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.

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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.