Wee’s size.

The afternoon flew by too quickly. Terri took me to lunch with Megan, who’d cared for Wee with two of his siblings, Brea and Ace. We talked about the dogs. I wanted to know everything possible about Wee. Terri had checked every medical and behavioral box and more for Wee, her first runt. We talked about Megan’s upcoming wedding, the book Terri was writing, and mine too. She mentioned several times in passing a writer named Lisa in Florida. The depth of their friendship would not become clear to me until months later. Wee, Jorge, and I’d come to know her better through her border collie, Mick, who was two weeks younger than Wee. It turned out to be Mick who would have the unpredictable health problems I’d feared for Wee. While we would have our share of health scares with Wee, the biggest problem we’d have was keeping what came out the other end solid.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

After lunch, we returned to Megan’s home for the beginning of tearful goodbyes, but not before a final play date between Scout, Brea, Ace, and their dam (mother) Echo. In a short twenty-minute play session, I took over ninety photos and a video. I didn’t want the day to end, but Wee and I had already scheduled his first adventure: a plane ride.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

We made one last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers like Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye to Wee too. Wee’s mom Echo also came along to say bon voyage to her youngest and smallest pup. Then it was time for Terri.

I doubt I could ever be a breeder. Letting puppies go over and over would be impossible for me. Because this pup in particular had worried Terri for weeks, it was especially hard for her to let him go. Is there ever love without worry though? I doubt it. Terri’s tears tugged at me, and I found myself wanting to ease any additional lost sleep.

“I’ll keep you updated. He’ll have a Facebook page as soon as we decide on his Colorado name.”

Wee at the airport.

Wee at the airport.

And just like that, the Wee pup became Mr. Explorer Extraordinaire. Terri helped me tuck him into the carrier, which would fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Never would the Wee pup ever fly in cargo. I might have been more demanding on this point than Terri.

The first flight was short and uneventful. I expected some whimpering, but Wee had perfect manners. We arrived in Philadelphia and made our way through a crowded airport. Wee was a star everywhere. He was attracting so much attention that my good friend Jennifer, who goes by “Ifer,” couldn’t miss us. She’d been consulting in Philly that week. We collapsed into each other’s arms with hugs and girlie exclamations over Wee.

“Are you headed to or from Boulder?”

“To.”

On his way to becoming Scout, The Explorer Extraordinaire

On his way to becoming Scout, the most lovable Explorer Extraordinaire

After realizing we were on the same flight, Ifer hurried with me to check-in and upgrade her seat. I’d splurged in Pennsylvania at the airport for Wee’s first big plane flight to be extra special and we were flying business class. It paid off. The flight attendant not only kept Ifer and me giddy with red wine, but also instigated us to take Wee out of his crate for the entire flight. He wiggled around my lap and gave everyone kisses, something he still does today.

I don’t remember how we decided to give Wee the name “Scout.” I think I first heard the name when Terri mentioned one of her dogs, who was named Scout. Wee seemed to want to explore everything when he arrived home, so Scout Explorer Extraordinaire seemed a good fit. After we watched “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was sure. Both Jorge and I love to go on adventures and we were hopeful Scout would go with us too.

In the year since he’s been with us, he’s documented all his adventures on his Facebook page, Scout, Explorer Extraordinaire. He never warmed my feet as I’d hoped when I wrote. I suppose those days may be ahead when Mr. Scouty boy mellows a bit and I make the time for the second book about the letters. We’ve had some rough spots where he was sick, once with kennel cough and a few times with things we never did figure out. He destroyed shoelaces (on our running shoes) and offered up a few baseboard corner casualties. Like Sadie’s those repairs will likely be de-prioritized for years. One of the most disappointing was being suspended from herding school. Scout had been doing well, but I’d not worked with him long enough on attention to give him a fair shot. When he bit a goat, Cathy, his handler, suggested he needed “some time.”

Scout did and does, however, accompany Jorge and me all around Boulder getting love and praise for his good behavior. At the post office, he’s allowed to “paws up” to the counter. We send copies of my first book, Running to Thousand Letters, about what happens when I open 100 of the 1,000 letters. He pokes around McGuckin, the local hardware store, for project stuff and obeys “lie down” for treats. He’s taken a few plane rides with us and had lots of training at the Boulder Valley Humane Society. He even goes to work with me now that I’m working in downtown Boulder at a startup. We stop at The Unseen Bean, a coffee shop run by a blind man and his canine helper dog. The Unseen Bean has Scout’s favorite treats and mine too: dirty Bhakti Chai (chai with espresso shots). That’s a treat for both of us as is running up Sunshine Canyon trail for our four-mile mid-day workout.

We still have yet to get Scout on regular long weekend runs with us. First, we have to learn recall together in order to earn his “Green tag,” granted for Boulder dogs, who’ve pass a program for good off-leash behavior. Terri tells me it takes a solid two years to get recall consistently. Scout does pretty well especially if I have the Chuck-It ball Megan sent for his first birthday.

Second, Scout continues to learn that biting our feet while we run is not cool. Both Jorge and I have learned new hopscotch-like foot moves when Scout goes for our shoes instead of running with us. Even so, his longest recorded run was thirty-one miles late this summer. For a few days after that run, every time we’d put our shoes on, he’d self-crate himself. I suspect we overdid him that day. It seems four-to-six miles is his preferred, non-meltdown distance.

The Wee pup’s story has a happy ending. From twelve-and-a-half pounds at the airport when we left, he’s now a healthy thirty-five pounds. Wee became Scout who is a classic Boulder dog, growing up outside and playing in the mountains. He asked for a GPS watch for Christmas. You can follow how that works out for him at facebook.com/explorerscout.

Wee, Part 4

My One and Only Online Crush

by Wendy Drake

Wendy had a lot of work to do.

The thousand letters.

And what an adventure Wee and I have had in our year together here in Colorado. I never would have believed it. Writing a book about unfolding 1,000 letters I bought at an estate sale in 1997 led to the joy of waking up every day to a black ball of fur demanding massages and kisses before he will get out his queen-sized bed. Guests sleep on the couch. Yes. Border collies are the smartest dogs on the planet.

In the Fall of 2012, I was deep into research for my book, Running to Thousand Letters. In 1997, on an impulse I’d bought 1,000 letters at Louise Palmer’s estate sale. Louise’s love of piano (it was her vocation) had triggered one of the many side-paths I indulged as I began unfolding these letters. The one I was following when I committed to adopt Wee was learning about my paternal Grandfather, Charles, a self-described amateur pianist who lived in Cooperstown, New York, less than a two-hour drive from Terri.

I’d also just begun training again for long distance running in the foothills of the

Wendy on the trails.

Wendy on the trails.

Rocky Mountains here in Boulder, Colorado, my home. For me there is nothing more fulfilling than a day on the trails. I didn’t start out being an endurance runner. I just wanted to be in the mountains, climbing to the top, looking off in the distance toward another end that is really just another beginning, and exploring new paths.

Even the trails couldn’t fulfill me entirely though. Something was missing. It had been almost two years since my seventeen-year-old fur-child, Sadie, died. She is a soul who will never leave me, the partner who lived longer than she should have, and one of a few beings who stops my heart because she left. I wondered if I could ever offer the love I had for her again.

Wendy and Sadie

Wendy and Sadie

It had been seven years since Freeway died in 1995. Freeway had been a border collie, so I had a good idea of how much exercise and how many tennis balls his breed would require. Among the most intelligent dogs, border collies learn quickly and it’s important to constantly keep their minds busy with new games to avoid spontaneously exploding couches.

I’d planned to adopt two thinking they could keep each other busy. Mostly though, I wanted dogs that would match my energy. They had to be able to run the thirty to forty miles a week on average (sometimes as many as fifty to sixty during peak weeks) I ran training for long distance endurance runs. They also had to have an “off” button and settle down when I sat down to write for four to six hours a day.

Sometimes plans are pointless.

I intended to adopt two- to three-year-old dogs and had seen what seemed like every single available border collie rescue in the prior six months.  So had all my Facebook friends. One, Brenda, connected me to Terri in Pennsylvania.

I wavered a bit about traveling to adopt a dog; there are plenty of high-energy dogs at home in Colorado. Freeway had been a rescue; Sadie a Humane Society girl. Occasionally the Humane Society advertised a border collie too, but in months of looking I hadn’t seen two in time to adopt them.

“Would you be interested in my Wee pup?” Terri had asked.

"A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year."

“A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year.”

I did a double-take. What? A puppy? I was looking for grown dog, preferably two, who could run with me . . . now. I had organized marathon distance training into my weekends and had committed to my first 100k (sixty-two miles) in May 2013. A puppy couldn’t run long distance for about a year and this one, I learned, might have special needs.

Had I remembered how time-consuming the first months of a puppy’s training can be, I would have declined. Sadie had arrived home about the same age as Wee, eleven weeks, in 1994. She ate several of my favorite shoes; not both shoes, just one of many pairs. She gnawed on baseboards whose repair was de-prioritized for years. Once, I’d left her in her crate while I was out because I’d read it was the right thing to do. Sadie would allegedly love it, and if I put something that smelled like me with her, her separation anxiety, which was intense, would be abated.

Sadie hated the crate. I picked an object that had eight hours a day of my smell to leave with her: my favorite feather pillow. Her crate was super-sized anticipating her growth into the seventy-five pounds she became. The feather pillow fit perfectly in the floor space. When I left, Sadie was curled up on it. When I returned home all I could see was her snout poking through the wire door, feathers billowing out like a wild ticker tape parade in my dining room. She never went in the crate again.

Future long-distance runner?

Future long-distance runner?

When I saw Wee’s pictures, none of Sadie’s puppy years upstaged his adorableness. He captured my heart, and I fell in love, my one and only online crush.

If I hadn’t pulled up a Google map of Terri’s location, I doubt I would have committed to her offer. When I realized she was within a two-hour drive of Cooperstown, New York, and other unlikely connections to the my research triggered from the letters fell into place, it seemed destiny that I would adopt him.

Terri and agreed I’d pick the Wee pup up during the first week of November just after my first long race since my injuries – the Moab Trail Marathon in Utah.

Click to buy!

Click to buy!

I had a few weeks to puppy-proof the house. Friends let me borrow crates for the car, bedroom, and my home office. I unboxed dog bowls, food containers, and dog gates. I bought puppy supplies for the inevitable accidents. I downloaded the latest puppy books and worried about not having time to read them cover to cover reminding myself how to be an awesome dog mom again with all the current methods ready to go. By November seventh, two days after finishing the marathon, I continued along the path of distraction trusting my intuition but having no idea what connection existed between Cooperstown, Wee and the letters . . .

Wendy Drake is a writer and an adventurous endurance athlete, a 20+ year veteran of the computing industry, and Chief Human to Scout, a border collie online when his human isn’t hogging the computer. (Facebook.com/explorerscout)

Originally from southern Ohio’s Appalachian foothills and now based in Boulder, Colorado, Drake holds an undergraduate degree in economics with honors in the liberal arts and an MBA from The Ohio State University. Running to Thousand Letters is the first in a series about what happens when she opens 1,000 letters bought at an estate sale in 1997.