Ripe for the Picking

A house full of dogs, so it was a clever idea to have a Christmas tree loaded with all sorts of plush toys. Cute, Santa-hat wearing soft and cuddly puppies lined the sofa waiting for their rightful place on the tree. Boughs laden with real candy canes and colored lights highlighted all of the temptations like a neon sign in a store window, beckoning shoppers to browse the selections. And Chase was in a shopping kind of mood.

He restrained his canine urges for a few days before I caught him carefully plucking a toy from the tree. As he attempted his getaway, I ordered him to "drop it" and he was quick to obey. I retrieved the pilfered toy just in time to spy Chase picking several more from the forbidden tree. He was in a generous mood and had chosen several ornaments for the other dogs in the house. And just to ensure that this was the gift that kept on giving, he dutifully taught his canine companions how to select their own ornament. The deviant behavior extended far beyond the Christmas tree. I caught dogs attempting to pull the singing musical reindeer from an end table. One over sized stocking hung by the mantle with care had newly acquired teeth marks in the toe and the wiener dog had stockpiled miniature Christmas stockings that he found tucked away neatly within the branches of the tree.

Christmas canine chaos ruled the house for several days before the dogs finally began to understand the "new" annual rules and ceased their attempts to strip the tree bare. While the stuffed-animal themed Christmas tree was not my idea, I can't say that my Edgar Allan Poe themed Christmas tree on the sun porch was any better with its jet black bird glaring down from its lofty perch at my bird dog. "And quoth the raven, Nevermore".


Oh! Christmas Tree

Many of my Christmas trees past have been determined by what new pet I had in my home. Would I dare hang the expensive Christopher Radko ornaments with a curious kitten on the prowl? Would I unwrap the precious ornaments from my childhood, rich with Christmas memories, while a rambunctious puppy flashed through the living room?

My first year with Chase, I thought that I would forgo the tree until he was older. My roommate, Regena, had other plans and we purchased a semi-dry and barely "live" tree from the Food Lion down the street. We had a choice of three as it was December 23rd and all the other evergreens had been long since purchased. We wrestled the tree into the house and as expected, we were unable to align it within the cheap metal stand. Resorting to fishing wire to aid the tree in a tall, straight stance, we spent fifteen minutes decorating it with the Barbie doll ornaments that Regena had collected for her daughter over the years. No lights, no garland, our no frills Christmas tree was ready for inspection by my 10-month old puppy and her completely insane cat, Samantha.

There was no time to place wrapped presents under the tree. Each of us had plans for the next two days that kept us away from our home. Christmas was over and I expected December 26th to be spent lazing around my home, enjoying the companionship that can only be given by cherished pets. Pets who were very hyperactive that chilly morning after Christmas. Samantha was crazily dashing through the house with Chase hot on her trail. I cringed as Samantha lunged for the tree and clawed her way up, bits of dry pine needles floating to the floor. The tree leaned precariously, hanging on by a thread, literally. Chase studied the tree with its newly acquired crazy cat and flung himself at the trunk. It was too much for the fishing wire and the tree crashed to the floor flinging out Samantha from the brittle branches. I rushed to survey the damage and attempted to upright the tree. Most of the ornaments and pine needles were on the floor and I wondered why I was even bothering.

Decision made, I stripped the tree of the remaining ornaments, and dragged it with its bent stand to my truck. My neighborhood of senior citizens were in their yards watching their newest episode of live Sarah Reality TV. This was the earliest that I have ever taken down a Christmas tree. Back inside, I finished cleaning up the needles and water from the hardwood floors and sat down with Chase to pluck pine needles from his white fur.

Pets, trees, even roommates and their animals come and go throughout the years but the memory of the three-day Christmas tree comes to mind once a year as I pull out all of the Christmas festivities and my artificial pre-lit sturdy Christmas "tree". I tend to do a quick survey of the pets in my house as I place the hardiest ornaments at the bottom of the tree with the rest out of paws reach.


A Toy Story

Chase loves toys. He is especially fond of colorful stuffed animals with a squeaker inside and believes that it is his mission in life to frantically dig and pull all stuffing out in order to remove and destroy the squeaker. I have previously mentioned my financial support of the pet stores and they have a wide selection of dog toys. I feel they are also clever by allowing owners to bring their dogs into the store. Chase enjoys shopping for toys and looks adorable carrying one in his mouth, tail happily wagging, to the cash register. I have spent more money simply because my dog looks cute doing something.

As a puppy, he enjoyed the “Kong” so long as I filled it with peanut butter and would be entertained for the duration of the creamy snack inside. He also enjoyed the heels of my shoes, headphone cords and antique oriental rugs so it was critical to keep the Kong filled with peanut butter. Chase was not very impressed with those dog toys that have no fluff or squeakers inside. To him it was similar to having a non-alcoholic beer…a complete waste of time, effort and money.

The toys that I discovered lasted the longest and were most treasured by Chase were regular children’s stuffed animals. I find them at the Goodwill and other thrift stores for under a dollar apiece and have also discovered them at garage sales. At a recent garage sale, there was a bin filled to capacity with plush bunnies. As my talkative mother chatted up the owner of the bunny bin, she discovered that the woman proudly collected all things rabbit and her husband was forcing her to downsize her collection. I selected a bunny from the bin, handed the woman a dollar, and dragged my mother down the driveway before she could reveal my intentions to present the bunny to my dog for his chewing pleasure. Because of the woman’s passion for bunnies, I didn’t have the heart to tell her the fate of the toy and hissed under my breath at my mother to stop talking.

My experience with purchasing second hand stuffed animals has proven to me that they last longer than the pet store toys, they are easier on your wallet and less likely to be completely destroyed in search of the evil squeaker. I am always careful to squeeze the stuffed animal like a package of Charmin toilet paper to make sure there are no small pellets or beans in the bottom. I’m not sure if they are toxic to dogs but I do know that Chase has pulled them out on a penguin given to him by my sister and, once strewn across the floor, are very hard to clean.

A few toys purchased have been for my own amusement. I presented Chase with a gigantic plush flower with a large stem that could be bent and twisted. He would gleefully parade around the house with it firmly clutched in his teeth and run full speed ahead at the doorways simply to get stuck as the flower was too big to fit. Chase would back into the doorway, drop the flower and then grip the end to drag it lengthways into the next room. He enjoyed an Easter Bunny that sang an old “Easter Bonnet” song when pressed in the center of its belly. Chase would work his teeth around the center until the song would play, jump back and bark along. He currently covets my father’s Walter the Farting Dog toy which is placed out of reach above my dad’s computer.

There are so many joys to having a dog as part of your life, but to me, there is nothing better than watching my English setter race manically around with a favorite toy in his mouth shaking his head back and forth, trying to tempt anyone to take the evenly coated, drool covered, unrecognizable, tattered and torn, bargain bunny-bin animal from his grip.


Travel Bound

Ever since I first traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to pick up Chase when he was a mere six weeks old, he has been a road warrior. For Chase, the proper place for him to be in a vehicle is not necessarily in line with where he prefers to be. In my truck, he had no choice but to ride up front on the split bench seat, happily resting his furry white head in my lap. That is his preference in all modes of transportation...unfortunately. It is not a pleasant or safe experience while navigating the twists and turns of a southern back road to have a flash of white fur pounce into your lap like an oversized cat without the grace or agility of one. Legs dangling down the side of my seat, his toes will press into the buttons that control the seat moving it to press against the steering wheel or in the opposite direction away from the pedals below.

Solution? Off to the pet store to continue my financial support. A barrier or gate in my car was not an option. Chase was also too big for a booster seat doggy restraint.

I decided to explore the seatbelt systems that worked with your existing vehicle seatbelt. My first choice was a lambs wool harness system that attached to your dog in an intricate manner across his chest and then to the seatbelt. Satisfied that this was "the one", I muscled my dog into place and headed off on a short two hour trip to Atlanta to visit my sister. Twenty minutes into the trip, Chase was in my lap. He had successfully twisted and turned and squirmed his way out. In Atlanta, I visited the pet store to return the seatbelt and tried a similar version in a smaller size. Chase chewed through it in five minutes on the interstate. He kept me warm the remaining way home.

I found success with a much simpler design. It looks like a short leash of approximately 12-14 inches in length. One end has a typical dog leash clasp and the other end holds two types of universal seatbelt buckles and is guaranteed to fit your car. This is used with a regular dog harness and you can have the dog leash and the seatbelt attached at the same time. It is especially useful when pulling into a rest stop or other destination. I am able to detach Chase from the seatbelt while holding his leash. Chase is able to ride in a seated position or he can lie down. The only difficulty I have with this dog seatbelt is that sometimes it can be difficult to remove from the car if I have an additional passenger that is planning on being in the middle seat. It is also not for use with your dog collar as this will not keep the dog safe in an accident. It is best to splurge on a decent harness which is also good to use in walking the dog.

Now accustomed to the routine of travel, Chase will bow his head to insert it through his harness and wait patiently on the backseat to be clipped into place. After leaving several nose prints on the back window, he settles down to happily slumber until our destination is reached.


Doggy Devices

I believe that I am soley responsible for keeping pet stores in business. If there is a toy, I'll buy it. Dog collars with "Paws N Crossbones" or "Maine Lobstahs" and matching leashes keep Chase fashionably in style. I have no fewer than ten types of brushes and combs yet he still prefers my human brush. Urban dog gear including boots and a backpack for traversing the dangerous streets of Atlanta protect him from glass, hot tar and other hazards. Traveling dog dishes long lost have been replaced with simple tupperware. Chase still prefers to drink straight from the water bottle on trips and has mesmerized more than one person at the rest stops with his amazing talents.

So when Chase decided that it was his duty to bark at every sound at the new condo, I knew a trip to the pet store was in order. I had tried other methods for controlling the barking yet I was at a loss for what to do when I wasn't at the condo. I had images of angry residents in my head and knew that an anti-bark device would probably do the trick. I certainly didn't want a repeat of the recent grocery store trip where I decided to bring Chase along to stop him from barking at the condo alone. It wouldn't have been bad except that it was an especially hot August evening and when I parked, I left the windows down and the sunroof open. Chase popped out of the sunroof to survey the area causing a great deal of attention. Dark parking lot with a white head looking like a submarine periscope? I had no choice...my dog needed food. It was the fastest trip of my life!

After careful research and eliminating shock collars, I opted for a more humane collar that sprayed citronella when a bark was emited. The first time I tried it, I left the condo and lingered outside the door. I heard nothing. I creeped down to the parking lot. Nothing. No barks. Soon I was able to put the collar on Chase without actually engaging the collar. He did associate barking / getting sprayed with the collar because my smart dog knew the difference between his cute lobster collar and the citronella collar. A downside to the collar was that other dogs barking in close proximity could trigger the spray action. Chase also figured that out and tended to be anti-social if he was placed in that type of situation.

I was not only happy with the results of the collar, but also a bit smug that I could train my dog, with a little help, to control his barking. I believe it also is a fantastic deterrent for mosquitos as I discovered on a recent trip to Maine!


The Leash Rule

Chase is the kind of dog that needs to be on a leash. It doesn't matter that he always comes back, knocking on the front door to be let inside. The problem is that he won't come when called, unless I channel my inner Linda Blair Exorcist voice and even then, he weighs the value of freedom over the fact that he might be in trouble. I thought that I had conveyed the leash rule adequately enough to my friend, Stephen. I realized that I was wrong when I pulled up at my condo one afternoon and saw him sitting on an air conditioning unit near the entrance to the woods. Puzzled, I walked over to him and noticed a bottle of beer in one hand and the leash in the other.

"He got away and won't come back," Stephen told me, swinging his legs and taking another swig of beer. "He keeps coming to the edge of the woods to taunt me, " he insisted.

I wanted to question how that happened since it didn't appear that the collar was attached to the leash, however I held back the sarcasm and asked when he last saw Chase. Apparently the last taunting occurred less than twenty minutes before my arrival. I gingerly entered the woods in my practical 3-inch heels and walked until I reached the clearing. Stephen trailed behind me insisting that the dog was the devil and couldn't be made to do anything (unlike his perfect tiny dogs that could be carried around in a pocketbook.) As the sun shone brightly onto the wildflowers and butterflies darting around the small clearing, I called for Chase. A small white head poked out from his hiding place and he walked slowly yet deliberately toward me. His eyes fixated on Stephen and Chase froze, refusing to budge. I had to send Stephen away and Chase ran at me, full speed nearly knocking me over. Leash securely in place, we catwalked out of the woods and across the parking lot to where Stephen was waiting. I'm sure that we both had a smug look on our faces.


Travels in Margaritaville

Each winter I packed up the car and headed south to Miami and then traveled the narrow two-lane Highway 1 down to the end of the world at Mile Marker 0. It was a week long tropical escape from the cold dry winter, lifeless trees and grey skies. The Florida Keys were very dog-friendly with outdoor dining and low pet fees at the hotels and other rentals.

Chase’s first experience with Key West was several months after Florida had been hammered by hurricanes throughout the summer and early autumn months. Fantasy Fest had been moved to the end of November and I brought along festive red sequined devil horns for Chase to wear during the merriment.

Our small one-bedroom cottage had an enclosed deck that kept my dog safe from roaming the streets. Off-street parking was difficult to find and once parked, I refused to drive out of fear of losing my space. Walking Chase was challenging. He preferred soft grass for his daily doggy duties. Grass was scarce in Key West and the small patches of lush lawns were secured behind elaborate wrought iron or picket fences. I found a small scrap surrounding a palm tree directly outside an Italian Bistro and it seemed to suit my dog. I also discovered a bit of dirt conveniently located next to a garbage bin around the corner from the cottage. I became a frequent visitor to that area. In hindsight, I should have avoided it as Chase will now squat in any bit of dirt regardless of location. This proved especially embarrassing on a recent walk through East Atlanta Village with my sister.

My first and only attempt to adorn my dog with the glittery devil horns was successful in the privacy of the cottage. The moment I led him out onto the street, he tossed his head to and fro until they flew off into the street. I secured them back onto his head. When he realized my determination in making him wear the horns in public, Chase tossed them off his head again and bit into them with such ferocity I had a difficult time getting him to release them. I placed them back inside the cottage and hit the streets, sans Diablo.

Besides tourists, Key West had an abundance of two things: birds and cats. Taking a bird dog throughout a city that has chickens and flocks of nautical birds can be trouble. Getting Chase out of a point was nearly impossible. The point isn’t problematic; it was what came after. The creeping and crawling low to the ground until he was ready to attack was a quandary. Rope burn from his leash was a common condition on my arms and wrists.

Thanksgiving of 2007 was spent with my entire family on Little Torch Key in a vacation home located on a canal. Large fish leisurely swam by in slow motion and Chase would peer over the edge of the sea wall, mesmerized by the ever-expanding rings that would gently form on the surface of the water. He would spend hours in the rosemary bush hunting lizards. I discovered that rosemary is the best natural dog deodorizer and Chase earned the nickname “Lamb Chop”, courtesy of my father. To prevent Chase from roaming, I tied a 50-foot lead to one of the columns of the tikki hut. I instructed all family members to only let him outside if he was securely tied to the lead. Several days into our stay, I realized that my mother and grandmother were ignoring my orders and would let him roam at will. This meant that I too had to roam from yard to yard in search of land mines planted by my dog.

On a recent trip to the Keys, we decided to try camping. I am not an outdoors sort of person but camping on the beach seemed less treacherous and cold as camping in the woods. The plan was to camp at Bahia Honda State Park. 12 hours of driving and no reservations at the fully booked park sent me into survival mode. Armed with a list of pet friendly camp grounds, I found one near Big Pine Key. I felt like an outsider as I pulled into my camp site. I was surrounded by luxury campers and busses – all snowbirds from up North. My “next door neighbors” had a parrot in a cage that remained inside their camper for the duration of our stay after our dog was spotted pointing and creeping in its direction. Tent set-up was quick thanks to my practice session back in South Carolina. I placed the sheets and pillows onto the air mattress and began to pull out chairs and small area rugs to shelter my feet from the hard coral surface. Chase immediately entered the tent and secured his spot on the air mattress. I, in turn, secured Chase to a large cooler, heavily weighed down with beer and Gatorade. After several days of observing my immediate surroundings, I noticed that other dog owners would put their pets into cages at night, unlike me who preferred the warm company of my own personal “electric blanket”. Chase spent the warm afternoons pointing at the electrical box. A lizard had taken up residence underneath it and tormented Chase at regular intervals by popping out to agitate him.

One morning, the tent was attacked by a flock of seagulls, Alfred Hitchcock style. The feathery fiends would land on the tent and fly into the sides creating a strange shadow show that drove Chase into a frenzy as he flung himself at the inside walls. Fearing a collapse, I quickly crawled out to shoo the birds away. My dog was right behind me pulling furiously at the cooler. Deep marks were left behind by the cooler’s wheels but the birds retreated permanently.

On my last morning at the campsite, one of my older neighbors wandered over to pet my dog. He asked if it was an English setter and reminisced about the setter he had loved so many years before. He told me that everyone was impressed with how well behaved he was (I nearly choked) and that he would sleep in the tent without problems. He had never known a dog to stay in a tent like Chase. This conversation reminded me of my elderly neighbors back in South Carolina who would “spy” on me. I had been pretty sure that had been occurring all week at the campground and now I had confirmation. However, I was grateful that Chase had a companion to keep him occupied while I finished packing up for our trip home.

Finished packing, I buckled Chase into his seat in the back, rolled down his window and hit the road. I stopped for some overpriced coffee and Danish at a cafĂ© on the right that I had always wanted to try, mainly because of the tacky, purple over-sized coffee cup that boasted the establishment’s name. It was a beautiful day and twenty minutes later I pulled into Long Key State Park in an effort to extend my vacation. The tide was on its way out exposing white sand, shell fragments and coconuts. I set up my chair, dug my toes in the sand and watched boats in the distance while people splashed in the salty water patterned with aquamarine, charcoal and blue. Chase napped and occasionally sniffed the air, content to dream away the afternoon. As the sun began to fade, I headed north again but pulled off at a hotel in Miami. I decided to prolong the end of my winter holiday despite knowing that my procrastination would add more hours onto my journey. I chose to follow the advice of a favorite author, James Thurber: “It is better to have loafed and lost than never to have loafed at all". I curled up on the bed with my furry companion and combed the sand spurs from his ears. I was content, sunburned and sandy. A perfect ending to a perfect week.


A Garden Variety

During the work week, Chase spent the warm days lounging in comfort at my parent’s pool. It was a perfect puppy paradise: safely fenced with the shade of the cabana, the swimming pool to cool his paws, soft grass to roll in and the tiered garden boasting blooms, vegetables and lizards to chase.

My mother would garden in the morning and I would drop off my dog before leaving for work. He would join her among the plants, offering his excavation expertise. My mother made the mistake of introducing him to the wild strawberries growing among the ivy and oleander. Chase had a way of knowing when they were ripe and would carefully pluck the juicy berry from its leafy home between his tiny front teeth. Soon, all of the berries were harvested.

Tomatoes also grew on one of the top tiers. He observed my mother staking vines and mulching the soil and his curiosity about the plants grew. For weeks he added tomato plant inspection to his routine in the morning. Sneaking casual glances at me or my mother, Chase would brush his nose up against the ripening green and red streaked fruit. My mother would check the plants throughout the week to determine the best time for collecting them. Several days before she was ready to pick them, the tomatoes would vanish. The possibility of a rabbit or deer grazing on the tomatoes seemed unlikely. The area was completely fenced and my parent’s aggressive cat was always on patrol.

To combat the mystery of the disappearing tomatoes, my mother began picking them days before they were ready and placed them on the window ledge in the kitchen to ripen in the afternoon sun. The tomatoes began departing from the ledge, too. My mother accused every two-legged body in the house of eating her tomatoes until we discovered dried tomato pulp and seeds on the Oriental rug in the dining room and the focus was directed at a small white and orange-spotted thief.

Ta-may-to, Ta-mah-to…however my English setter preferred to pronounce it in his devious brain; we were no match for his determination in his favorite outdoor treat. My mother no longer plants tomatoes in her garden – they are now in large pots under careful guard from the garden variety tomato bandit.



For nearly two years I lived in a tiny coastal town in South Carolina, halfway to nowhere between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. One road in and one road out which typically meant that everyone knew when I was in town and everyone knew when I left...down to the minute. I lived on 50 acres of property flanked on two sides by ponds and the marsh leading to the Intercoastal waterway on the other. Three hunting dogs kept me company: an English Setter, a Springer Spaniel and a Black Lab. They brought me gifts and each day I would have something new in my direct path to my truck: raccoons, blue heron, fish and my favorite...a whole deer. Yes, my three hunting dogs dragged back an entire doe for me one evening. After that, I kept them inside at night. In the event that I didn't have time to feed them in the morning, I couldn't just plan to come back at lunch. All three of them knew where I worked and would travel the half mile or so to the school, climb up the fire escape to my back classroom door and let me know their displeasure. They were not the only dogs who tracked down their owners at the school, either. I was also tracked down by the post office at my employer. Anytime there was a large package or something that needed a signature, they just sent it by the school. They knew I was there.

There were three churches in this town of a population of under 500. If I remained in town for the weekend, I would attend one of the churches with a congregation of approximately 35 parishioners. Halfway through each Episcopalian service, there would be a pause for the "peace". Every week this pause turned into a lengthy social gathering in the aisles until the minister attempted to restore order with a loud "Now where were we?” I would stifle my laughter as someone "reminded" him of where in the service he needed to continue. Needless to say, they knew who I was and would call me at home, out of concern, if I didn't show up one Sunday.

It was difficult to be 45 minutes in any direction from civilization. Grocery stores and fast food restaurants, as well as doctor's offices were that far. By 45 minutes, I am not speaking about sitting in traffic or waiting at stop lights or even driving slowly. 45 minutes of driving through the middle of the Frances Marion National Forest (you know the one where The Patriot was filmed?) at 75 miles per hour keeping a watch for deer, fox and people riding their lawnmowers. This distance was especially challenging if I ran out of dog food. The dogs expected to be fed at their regular time each morning. A lack of food meant a short trip to the gas station / grocery store / video store / hardware store / gift center / restaurant to pick up an overpriced tiny bag of kibble. If I was hungry, there was no point in driving 45 minutes to the closet Taco Bell. There were two additional restaurants in town and I experienced having a "tab" for the first time. I would order my weekly shrimp potato or crab cake and add it to my tab. At the end of each month, I would pay the grand total that had been carefully added to my page in the three-ring binder behind the restaurant counter.

It took some time to get used to the complete darkness that would envelope me once I turned out the final light for bed. It was so quiet unless the random tug boat driving through the Intercoastal would pull on the fog horn and shine their spotlight in my bedroom window in a neighborly manner. I also was stalked by a crop duster for a few weekends. I couldn't figure out why the bright yellow plane kept circling my house each Saturday and Sunday morning. It stopped rather abruptly when he crashed into the marsh. Curiously, he had no explanation as to why he was in the area, clearly wasn't dusting crops and he didn't know why he had run out of fuel!

The marsh was so much fun to take the kayak out for a paddle. The dogs would swim alongside me and I would fret about the alligators. I had one in each pond and I knew there were more in the marsh but the dogs remained safe. The path through the marsh to the Intercoastal was ever changing. A calendar reminded me of the high and low tides for the year and each day a new path would be carved out in the tall grasses...the one before long forgotten. I even attempted to enlist the dogs in assisting with dragging the kayak out of the marsh and into the boathouse like three demented Santa's reindeers. I tied the leashes to the front of the kayak but when it came to get them to move forward, all three lay on the ground stubbornly.

Once, I was fighting a bout of strep throat and one of my medications was codeine. After taking a pill, I decided that I needed to retrieve the mail. Typically, I would drive the distance as the driveway was over a mile and a half long. The dogs would ride in the bed of the truck and I loved watching their heads bob back and forth, tails wagging with joy over the unexpected ride. For safety reasons, I decided that I shouldn't drive my truck "under the influence" but that it would be perfectly okay to ride my bike while wearing my insanely impractical footwear (boots with 3 inch heels). Partway down the driveway, shortly after passing the ponds, I veered into the marsh and fell off the bike. Panicking, I untangled myself quickly and dragged the bike from the bog. I just knew there were alligators in there or a snake. Leaving my bike behind, I gracefully staggered on foot to the end of the driveway for the mail. Blaming the medication rather than my stylish boots, I didn't bother with the mail until I was recovered.

There was no cable TV - just a couple of channels that came in with tin foil wrapped antennae and I became addicted to WWF each Wednesday. The following day I would discuss my favorite wrestlers with my 9th grade students while my 12th graders never hesitated to remind me that it wasn't real.

Recently, I took a trip back through Charleston. As I headed down highway 17, I took note of all of the changes. More development, more stores, more traffic lights. It wasn't until I reached the edge of Awendaw that the road began to look familiar with the dilapidated roadside stands that would boast hand-woven baskets during the tourist season and the pale brown grass which peppered the sides of the road and formed the center median. The trees appeared taller and as I reached the Seewee Restaurant, I was relieved to see that it hadn't changed. I turned around in the gravel parking lot and headed back South, afraid to continue on...not wanting to see additional changes to tarnish my memories.

Driving on East Bay Street, I embraced my "tourist road rage" as visitors stumbled into the direct path of my car. Reaching the Battery, I turned down the familiar street of my former landlords and parked the car behind their old battered green Volvo. I unlatched the gate and walked up the path to the front porch. Sleeping on a dog bed and wearing a dusty blue jacket was a small Orange Belton English Setter. I knelt down beside her and stroked her silky ears. As I approached the front door to ring the bell, I felt a soft nudge at my knee. The small setter had wobbled over on unsteady ancient legs to push her nuzzle into my knee. I sank to her height and looked carefully into her eyes. "Brandy?" I whispered. She responded by laying her head on my knees. I hugged her frail body, overcome by emotions. I hadn't realized that she was still alive. Over the years I had received the news that Indy, the black lab and Suttre, the Springer Spaniel had passed away. Since Brandy was older than both of them, I assumed she had met a similar fate. It appeared that no one was home so I scrawled a quick note on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the door. I sat with Brandy for a few more moments, remembering how special she had been to me at a time in my life when I needed it the most. She was my first introduction to English Setters and the reason I have one now. I put her back in her dog bed and kissed the top of her head. She watched me as I walked to my car and drove away. I was sure that she remembered me, too.

It is amazing how one brief experience in my life can hold so many memories and emotions. One museum, one fire department, one tiny library and three churches. Dogs slept in the one road and expected me to drive around them. One town seemingly miles from somewhere but what a beautiful night sky with a million stars and no power lines, buildings or signs to spoil the view. One moment in time but will affect me forever. One town, still unchanged, still untouched. One.


Fixing the Situation

One of the requirements in adopting Chase from the rescue organization was to get him fixed as soon as he was old enough. I did not have a problem with this. The vet, however, wanted to wait until he was at least 8 months old before performing the procedure. Waiting eight months is a very long time, especially when you are stuck with a hormonal puppy from the time he was six weeks old. Eight months seemed like a lifetime to me…and with good reason, too.

With his raging puppy hormones in full gear, I couldn’t leave Chase alone in my fenced in back yard. After watching him balance precariously along the cinder block back wall of the yard, I installed a chain link fence along that wall so accessing it would be impossible. Thankfully, my dog refrained from climbing the links. Chase was a digger, not a climber. My puppy preferred a section of dirt between the chain link gate and the corner of the house to sink his paws into. This dog was fast! Frantically digging, first with his front paws and then in reverse using his rear paws like a back hoe, within minutes, escape was inevitable. To foil his plans, I followed the advice of one of my clients and buried several yards of chicken wire along his preferred path of destruction. Apparently dogs are not fond of digging through chicken wire. Pretty soon, my entire back yard was covered in chicken wire and the irony of using chicken wire to coop in my bird dog was not completely lost on me.

During this waiting period, Chase also became quite fond of a particular chaise lounge cushion out by the pool. My dad named the cushion “Sheila”. During the latter part of the day when the heat of the sun was beginning to fade, Chase would drag “Sheila” from the cabana in search of an audience. He would grip the corner of the cushion tightly between clenched teeth and then have his way with “her”. Just the character trait I always cherished in a dog – his humping capabilities! I was more than ready to take him off to the vet and get this situation fixed.

When the big day finally arrived, I sadly left him at the vet’s office, his tail wagging, happy to be somewhere new. I felt a bit guilty leaving him there, but my feelings of remorse faded as I smiled at the thought of a better behaved puppy. After a very brief period of recovery time, Chase was back to his old habits of digging in the dirt and having inappropriate relations with his “Sheila”. I couldn’t understand his enthrallment with the cushion and was suspicious that perhaps the vet simply took my money and pretended to fix my dog. I’m afraid to admit that I actually pinned my dog down to check out the handiwork. Eventually the digging habit dissipated; however, to this day Chase has a complete fascination with cushions and pillows. He has punctured holes into the corner of each decorative throw pillow on the couch. He slyly steals pillows from the bed. And he has a complete understanding of a rather unusual dog command – yet he is very quick to obey: “Drop the Pillow!”