Dog Art

I travel quite a bit on Interstate 20 between Georgia and South Carolina. I do this with four dogs. George insists on picking his seat first which is okay as long as he chooses the front passenger seat. George does not like other dogs sitting next to him. If they breathe, he growls. If they look at him, he growls. And watch out if the other dog has the audacity to TOUCH him! An Oscar-worthy impersonation of Stephen King’s Cujo comes out to entertain the captive audience. Snarls mixed with teeth flashing while a white froth of saliva forms around his lips. I try to encourage George to pick the front seat lest I am forced to pull over on the highway to make him a nice cozy nest in the trunk.

Chase always must be restrained by his harness and seatbelt. For a fifty pound ball of white fur, he can be very sneaky and has jumped into my lap. Yes, I am the driver. The only way to remove him from my lap is to pull over and pray that his paw doesn’t touch the electronic seat positioning controls. He has done this once before and I don’t care for my nose to be pressed up against the windshield of the car.

Charlie, as mentioned in an earlier blog (Travels with Charlie), has a weak stomach. He prefers the floor but will pop up every so often to look out the window which makes him queasy. The floor is best for him. In fact, all the dogs try to be as far away from him as possible especially when the heavy breathing begins.

Molly is a perfect traveler. She gets in her seat, curls up and all I hear is unladylike snorts and snores from behind my seat. She has selective hearing and ignores Cujo.

With Cujo in the front, Molly sleeping heavily, Chase restrained and Charlie whimpering on the floor, I am not sure how the dogs find time to complete their masterpieces, their dog art. Always, upon reaching my destination, every window is covered with nose drawings. Intricate squiggles and swirls adorn all passenger windows and sometimes even my window. Just like a spider’s web, these drawings are unique each time with new patterns and details.

Driving on the interstate, I pass other vehicles with the familiar sketches on their windows and it makes me smile. I don’t need a bumper sticker proclaiming “I Love My Dog” or “My English Setter is Smarter than Your Honor Student”. I have dog art and I display it with pride.


Back in the Jailhouse Again

When Chase first came into my life, I decided to crate train him. Maybe not immediately…I remembered when my Mom was training my childhood dog, Drummer. Pieces of furniture contained him in the kitchen, some newspaper was thrown on the floor, and magically the dog was housebroken! Well, that was how my nine-year old self remembered it. Since I was more modern, I purchased a baby gate, confined Chase to a small hallway and threw down a puppy pad in the corner.

Chase flung himself at the gate until he knocked it over and decided that the puppy pad was a toy that must be shredded. Undeterred, I replaced the gate, added all four dining room chairs in front of it to reinforce the barricade and duct taped the puppy pad to the floor. Chase tore the center of the puppy pad into tiny white and blue-backed confetti and peed on the floor next to it. He attempted to climb the barricade and howled for hours. I couldn’t take it and made a trip to the local pet store, handed over one hundred dollars and hauled a cage out to my car.

Crate training, while effective, took a lot of discipline on my part. I remember one night, lying in my bed listening to Chase cry, whimper and howl for forty minutes. As I started to creep from my bed, my roommate intervened and told me to be strong and let him howl. It was a long night but in the end, my dog was crate trained.

Unfortunately, two years later, he was out of the crate and into the bed. Not exactly 100% my choice but I won’t go into it here. It soon became clear, though, that my dog needed consistency, boundaries and a routine. I tried, unsuccessfully, to reintroduce the crate. At the mere sight of it he would run and hide. I couldn’t shove him inside as he would make himself as large as possible by spreading his legs and thrashing his head around.

A friend suggested that I try a different crate instead of the travel crate (with wheels) that I had purchased in case he ever had to fly in an airplane. I tried an all-metal crate that resembled a mini prison. I put his favorite blanket inside and ordered him in. Chase obliged but wasn’t happy. He made the most mournful and sorrowful cries and I felt like I was tormenting him in a cruel manner. After twenty minutes, I caved and let him out. A few weeks later, I tried again. This time I put his rectangular dog bed inside, a stuffed animal and his blanket. My friend encouraged Chase to enter the crate and stayed with him for thirty minutes until Chase relaxed.

It didn’t take very long for Chase to think of the crate as his own private space. Maybe it was because of the other three dogs who happily utilized their crates for sleeping or just having a place of their own. When Chase was upset or just wanted to be left alone, I could find him lounging in his crate. He would get very agitated if he caught one of the other dogs in his space and if he was sleepy, he put himself to bed. I very rarely latched it. He stayed in it all night and wouldn’t come out until morning.

I never thought it was possible to reintroduce the crate to Chase, in fact I had insisted that it couldn’t be done. I’m glad I was wrong and that Chase now views it as a safe haven rather than a punishment. I don’t need to worry about disturbing him in the night which is good since he gets agitated if he is suddenly woken from his dog dreams. It’s his own private room with a view from all sides and while I may close the door, he can still nudge it open so he doesn’t feel like he’s back in his old solitary jail-like cage.


The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

Spring had arrived. Birds flitted about the flowering trees and low lying bushes, unconcerned with the dangers lurking beneath in the form of Chase and Charlie. Chase loved all things that flew, fluttered, buzzed, and darted. He held firmly to the belief that if he barked long and loud enough at the winged creatures, they would oblige him by landing in his mouth. I am certain this belief was formed six years earlier when he caught a mockingbird in a similar manner. Charlie took a more subtle approach. He burrowed beneath a bush and lay very still. Birds would not see the small dachshund who blended in perfectly with the dirt and old leaves until it was too late. Charlie proudly stockpiled his feathered trophies for all to admire. Dogs can be just as lethal as a cat where a bird is concerned.

A favorite afternoon gathering spot for all four dogs and me was down by the pond in a shady patch of clover and wild violets. A canopy of branches and leaves was provided by a gnarly old oak tree. Very fine, soft grass carpeted the area not covered by clover and an old moldy swing, its tattered top long vanished was a perfect place to relax with a book or an occasional visit by a four-legged friend.

This was the place where you could imagine being a child again. A small, rugged door rested against the base of the tree trunk and it would be no surprise if it creaked open slowly by the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps childhood memories encouraged me to sink into the lush green ground covering to seek four-leaf clovers and I found myself gently parting patches of green. The dogs, moments before content to sit on the hillside and watch the pond or sniff around the yard doing the things that dogs do, were suddenly keenly interested in my clover activities. Four noses sniffed where my hands had been. Four mouths nibbled on clover leaves. Sixteen furry feet trampled and bruised the tender plants. Four bodies chose that moment to roll on their backs in my clover patch. Sighing, I ceased my efforts and sat back on the swing. My patch was completely flattened. Despite the damage, there was one small area untouched. Nonchalantly, I moved slowly and deliberately toward that area. Sneaking a glance at the dogs, I surveyed the area and spied one four-leaf clover. Excitedly, I stooped to pluck it before all four dogs charged and trampled that area, too.

Several days later, I returned to my clover patch and happily discovered that clovers are very resilient plants. For a brief moment I enjoyed the shady spot until the dogs discovered me and crushed my patch once again. Sighing, I lay down on the swing. A bumblebee landed very close to my face and I watched it dry its wings. Smiling, I marveled at all its bee intricacies for a few fleeting seconds before Chase pounced upon it and snatched it in his mouth chewing furiously. Horrified, I admonished Chase for his actions but it was too late.

I retreated into the house with the dogs and thought that all things flying and all things growing must be relieved by the bit of safety I just provided.


The Scoop

My dog can embarrass me. I think he knows it, too. There are certain activities that I would prefer he conduct in the privacy of my yard or designated areas in public that I have first approved. I have three rules that I have established in order to help alleviate some of these more memorable moments in dog ownership:

1. Be prepared! Keep doggy clean-up bags or even plastic grocery bags handy at all times. Don’t leave home without these essential items and always bring extra.

2. Remember the Double Drop! My dog loves to “hold some back”. So even if I believe that he has done his doggy duties, he hasn’t. He is banking it and waiting for that perfect moment.

3. You can’t stop gravity! Once it starts any amount of energy or effort spent to stop it is a waste of time and can make matters worse. Refer to Rule #1 after gravity takes over.

Be Prepared: When my cousin Samantha encouraged the entire Southern family to participate in the Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in Atlanta many years ago, it seemed a logical choice to bring Chase along. He wore his backpack with pride and even had Samantha’s number pinned to his pack in support of her cause. He carried treats and water bottles and a roll of doggy bags. I was prepared and even was able to give a bag to a man who was much less prepared. That was not the case during an embarrassing dog walk from my sister’s home in East Atlanta Village to the town center. First, I made him use her front yard facilities before we embarked but I was suspicious of the scant pile of poo and the fact that Chase was walking in a manner that suggested he was packing a pile toward his back end. It was a beautiful day and the entire neighborhood appeared to be working in their well-manicured front yards. I struggled to keep him confined to the sidewalk. He sniffed with disdain at the abandoned lots I offered as an alternative and soon I was confident that he had done all he needed to do back at the house. As my sister and I paused in front of a favorite shop window, Chase proceeded to squat in the middle of the city sidewalk. Liz offered to help by extending her hand to hold his leash. I grabbed a stack of napkins from a nearby cafĂ© table and attempted to clean up the mess. A fresh streak of brown stained the cement and I looked up at the sky, praying for rain. Did I learn my lesson? Hardly. There are tennis courts that are close to my house and are a perfect place to take the four dogs late at night. The gates can be closed, leashes removed and the dogs can pursue forgotten tennis balls on the enclosed courts. The walk to the courts is long enough for all doggy business to be conducted beforehand. As my friend and I threw tennis balls to George, Molly and Charlie, I spied my dog at the far end of the court in the squat position. I screamed at him to stop but it was too late (see rule number 3). I found a discarded terry cloth tennis towel that seemed to be in very good condition in a corner of the court. I approached the steaming pile while my friend chuckled on the other side of the court. Cursing my dog for using the furthest corner from the trash can, I plucked at the pile as best I could and gagged from the smell as I walked quickly to throw it away. As with cement sidewalks, it is difficult to clean and a fresh stain bore evidence of his disrespect.

Remember the Double Drop: Last year I took a leisurely walk around my condo grounds and parking lot with my dog. There are two areas that have a dog bag station so I rarely had problems with Rule #1. He conducted a very impressive amount of dog business by the first station I was certain that he couldn’t have any more in him. Just in case, I walked toward the next dog station and spent extra time on that area of the lawn. Nothing. Feeling confident, we walked toward the far end of the complex. As we crossed a large parking lot, I felt his leash give a sharp tug. My dog had squatted in the middle of a parking space and produced an award-winning pile. I had no dog bags with me and both dog stations were very far away. Hoping no one would think I was shirking off my civic duties, I sprinted back to a dog station, grabbed two bags and returned to the parking space. It only took one bag but at that point, I wasn’t taking any chances on a Triple Play!

You Can’t Stop Gravity: While visiting a friend’s home and confident in my dog’s house manners, he excitedly sniffed his new surroundings. As I picked up my glass of wine, I noticed that Chase was in the squat position by her front door. I lunged toward him, opened the door and dragged him out by the collar. A thin line of poo marked our path like a trail of sticky breadcrumbs….the carpet by the front door, the stairs, the sidewalk and finally the grass. I had a lot to clean up.

Encore: A relative was staying at the condo and had agreed to walk Chase while I was at work. I left a roll of dog bags on the counter and put in an eight hour day. When I arrived home I asked how many times Chase had been walked. I was told none because Chase hadn’t asked to go out and only wanted to sleep. I glared at the family member and put Chase on his leash. I made it to the second floor landing when the leash became taut. Chase scrunched up directly in front of the front door of a sweet old lady’s condo. I tugged and tugged but to no avail. I returned to the condo to retrieve paper towels and cleaning solution and while cleaning up one pile, Chase dropped a second. I prayed that the woman stayed in her apartment as I struggled to clean up the mess on the concrete surface.

There are so many joys of having a dog in your life, even if that means four dogs. They brighten my day, they keep me company and they keep my secrets safe. But there are other things to consider. The things that no one seems to talk about until you have already made that commitment. I try to follow my rules but there have been times (clearly) that even I have forgotten – and paid the embarrassing consequences sooner than later. So, that’s my scoop and I’m sticking to it!

“Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?” ~Jerry Seinfeld