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!