Chasing Puddles

It really didn’t matter how badly Chase needed to relieve himself: if it was raining he was simply not interested in being outside alone. If he was going to be wet and miserable, so was I. Rain does amazing things to my hair. It turns it into a wavy, frizzy unmanageable mess that a flat iron can’t even tackle. I dreaded the mornings during the week that I awoke to the sound of rain gently pattering on my roof. I knew there would be trouble with my dog.

I developed the “carport method” of dog walking. I would attach three dog leashes to one another in order to extend my reach. Then, I would huddle under the carport and push Chase out into the yard. Inevitably he would yank me as hard as possible so that I would be pulled from my shelter into the open downpour right alongside man’s best friend. If I attempted to push him out the dog door into the fenced-in backyard, he would not budge from the narrow shelter of the roof overhang. Even with the knowledge that he would be treated to the warm air from the blow dryer upon re-entering the house, Chase would not go it alone. So, more times than not I would be walking my dog in the rain. With me by his side he happily sniffed the ground with his dripping wet tail wagging like a limp flag. With me by his side he would conduct all dog business quickly so long as I didn’t carry an umbrella. He would eye the umbrella with such distrust and suspicion that it was easier to leave it behind.

Chase didn’t really hate the rain. He didn’t mind being wet, either. He just didn’t like being alone. Under my watchful eye in the back yard he would pounce into puddles, digging frantically in the muck. He would attack each puddle with determination creating his own private wallow. Slick brown mud would cake his front legs like dripping chocolate leg warmers. He would snap at the rain droplets, trying to catch them in his mouth.

When I had enough, he would follow me back into the house and tap dance muddy paw prints all over the kitchen floor, tolerating the dish towel drying each paw. Into the bathroom to dry his fur, Chase would turn his head and twist his body to alert me as to where he preferred the blast of air. As his fur dried into the gentle waves that English Setters are known for, Chase would nudge his wet nose onto the back of my hand.

All grown up, it is rare that I see him in my yard chasing down puddles, digging in the soft dirt and playing in the rain. Sometimes, on a showery day, I think back and smile and wish that he would make me late for work one more time.


Swimming Setter

Summer had arrived and Chase was curious about the pool. It took some coaxing and massive amounts of trust on the dog's part, but he finally believed that there were actual steps at the shallow end of the pool that he could stand on safely. From there he would swim in a small semi-circle in order to briefly launch himself into the water and quickly back to the relative comfort zone of the steps. It wasn't long before he ventured further into the pool and for longer periods of time, swimming laps around his family members. After he became at ease with the pool, he would jump in without hesitation to retrieve objects that were floating. Chase would swim toward the object with his mouth wide open, snapping up tasty bugs along the way. Unfortunately, the floating "objects" also extended to people swimming in the pool. Chase would dog-paddle over to the closest person, gently take an arm into his mouth and tow the hapless victim back to the steps. He was tireless in his determination to rescue every single swimmer in the pool.

Outside of the pool, Chase was very energetic and playful. He did not care to play with any of the expensive dog toys that we purchased from the pet store. Instead, he focused on empty plastic flower pots - the kind that you discard after planting your flowers in the garden. He was especially fond of the pots that would get stuck on his head. He would run through the pool area tossing his potted head back and forth in the air. If he chose to rest for a moment, the mere words, "I'm going to get your pot" would have him up on his feet to race off with the treasured pot in his mouth.

Throw a pot in the pool and he would dive in immediately to retrieve it. He also liked to dip his pots in the pool and then coat it with a nice layer of dirt from the garden. The pool robot worked overtime to keep the water sparkling. Chase would deposit crushed pots into the deep end of the pool and watch them slowly sink to the bottom.

Another favorite game he enjoyed was to sprint from one end of the chain link fence to the other end with a pot gripped between his teeth. Because of his speed, he would typically stumble, roll and crash into the fence at the end of his journey. Chase began to steal cushions from the outdoor furniture and strategically place them at the fence so that he would have a softer landing pad.

The pool, I discovered, was a fantastic place to give a dog a bath. My father frowned upon my dog washing techniques as he felt it was damaging to the pool filter. My method was quick and efficient: toss the dog into the deep end of the pool. Wait at the shallow end and nab the dog as he climbed out. Lather dog with shampoo. Toss the dog back into the deep end of the pool for a rinse. Repeat if necessary. I found that if I was swift, the dog would be clean before my father knew what I had done. The only difficulty was that Chase would avoid me if he saw a bottle of shampoo. He could be pretty clever sometimes.

The joys of being a dog in the summertime: frolicking in the pool, rolling in the garden, chasing after butterflies and playing imaginary games. I began to look at things from Chase's point of view. All this from simply watching a small white dog on his daily poolside adventures.


Wrapping It Up: A Christmas Story

Chase loved Christmas. It wasn’t about all of the people visiting or the new food smells or even the decorations. This dog was all about the presents.

For his very first Christmas, my roommate and I hastily selected a live tree two days before the 25th and chose a spot in the dining room corner out of convenience and the ability to straighten the tree out by tying it to two walls. Chase and my roommate’s cat, Samantha, were fascinated with the tree. Chase was more intrigued with the presents under the tree and when an opportunity presented itself, he would attempt to snatch a gift for himself. I finally had to remove all of the presents and hide them in a closet.

This idea of entitlement did not stop at my front door. When visiting the homes of friends and family, Chase would sniff around their Christmas trees, too and select gifts that he deemed appropriate for himself. He had a knack for finding the gifts that held stuffed animals and other toys.

Christmas arrived and I spent it with my family. I had wrapped a few gifts for Chase and figured that I would give them to him after we had opened all of ours. Chase patiently watched his family “ooh and ahh” over presents. Paper and bows were strewn across the floor. He was becoming increasingly impatient and vocal about his unhappiness to participate in gift opening. I called my dog over and handed him one of his special presents. He gently took it in the folds of his jowls, moved to the exact center of the room, and plopped to the floor. As he held the gift between his paws, he slowly and carefully removed the paper until he had revealed a new plush chew toy. His gift unwrapping talent was not a fluke. He demonstrated his technique several times more, tail wagging in happy anticipation.

Five years later and Chase still loved opening gifts. Family and friends would bring him presents to unwrap during the Christmas season and the joy of watching one silly dog reveal the gift inside the wrappings is remarkable. For me, my dog shows that it is clearly more fun to give than receive.


Deviant Dog Behavior Begins with a Bagel

One morning, while getting ready for work, I was in my kitchen toasting a bagel for breakfast. Chase was lying at my feet in such a way that I would trip over him with every move. After the bagel was sufficiently browned, I placed it on a paper towel and began spreading cream cheese on the tops.

Suddenly Chase was at the back kitchen door performing his “let me out I gotta pee” dance. Toenails tapping on the floor and back end of his body wagging violently, I squeezed past him and opened the door. I moved to the side to let him pass. No movement. I turned around. No dog. I returned to the counter. No bagel.

The devious dog had tricked me! I found him huddling under the dining room table with my bagel between his paws. Determined not to reward him for his counter surfing activities, I snatched the bagel away and deposited it in the trash can.

This was just the beginning of more complex sneaky behavior. I didn’t fall for the back door trick again but he did use it an additional time on my roommate with much success. He used an alternative form of the technique at my parents’ house by carefully snatching my mother’s napkin from her lap at dinnertime. When she got up from the table to retrieve it, he attempted to access her plate. Unfortunately he didn’t remember that there were other humans at the table too and his efforts were thwarted.

A variation was also used on other dogs. Two dogs…each with their own bone. Each should be satisfied, right? Not Chase. His bone snatching technique was quite simple yet effective. First he would hide his bone somewhere safe for future retrieval. Next he would race to the front door and bark violently at it. When the other dog would join him, Chase would race back to the abandoned bone, steal it and hide it. This technique worked every time.

Bad habits are hard to break, especially with a determined dog. And it all began with a bagel.


But Remember, It's a Sin To Kill A Mockingbird

It was a hot southern October day and Chase was playing in the backyard. I was at the kitchen sink washing dishes and happened to spy him through the window poking at something in the grass. As I flung open the back door, Chase continued to sniff and prod the tall grass. This was bad. I knew that there was something of interest to the dog in the weeds that had taken over my entire back yard. I gingerly made my way to my dog and pulled him back by the collar. He tried to squirm away and as I dragged him back toward the house, he began to bark and pull violently. I managed to toss him back into the house and he attacked the glass storm door trying to force his way out. I retraced my steps to a clump of weeds and pulled them aside. A mockingbird stared up at me.
My dog had caught a mockingbird. I was stunned. One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird and as much as I could remember, it wasn’t a good thing. I also held a fondness for Rime of the Ancient Mariner which again has a bird killing theme in it that is basically “don’t do it”. I was determined not to have this albatross / mockingbird hanging around my neck!
I could tell that the bird was still alive but since it wasn’t flying off, I wasn’t sure how long it would remain in its present condition. I am not a bird veterinarian and had no intention of examining the mockingbird any further. I quickly donned a bright orange pair of Home Depot work gloves and secured the bird. I glanced around the backyard and surveyed my two neighbors. The neighbor to the left was not at home so I casually dropped the bird into a bush in her back yard. I made sure that it was still alive before retreating back inside my house. I figured if the bird died, my neighbor would assume that her Jack Russell terrier did it.
October turned into November and I hadn’t seen my neighbor in a few weeks. Hay bales and rotting pumpkins still decorated a corner of her front lawn. In December I saw her a few times at the mailbox but she had not been inside the house for nearly two months. The Halloween decorations were now compost. For my Christmas letter, I mentioned the mockingbird incident and joked that the neighbor must be proud of her terrier. By February, there was a flurry of activity around the neighbor’s house. Several men and women were emptying it of all contents. A few days later I learned that my neighbor had lost her house and it had been resold at auction.
Was it my dog’s fault? I suppose I will never know. I am not a superstitious person; however I have no regrets about tossing that bird over the fence.
And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe :
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.


Graduation Day

It was a beautiful fall day when Chase graduated from dog manners and agility school. I arrived on the scene with my mother and grandmother who had become my ardent supporters. I found a nice patch of clean grass to sit with Chase. Mom parked herself on the picnic table with graduation cake for the dogs and cookies for the owners. She broke off a piece of cake and offered it to Chase. He promptly spit it out. She offered another piece to a dog sitting nearby. He spit it out too. Both dogs eyed her cookie, but she mercilessly stuffed it into her mouth. "All gone!" she declared making a big show of her empty hands.

A group of fat ladies were also parked at the picnic table and discussed the Atkins diet versus the South Beach diet as they filled up on cookies and diet cola. I wondered if they would start eating the doggie graduation cake once the cookies were gone. Mom decided to fill everyone in on how I never practice training the dog. I marched over to the table and informed the dieters that she was making that up and the dog received my entire lunch hour every day for practice. One woman glanced at my mother and said that it really only required 15 to 20 minutes each day. Oh - so now I was practicing TOO much.

The Doggie Stalker came over and gave Chase a treat, which he eagerly took.
I made a mental note about training Chase to not take treats from strangers. I was grateful that this would be the last time Chase would be subjected to the Doggie Stalker.

Class began and because my group was now down to three - we merged with the aggressive dog group. At first it was like a scene out of "Survivor: Doggie Island". Each dog and owner fought for the spot that they were used to. I moved to the very end hoping to avoid any aggressive dog/owner. Eventually it was sorted out and I ended up with Chip to my left (a black Lab from my original group) and Babe the “Demonic Pit Bull With Icy Blue Evil Eyes” to my right. Not only was I completely horrified to be in such close contact with the devil dog - I couldn't believe that the overalls-clad owner had named her Babe.

First we practiced walking and heeling and turning left and right. My dog was a pro and I was actually good at the left and right turns. Next we were divided into groups of three for the figure eights. Chip and Babe were in my group. I was really beginning to believe in karma. All of these weeks I had been relentlessly vilifying the evil pit bull and now I was inches away from her! Chase performed perfectly on the figure eights. Babe, however, was a different story. The trainers finally decided that the group of three next to us was too close because Babe and a massive weapon of destruction in the form of a German Shepherd kept snarling at each other. In the meantime, Chip and Chase and their owners were cowering. I am terrified of German Shepherds and would take the Pit Bull from the Bowels of Hell any day over Rin Tin Tin.

The trainers then divided us into groups of two. Someone up there must really have a sense of humor because once again, I was paired up with Babe the Pit Bull. Each of us faced the other from opposite ends of the ring. Then we were to perform the "Meet and Greet". This involved a stroll toward each other, then a stop, and then the owners shook hands. Then you had to PET the OTHER DOG!!!!!!

I had to pet Babe the Pit Bull! And, might I add, she GRINNED at me the whole time. I was waiting for that dog to lunge at my throat and grab on! Babe's owner had a death grip on her collar so the dog did not eat me. Yep…they are so misunderstood.

Finally it was time for the graduation ceremony. A few owners hummed the graduation march theme song and one by one, our dogs names were called and they were awarded a fancy certificate. I was so proud! Matilda the hound dog got the Most Improved award. The little punting dogs (aka Sugar pie) were once again playing hooky. I suppose discipline is not needed when the dog weighs only 5 pounds.

Grandma beamed with pride at Chase’s fancy certificate. My dog was trained. Supposedly.


Breaking the Grip

I am well known for not wearing sensible footwear. I prefer aesthetics over practicality in my shoe choices. Therefore, it was not out of character for me to walk my dog in boots bearing four inch stiletto heels at midnight.

I am sure that my elderly neighbors were quite amused at the antics they could observe at my house. This had actually been confirmed by my mother. For the most part, the neighbors ignored me unless I had a service truck in my driveway. Curiosity typically got the best of them and across the street they wandered to find out what was being done. Since the houses were all about the same age, I figured they worried that they might need to have something similar done, too. Any other information they gleaned about me came from my mother. Shocker! She comes and goes from my home at leisure, adding a plant here, a tree there, a new couch in my living room. She viewed my house as a project to decorate and chose to do so while I was at work. She also enjoyed chatting with my neighbors who have filled her in on many a story about what I was up to during the week.

Chase was sniffing around the front yard when the gripper collar slid off. Holding back my panic, I decided that he probably didn’t realize it was gone and I could grab him before he ran off. That was when I noticed that he was looking at me from the corner of his eye. The sly dog did realize that he had no collar or leash. As I lunged at him, he dodged to the side and avoided contact with my hands. I decided to convince him that I had a treat in my pocket. That didn’t work, either. The dog was too smart for my feeble attempts at treachery. I looked across the street to see if there was shadowy movement behind the neighbors’ mini blinds, and pondered my options. Chase decided to wander into the street. This was not acceptable, even though it was not a busy street – even after hours. I crept up behind my dog; however he chose that moment to pick up the pace. As I raced, as best I could in my black suede boots, my ankle twisted and I fell into a ditch. Horrified by what could be in that ditch, I jumped out and limped back to the house. Chase frolicked for a bit in the neighbor’s darkened yard as I retreated inside and closed the door. And that was how I discovered that my dog preferred an audience, too. Seconds later he was knocking at the front door requesting to be let back in the house.

While I had high hopes that my midnight excursion had gone unnoticed, that was not the case. My mother kept me up to date on everything the neighbors said regarding that particular night. So nice of them to come out and actually help me! Poor Chase…for months after the incident, he had two leashes attached to him at all times. One for the gripper collar and one for the harness. He wasn’t going to slip by me again!

Look Before You Leash

I was in charge of fundraising for my quilt guild and we chose to make a cookbook for our project. I picked up the books at the printing shop and planned to deliver them to the guild president around 5:30 PM for assembly.

First, I stopped by my house to pick up my dog. Chase had apparently decided that plants tasted good and had demonstrated his plant shredding abilities all over the house. I truly believe that my dog could work for the CIA and shred all of their important documents into miniscule pieces, complete with doggy drool, of course. I practiced my anger management abilities by tossing my dog into his crate while I cleaned up the mess.

Once I was done, I put him on the leash and we were off to deliver the cookbooks. As I parked in Donna’s (president) driveway, Chase was all the way in the back of the Durango happily playing among the golf clubs. I got out and walked over to the passenger side of the car to get the box of books.

Chase, using his incredible puppy powers, was suddenly in the front seat standing on the box. As I attempted to push him off the box, I pressed the panic button on the key ring and set off the car alarm system. This sent Chase into a frenzy and he jumped over my head and escaped into Donna’s front yard.

I couldn’t get the alarm to turn off. I set everything on the ground and turned around to see Chase squatting on her lawn. I lunged for his leash and grabbed it. Unfortunately he had gone to the bathroom on it and my left hand was now covered in doggy doo. The alarm was still going and no one had come out of the house yet! I frantically tried to wipe the mess off my hand into the pine straw and firmly planted my boot on a clean part of the leash.

Donna finally emerged from the house as I tossed the dog back into the car and successfully stopped the car alarm. She carried the books into her house as I clearly had only one good hand. I went in to clean up and reflected over the lessons I had learned: Car alarms do not attract attention and look before you leash!


Progress...With the Dog Not the Mother

I found a perfect parking space up front at the dog manners class. Grandma sat in the front seat so she could see all the action yet remain comfortable. Mom generously held Chase on his leash while I went to find another link for his S&M collar. It had gotten a little snug and I couldn’t put the collar on.

I noticed that no matter how early I arrived at class, the evil pit bull was always there first and eagerly checked out the doggie buffet. She also took a choice spot in the waiting area with a great view of all the dogs.

One of the instructors helped me add a link to the collar. A small dog fight broke out among three of the dogs in the waiting area. Another instructor reprimanded the owners and told them that socializing among the dogs was not allowed.

I found my mother by the minivan and we put Chase’s torture collar on. I then found a secluded place well behind the pit bull and away from the dogs who “socialized” too much. Mom sat at a picnic table with her book. About three weeks ago, I met another owner who arrived each week with his full-figured wife and their 10 month-old well-fed Golden Retriever. He always approached me and said hello to Chase and asked me all kinds of questions about my dog. He told me that Chase was so beautiful and sweet. Now I had visions of “PUPPY STALKER” running through my head.

This Sunday, Puppy Stalker approached me and began to pet Chase. He said that Chase would make a great running dog if I ever decided to take up running. I told him that Chase loved to run and was very fast. Puppy Stalker agreed and said that he was amazed at how fast Chase was when he was running with him in the field. Shocked, I realized that my dear mother apparently let a STRANGER run around the field with my puppy while I was adding a link to his collar! I sent an evil curse in her general direction and vowed never to trust her again.

Class was now in session so Chase and I ran over to join our quickly diminishing group. Down to five dogs now and that included Chase. First, we practiced all of the things from the weeks before. We got to walk our dogs in a circle to the commands of an instructor. Chase and I were really good at the “Slow”, “Normal” and “Fast” commands. Even the “About-Face” and “Halt” were perfect. It was on the “Turn Left” and “Turn Right” that the trouble began. For those of you who truly know and love me…”left” and “right” are not my strongest suit. I had the leash tangled up between both hands and was unable to look at them to determine which hand formed the “L” shape. This is the only way I can remember left and right. As an instructor approached us, I quickly explained that it was not the dog’s fault that I didn’t know my left and right. The instructors looked at each other and one nodded and said “handler error.” I also heard choked laughter coming from the picnic table where Mom was sitting alone. Her two small companions of classes past were absent.

Next we practiced figure eights. Because the aggressive dog class was so small this week, too, one of the instructors came over to our class to watch. I was actually grateful because he took one look at Chase and announced to the class and the regular instructors that “this dog was a hunting dog and was never ever gonna to want to walk slow”. I felt especially smug because the regular instructor always used her prissy terrier to demonstrate new and exciting moves. Her terrier, Katie, pranced around the arena on tippy-toes.

The instructors decided that our dogs were ready for a good citizenship practice run. While one instructor passed out the AKC Good Citizenship pamphlets to all five of us, the other explained that this was a great certificate to get because it could reduce your homeowners insurance if your dog happened to be on the aggressive dog list.

I glanced over at the Aggressive Dog Class and wondered why the pamphlets weren’t being passed out there. Basically, to get the certificate, your dog must pass a series of tests and then is declared a “good citizen”. Unfortunately you must use a regular collar while taking the test. I will need to gradually ease Chase off the S&M collar so he too can become a “good citizen”.

We then practiced a series of “stays”. First up was “Sit and Stay” for 2 minutes. Chase got very bored with this after 30 seconds and lay down to find a stick to chew on. I had to drag him back up. Two minutes seemed like an eternity when I constantly had to drag my puppy off the ground. Next was “Down and Stay” for 2 minutes. Chase was very good at this. Matilda the hound dog was down but in a position to “spring” back up.

The instructors stayed near her to see if this would happen. It didn’t. Finally it was the dreaded “Stand and Stay”. Most of the dogs did not do well and Chase was no exception. He would stand for 10 seconds and then sit. I will have to work on that.

While the instructors praised us and went into great detail about how much progress each dog had made, Mom yelled from the picnic table that she would no longer need the 2x4. One last class and the adventure will be over. I do find it strange that I have met a lot of new people and I can only remember their dogs’ names!


Boot Camp Distractions

Another Sunday and once more dog manners had arrived. Mom chose to stay home and help Dad drill more holes in the kitchen ceiling where they were attempting to hang a new light fixture. It wasn’t a pretty sight or sound so Grandma, who was mostly deaf but could still apparently hear them bicker, decided to go with Chase and me. She was happy with my parking spot choice and once more decided to stay in the car. The evil pit bull was grinning at Chase and eyeing me as we walked to the waiting area.

Chase was always very exuberant when we first arrived at the class as he thought all of the dogs were his friends. The trainer suggested that I take him off the puppy chow and put him on adult dog food. She thought that might help in calming him down. If only I could see five years into the future at that time, I would clearly know it was the breed and not the puppy chow. The six-year-old from last week came over to say hello to Chase and asked me where my mother was. I guess they hit it off. Disappointed that my mother wasn’t there, she perched on the picnic table alone.

A rather large lady waddled over and pet the pit bull. She kept telling the owner in overalls how sweet pit bulls were and how it was so sad that they were so misunderstood. The pit bull agreed because she kept grinning and I swear she had those clear blue eyes rimmed with red fixated on the woman’s throat.

Our class was super small because there was no Chihuahua, the Carolina dog was MIA, Sugar Pie was gone and the other small ball of white fluff had played hooky.

First we showed off our dogs’ figure eights. Then we proved they could stand. Next we walked in a circle and followed commands like “Halt” and “About-Turn” and “Left Turn”. I felt like I was in boot camp. It also didn’t help that I cannot figure out my left from my right. Never could and this class was no exception. Then we learned a new trick. It was called the “Return”.

The best way to describe it is your dog sits facing you. Then you take his leash and by doing fancy things with it in your hand and behind your back, the dog comes to you, walks behind your back and pops up on your left side and sits. It’s like a line dance almost, which I am not good at. It took me 7 years to learn the electric slide and I still have to look at my feet! I find it works much better after a few cocktails. Too bad I didn’t have a few before the class. My dog was smart and figured it out despite my awkward footwork.

Finally, it was time to play “Distract Your Dog”. This consisted of your dog sitting next to you and watching you. The instructors would come by and try to distract the dog. Fortunately I had plenty of Cheese Nips on hand and nothing could distract Chase. He was one hundred percent focused on my pocket.

Class was over, which was a good thing because Chase was on the ground chewing on a stick and basically acting like a puppy. As we walked back to the car, I couldn’t see my grandmother and began to worry. I opened the front door and discovered that she had put the seat back and was taking a nap. So much for grandmotherly comfort and Aggressive Dog Class gossip.

Chase got into his cage and took a short snooze. I could actually hear him snore. I wondered if he was dreaming as I drove back home.


Don't Hit Your Dog With a 2x4

Mom and Grandma accompanied me once more to witness Chase and me behaving ourselves in dog class. Grandma was especially pleased when I found a parking space right up front so she wouldn’t have to actually leave the car. Mom helped Chase out of the back of the car while I got myself organized. As I walked over to take Chase from her, I noticed that Mom was doing a crazy little Riverdance routine in the middle of the parking area.

Apparently she had been waiting patiently on a fire ant hill.

I took the dog and walked over to the waiting area, leaving my mother to the fire ants. The demonic icy-blue-eyed pit bull was already there and she was grinning. Did you know that pit bulls could grin? Well, they can. Probably happy to see more selections on the menu to attack. Her owner was there as well in his usual attire of overalls and a white t-shirt.

Mom walked up to me. She told me that she stopped the fire ants from crawling up her leg. I looked down and was horrified to see that she had pulled her white socks up over her black pant legs! This was almost as bad as the time I introduced her to someone and she had tucked her shirt into her underwear! Chase and I slowly eased away from “Knicker Mom” and found a relatively normal dog owner to chat with. Mom moved on to ask the trainer if a 2 by 4 board worked well in dog training. The trainer looked startled but another owner with my mother’s unusual sense of humor volunteered that it worked best with a nail in the end.

I pretended to ignore my mother and walked into the classroom area. Chase did not drag me this time. Instead he tried to sniff his way, which is apparently a doggie no-no so I now need to teach him the “No Sniff” command. Good thing he was neutered.

The lesson du jour was a figure eight. This is how it worked: two owners with their dogs pretended to be poles. The dog and owner doing the figure eight stood in the center and then wove around the “poles” in a figure eight pattern. My nine month old puppy was up first and I was super proud that he did it perfectly. Most of the dogs did it well with the exception of the Chihuahua drag marks in the dirt. Even Matilda, who now had a fancy S&M collar in a larger model, was behaving herself. I heard my mother’s voice close by. She apparently found me and was now chatting on the picnic table with an audience more her own age: a six-year-old and a twelve-year-old. To my dismay, her pants were still tucked into her socks. The kids didn’t seem to mind. I hope she didn’t start a new fashion trend.

Next up was to get your dog to stand.

This seemed easy in theory but we had been telling our dogs to “Sit” or “Down” when they had been standing perfectly fine in the beginning. Now try to get them to stand. I told Chase to stand. He looked at me and sat. I told him again. He lay down. It wasn’t just me. Soon everyone was hauling their dogs up and I was extremely grateful that Chase weighed merely 32 pounds!

As we left, our instructors reminded us once again of the three P’s”: Practice, Patience, and Praise! They may add another one soon: Please don’t hit your dog with a 2 by 4!

A New Model

While I was on vacation in Maine, Brad generously offered to take Chase to his manners class. I called Brad that Sunday afternoon to remind him. He said he was looking forward to it, although I sensed a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Then I headed off to Kennebunkport, Maine. I was unable to speak to my “substitute” until later that night. Since everyone else had turned in early (overdose of Kennebunkport shopping) the only place inside the house with a little bit of privacy was the bathroom. I suppose I could have gone outside with the icy cold tundra-like weather but I am a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to cold weather. So, bathroom it was. I asked how the class went. Brad just kept saying "oh my god" over and over again. I started shaking with silent laughter but I think he sensed this because then he demanded to know if I was laughing. I lied and told him absolutely not but I kind of choked that out so I believe he knew I was laughing. I asked him how the dog had misbehaved - he just kept saying that it was awful and that he would never take him to manners class again.

When I returned to South Carolina, he filled me in on more of his adventure. As soon as he arrived at the class, Chase decided to express his excitement by squatting and leaving behind a not-so-small token. Brad was not pleased with Chase's charming habit. The lesson that day was to get the dogs to lie down. Brad felt very confident because this is what Chase does best. You tell him to sit, he lies down, you tell him to lie down, he does it. You call his name, he lies down. He is really good at the "Down" command. Brad told him the command. Chase did not lie down. Absolutely refused to lie down. The trainers couldn't get him to lie down. All the other dogs were lying down except for the big hound dog named Matilda. She was baying. Matilda's owner looked over at Brad and attempted to negotiate a trade. As appealing as an over-sized baying hound dog was, Brad turned down her offer.

The next class, I was planning on going it alone but my grandmother and mother thought that it might be amusing to come watch the Chase and Sarah "Manners Class Sideshow". As I was lovingly dragged by my puppy into the classroom area, my instructor decided that his choke collar wasn't really working and it was time to upgrade to a newer model. Another instructor fitted Chase with his very own 2004 S&M Gripper Collar. This model had lots of mean looking pincher things on the inside of the collar. If the dog even breathed too heavy it would pinch his neck in an unpleasant way. You don't have to choke the dog anymore. This was now my most favorite collar! My dog was star puppy once more. He "heeled", "stayed", "sat", and "lay down". Matilda was told to get an S&M collar after baying throughout the entire class. Her owner kept holding Matilda's mouth shut but you could still hear a loud muffled sound.

One of the class features that week was to hide behind the shed and call your dog. Now, the dog is supposed to run and find you. I called my dog. My dog ran and found my mother. I think he might have been a little miffed about his new collar.

The next task was to "get your dog to weave in and out of the poles in the ground." Most of the dogs, including howling Matilda, managed to do this with some success. Chase got to the starting point. I told him to sit. He sat down backwards. Okay - off to a good start. We started to navigate the course. Chase managed to walk into every single pole. I now was painfully aware that he would not qualify for the downhill skiing event in the next Winter Olympics. I returned to my spot and watched with glee as the next person dragged his Chihuahua behind him through the course. Am I a bad person? The tiny football shaped dog was tumbling through the dirt like a missed field goal.

Class finished and we walked over to visit Grandma. She told me all of the bad things that happened in the Aggressive Dog Manners Class which was closer to her chair. Grandma always had a way to make things better!


Lessons Learned at Dog School

The second Sunday of dog training had arrived. I had purchased a leather leash for Chase because a trainer the week before had told me that would be the best. Chase developed an appetite for leather and chewed through the new leash on the short drive over to the training field. Fortunately I had arrived early and was able to call Brad to bring me a new leash. I requested a non-leather one since Chase was so fond of the first one.

I leaned up against a tree and yanked back on Chase's short tattered leash as my super smart puppy lunged at a demonic looking pit bull with icy blue eyes. The owner, a man wearing denim overalls, assured me that it was a "safe" pit bull. Yeah right. I then listened to a speech about how pit bulls were so misunderstood. How about so highly publicized EVERYWHERE as being aggressive?

Five minutes and several hundred tugs later, Chase was thirsty, so I let him drink a little directly from a bottle of Dasani water as usual. He preferred to drink directly from the bottle and refused to drink from a bowl so I stopped bothering to carry a bowl with me.

Brad finally arrived with a new leash and we walked into the classroom area and got in a semi-circle position with the other classmates. Chase promptly assumed the squat position and took the biggest dump of his life. I set the water bottle down and got a bag to clean up this steaming mountain of dog doo. The instructors had us introduce ourselves and our dogs. I discovered that, at 9 months, Chase was the youngest member of his class, which ranged from 1.5 years to 6 years. The pit bull was in the other group, which curiously contained other pit bulls, German shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. I suspected doggie profiling but was perfectly happy to stay among the labs, retrievers and Yorkies. The instructors told me not to expect much from Chase because he was so young.

First command: SIT. Chase sat. Surprise, surprise. He lacked an attention span, however, so after about 20 seconds of sitting, he dropped to the ground and started to clean his private parts. I yanked him up by the choke chain. The next time he got bored with sitting, he dropped to the ground and began to frantically dig a hole. I yanked him back up and decided to give him a drink of water. No water bottle. I looked at Brad who was holding the bottle which was now about half full. I asked Brad if he was drinking the water. He told me he was. I told him who was drinking from it earlier. Brad looked a little sick.

Next we all walked our dogs around in a big circle. Chase did fine. A large lady in front of us with tiny frou frou dog kept dragging her dog. Literally...there were drag marks in the dirt. A big strong man was coaxing "Sugar Pie" - a teeny weeny dog that looked more like a hamster with a long puffy tail. He looked at me and said that he was subbing for his mom who was the real owner of Sugar Pie. A large hound dog kept lunging at Sugar Pie - I think he was hungry. I was feeling much better about my dog's abilities after that "lesson". I threw away the chewed up leather leash on the way back to my car and smiled as Chase curled up on the back seat ready for a nap. School is tough!


All Choked Up and Nowhere to Go

Quickly I realized that my puppy needed to be trained. He had some basics down like “sit” and “paw” and “bow to Sarah”; however I was beginning to realize the value of “stay” and “come”. I signed him up for training offered by the local dog club. The club focused on manners, obedience and agility and met each Sunday for sixteen weeks. I just knew that he would be a star puppy after sixteen weeks of training.

I drove to the first class which was held in a large fenced-in area with lots of agility equipment. Chase, nor I, had ever seen that many dogs convened in one place and he was determined to meet each and every one of them.

After registering (or forking over a large sum of money), his tasks were to meet all of the other dogs in the “classroom” and to master walking through the rungs of a ladder that was laying on the ground in order to build trust and confidence.

After yanking me throughout the classroom area trying to meet every dog, including a giant Schnauzer and a larger Burmese Mountain Dog who rolled over on him, an instructor took pity on me and offered some advice: “yank back really hard on the choke chain and choke him”.

Then the instructor took me to the ladder and told me that most dogs balk the first few times or refuse to go through the ladder at all. Not my dog. He loved it. Practically showed off. The instructor felt that it was a fluke and made me take Chase through the rungs again, still with the same results. It gave the other owners a glimmer of hope. I stood back to watch the rest of the class thinking the dog expert didn't know what he was talking about. I was wrong - all of the other dogs would sit down and dig in, refusing to go through the ladder or the owner would adopt a drag and shove method that involved dragging the dog forward and shoving him back in when he attempted to leave the ladder.

Armed with my new self confidence in dog training, I took Chase home to practice with the choke chain. My dog had other ideas. He quickly realized what was choking him and, as soon as the leash was attached, he either grabbed the choke chain in his mouth or grabbed part of his leash.

So...when I pulled back to choke him....he pulled right back.

“Tug-of-war-while-walking-your-puppy” is not as fun as it sounds. I noticed that the neighbors’ mini blinds appeared to be pulled back slightly on their front windows. Maybe I was saving them a lot of money on cable. Why watch reality TV when there is a show going on right across the street?


My Little Runaway

Chase was nearly five months old when I decided to take him to see my friend. Shane lives in a very rural area of South Carolina, and even though it is merely 20 minutes from my house, it is a completely different world. His portion of the road was paved several years ago but the rest is packed clay. At the time, there were mostly trailers and a scattering of houses. Much of that has changed now with the horse farms moving in and purchasing acres of land, but five years ago, it did not hold a lot of country charm.

Shane had called to tell me about his new Shih Tzu puppy. My Southern four-wheeler riding, Harley Davidson aficionado, beer guzzling, deer hunting friend had bought himself a frou frou dog. This I had to see with my own eyes. When I arrived, his niece’s dog, Slash, was playing outside and Chase was excited to see him. Since the property was over ten acres, I didn’t have a problem leaving Chase outside to play with the Chocolate Lab. I peeked inside the guest bathroom where Shane was keeping his puppy. It looked like a small hamster. Unimpressed, I went back outside to check on Chase. It had begun to rain and I called for both Chase and Slash. The Lab responded immediately but there was no sign of my puppy.

Shane joined my search party of one and we scoured his property for nearly an hour until the drizzle turned into a monsoon. Drenched and cold, we retreated into his home. I called Brad who arrived in record time. The three of us searched the property again, this time including an additional 20 acres of surrounding woods. Brad and I followed one of the four-wheeling trails for a couple of miles. We could see Chase’s paw prints in the soft dirt and every few hundred feet or so it appeared that Chase had dug a hole toward the side of the trail. The path ended at the edge of a remote piece of property with the side of a trailer visible from the woods. There was still no sign of Chase. Back at Shane’s we decided to pile into the truck and search the surrounding roads.

This decision did not make me feel better. Each dirt road that we thought Chase could have roamed boasted dismal dwellings and questionable residents. One man claimed to have seen him but asked for a photo to verify this. Brad and I realized that we did not have any recent photos of Chase. Our puppy was difficult to photograph because he was so energetic and he grew so quickly that there seemed to be differences in his appearance each day.

A group of pale, skinny people living in quarters no better than a lean-to told me that if he was “purdy they was keepin’ him”. Driving the roads and scouring the woods until 1:30 in the morning, we finally called off the search to get some sleep. Brad and I slept on the floor and I finally fell asleep. My mother arrived at 5:30 AM and we began to search again.

Brad and I walked through the woods once more but still did not locate our puppy. I was grateful that he had been micro-chipped but wondered if someone would even bring him to the shelter. We got back in the truck and drove the same dirt roads again. One man said that he had seen Chase the day before which encouraged me. He told us to check with a man up the road who owned many hunting dogs because he might be there. We spoke with that man who said he had not seen him.

Mom found a small trailer colony that looked like it had been hit by a tornado. The people there told us that they shot any dog that ventured onto their property. We maneuvered up a narrow dirt trail that was lined with signs bearing sentiments of “Turn Back Now” and Proceed at Your Own Risk”. The trailers on each side appeared to be slightly crushed with insulation and belongings forced through the exposed crevices. New cars were parked in the cesspool driveways indicating that the trailers were occupied. Brad carefully backed out and I prayed that Chase had not wandered up there.

We also discovered a gang of dogs on one of the roads. The pack consisted of large dogs such as German Sheppards and Rottweilers. There were also Chows and Pit bulls who were card-carrying members. These dogs were sneaky and would lie in the deep ditches by the side of the road. When our car would approach, the dog in the ditch would jump up and lunge at the car window. While the occupants in the car were distracted, the other gangster dogs would leap from their hiding places in the woods and give chase. Clearly walking around on foot and calling for my dog was out of the question.

Mid morning we decided to give up the search. I planned on making posters and distributing them in the area and to the local vets and shelters. I could only hope that someone would call the phone number on his tag. We reconvened at Shane’s for a quick nap. Mom decided to go home. As she was leaving, she saw Chase traipsing up the driveway. He was very happy to see us and was on his best behavior for at least two hours. It was just long enough for Brad to snap some new pictures of him…just in case.


Hairless, Hair-brained and Hair-raising “Tails”

Brad had already established a series of puppy rules for the home: no dog on the couch, no dog on the bed, no table food for the dog. I circumvented some of the rules but was very supportive of the “no table food rule”. I insisted that Chase was not on the couch or bed, just merely on my lap. Brad adjusted the rules so that the dog could be on my lap but no dog part could touch the couch or bed. “Dogs belong on the floor” he asserted.

One week after Chase became a part of our family, he had his first vet visit. He had gained a pound and he still had a raspy cough so he was scheduled for a follow-up visit the next week. Otherwise, the vet declared him to be healthy.

Back at the house, we were quickly discovering that this puppy kept positioning himself under our feet. It was difficult to remember to look down before we stepped and many times Chase would squeak like a dog toy with our ill-placed feet. Brad seemed to step on the dog more than me; however it was I who closed the front door on Chase one Saturday afternoon.

It is my belief, after many years of experience with animals that only bad things happen to them on the weekends and after veterinary office hours. We tenderly placed our quivering ball of fluff into the car and drove the 25 miles to the nearest animal hospital. This facility typically charges a minimum of three hundred dollars just to walk in the door. Chase hobbled around on three legs, holding his injured leg up dramatically. We were escorted into a room where we waited for the vet to arrive. As soon as the vet walked into the room, Chase became excited about this new person and bounded across the floor. He soon forgot which leg was “injured” and tested a few of them out in the injured paw pose. The vet wanted to take an X-ray just to be on the safe side. We concurred. Chase was diagnosed with a sprained paw and was prescribed a low dose of pain medicine just in case he needed it. His records would be forwarded to his regular vet and as an added bonus we were given his X-ray. Since he was so small, it was an X-ray of his entire body. I planned on framing this expensive piece of art.

At his follow-up vet visit with the regular vet, Chase was given a clean bill of health and a chiropractic adjustment to keep his spine in alignment. I wasn’t sure that his spine needed to be aligned as he was still just a baby, but he didn’t seem to mind the procedure. We were given the vet’s after-hours number to call if any future emergencies occurred. Another vet visit was scheduled which seemed to be a follow-up to the follow-up. I tried to remember if my parents had taken their dog to the vet as often as we were. It seemed to me that back then, the dog went to the veterinarian once a year. Maybe things had changed.

Between these vet visits, Chase was scratching himself a lot and chewing at his paws. I couldn’t see any fleas. My grandmother kept telling me that this was an ugly dog. She thought his fur was too thin. Of course, I disagreed but the next visit to the vet proved me wrong. He had the mange. The vet explained that because Chase contracted parvovirus, his immune system was not up to par and that made it easier for the mange to rear its ugly head. I was given a dip to take home and some eye goo. The eye goo went directly on the dog’s eyes to protect them while you dipped the dog. The eye goo was nearly impossible to apply. The first eye went smoothly but he knew what was coming with the second eye and kept twisting his head around to avoid the application. Brad had to hold his head in place but it still wasn’t easy – this dog could squirm! He was still small so I used an old cooler to dip him. After three more follow-up visits, he had lost nearly all his fur, and the vet decided that if the mange didn’t clear up soon, more drastic measures would be taken. I was worried. Brad helped me research the disease on the internet. It was full of myths, semi-truths and things that seemed more believable. We learned that coating the dog in motor oil was a myth, although this seemed obvious to both of us. The things that held the most truth were immune system building foods for dogs. Translation: cook homemade food for the dog.

Never in a million years did I think that one day I would be a doggie culinary chef. I mixed up batches of rice, salmon, and broccoli. For variety there was also a choice of rice, sardines and spinach. I added all of the recommended vitamins that were guaranteed to build Chase’s immune system and promote healthy skin. Chase loved mealtime.

I’m not sure if this was considered table food because we were not partaking in his special cuisine, but our puppy was certainly pleased with his new diet. Did it work? His fur grew back and there were no more medicated cooler dips. I seemed to believe in the power of sardines and my grandmother decided that he had a beautiful coat. We were also seeing less of the vet which was good for our wallet.

At the time I couldn’t imagine that one day, Brad would be inviting the dog up on the couch to snuggle while watching a movie or calling him back to bed when it was time to sleep. Or saving a few small pieces of steak as a special treat. No couch? No bed? No table food? No way.


The Dog Application

Brad and I were ready for a huge step in our lives… a dog. I had been slowly chipping away at his wall for a couple of years. He was perfectly content with the two cats. Madison had despised me from the moment I woke him up at the animal shelter and adopted him. I think he was smart enough to add two plus two equals neutered cat and has hated me ever since. Crook was a stray and still afraid of us. I wanted a dog. The final wall collapsed shortly after Christmas when my expensive watch stopped working and Brad had to return the present to the store. I demanded a “watch” dog as my replacement present. To my surprise, he agreed.

I knew that I wanted an English Setter. Several years before, I was in charge of three dogs: a black lab, a Springer Spaniel and an Orange Belton English Setter. I felt that Labs were too hyper and I knew that the Springer Spaniel had an enormous amount of energy. I fondly recalled the English Setter and how she would roam contentedly through the salt marsh each day on her adventures. I also remembered how she would bring me little surprises: a raccoon, a blue heron, a deer. I’m pretty sure the deer had already departed this earth and she merely dragged it back for me. My dog, I decided, would be properly trained so he would not bring me gifts.

Brad had other ideas about the breed of dog. He wanted a beagle. He fondly remembered his childhood dog and insisted that he have one just like Frisky. I finally won the “Battle of the Breeds” but Brad attached conditions. We could only have a white and brown dog. No black at all. His conditions puzzled me because he really wanted a black cat; however, I was not going to argue with him about colors.

After some internet research, we found a rescue organization for English Setters and began the tedious process of completing the adoption application. Once the application was submitted, a phone interview was completed, our vet was interrogated and all of our references were checked out, we would be subjected to a home visit. If approval was given, we would be assigned a case worker who would help us find the proper dog. It was an intimidating process.

We started with the seven page application. There were many questions that warranted more in depth answers with no extra space given. We had just moved into our house and had only been in it for a few months and worried that this would be frowned upon as it didn’t show a connection to our community. There was no additional space to elaborate and no other addresses were requested. I had to remind myself that this was an application for a dog – not a job or a baby.

We then needed to list our occupations. I again worried about writing “Storm Chaser” on the line for Brad. Would this negatively affect us as a dangerous occupation?

The application had an area to list all previous dogs owned and what had happened to them. I affectionately recalled my childhood dogs: Keeshonds who had both died of old age. I knew Brad was fond of his beagle and I asked him what had happened to the dog. He told me that he had the dog for a few weeks before his dad ran over it with the car. I was horrified! How could I put that on the application? I considered my options: omit the beagle or explain that it couldn’t happen again because Brad’s father was no longer alive. As I erased “beagle” from the application, I wondered how Brad could have so many fond memories of a dog he only had for three weeks.

After completing two pages, my hand hurt from all of the writing. It was disclosed on page three that preference was given to a fenced-in yard. In fact, while it may not be held against the applicant, it was strongly encouraged to have a fenced-in yard. In this section, there was plenty of space to clarify why an applicant with no fence should be considered. I used the entire space to explain that we lived on a large amount of land with no close neighbors and six-acre pond acting as a natural barrier. We also had a dirt road leading to our house…the only house…and no traffic.

The remaining questions on the next few pages were bringing out my sarcastic side: How will the dog get exercise? Where will the dog sleep? Where will the dog be during the day? Where will the dog be at night? If you are not at home where will the dog be? Where will the dog go when you are on vacation? I tried out a few answers in my head such as “the dog will work out on the treadmill” and “the dog will sleep in his own bedroom” and “the dog will lounge on the couch eating bon bons and watching soap operas during the day”, but in the end decided that I should perhaps come up with answers that were a little more serious.

A favorite trick question was “Where will the dog go if you move?” I held back the sarcastic answer and simply wrote that the dog would move with us.

I listed references, wrote a check for the application fee and mailed off the packet. I found out that our references were checked because the persons listed called me. The vet was also contacted. I finally received a call from our case worker who told me that a couple who lived near us would be conducting the home visit. If we successfully passed the home visit, we would be matched with potential dogs.

The home visit day had arrived. The husband and wife team stood in our living room and stiffly asked questions on a clipboard. The visit was very surreal and only five years later, when Brad and I were recruited to conduct a home visit, did we understand the “why” behind these questions. We are now enlightened but at the time we found it most peculiar. We didn’t really “connect” with the couple but they gave a good report and we were ready to find our dog.

I told the case worker that we only wanted a male dog with white and brown coloring. We were interested in a young dog between the ages of two and five and he had to get along with cats. Our very specific requirements should have been daunting but the case worker was fantastic. Several prospects were quickly ruled out after the case worker contacted the foster parent and learned the dog did not like cats. A few months went by with no successful matches. The case worker called me and told me about a litter of puppies that had been given to a shelter in Mississippi. The litter and the parents were transferred to Tennessee where the puppies were diagnosed with Parvo. Both parents were adopted. Only one puppy survived. She felt that this puppy would meet all of our requirements except for the age. We could train him to respect the cats. She believed it was a perfect fit. I convinced Brad and a few days later, I was on my way to Nashville to pick up my puppy from his foster mom.

It was love at first sight. He was five pounds of fluffy white fur. His head was bigger than his body. He had floppy ears and a button nose. One leg was still shaved from where the IV had been. It looked like a funny leg warmer from the eighties. Nothing mattered but the fact that we had our dog. Chase.