Friday, December 01, 2006


I have spent the last week house-sitting for a vacationing son and his wife, who sought the warmth of the sun and a few lazy afternoons on a golf course. So, a bit disgruntled because it wasn't my vacation I was preparing to enjoy, I packed my bag and agreed to sit in their home until their return, watching their two unruly dogs. Jedi and I climbed into the car and faced a long, canine-cluttered week.

The older dog, named Skylar, is a sweet old fellow, who is undergoing a personality change as the years go by. He has decided, in his small pea brain, to accost anyone approaching the front of the house, snarling and leaping and biting. Thus, the entire yard is a series of electrical impediments, Invisible to keep the dogs confined to the back yard, the other to keep the dogs confined to the front yard in case they escape the confinement of the back yard.

The second dog, the pup, is named Tanner. He is a medium sized hound-like creature they rescued from the pound. They visited the pound to find a companion for Skylar, who is prone to chewing doorknobs and eating drapery when he is left alone. Little did they know that this companion for Skylar would multiply their problems a thousandfold.

Tanner, who is indeed a tan color, has teeth like stilettos. About seven months old, he chews anything and everything, and immediately demolished a rattan divan and matching chair that is placed in an atrium attached to their kitchen dining area. Anything left on a kitchen counter is of interest to Tanner. He eats mail, food items, cutlery, china, anything within reach of his inquiring nose.

Watching this pup entails a two-word vocabulary, consisting of "No, Tanner!" "No, Tanner!" repeated over and over. He undoubtedly thinks his name is NoTanner. He obeys immediately when he is scolded, but goes back very quickly to do the same thing again that earned him the scolding. If there is such a thing as ADD in a dog, Tanner certainly suffers from it.

To corral Tanner's chewing impulses, the kitchen is secured by gates that keep him away from the rest of the house. Then, too, there is the crate that one must somehow convince Tanner to enter if one needs to leave the house.

The problem is, Tanner despises this crate. If one even thinks about leaving him behind, he runs into any corner, under furniture, as far away as possible, and hides. The expression on his dog face is so pathetic and forlorn that you feel like a criminal bent on torturing a helpless victim in trying to talk Tanner into his cage. Eventually, one comes to the conclusion that persuasion is not going to work. One can only get a stranglehold on his collar and physically haul him into his crate, the rugs and all nearby furniture traveling across the floor with him.

Then, to load even more guilt onto your burdened shoulders, Tanner starts to howl, a tortured sound that follows you out the door to your car. His miserable baying is so heartbreaking, one feels like abandoning any trip, no matter how necessary, and rescuing this animal from his prison.

This is torture for me. I am a gal who dissolves into tears at the sight of those abandoned pets left behind after the Katrina flood. I am the gal who wailed watching Bambi and despised deerhunting ever since I saw the movie. I am the gal who feeds stray cats, rescues baby birds, and hates eating meat.

However, leaving Tanner out of his cage while one runs errands just doesn't work. You will return home to find that he has consumed the day's mail, a loaf of bread, a vial of prescription drugs, three paperback novels and a furniture leg, as well as another few bites out of the rattan divan.

In the meantime, Skylar has stopped chewing doorknobs and attacking the drapery. His entire life consists of standing in the confinement of the back yard staring at the front yard, to make sure no unwanted visitor comes to the door. A Rhodesian Ridgeback, Skylar has a strip of fur running the length of his spine that stands erect at the sight of any human being near his front yard. He stands on guard, despite the presence of the electrical fence.

I tend the dogs. I let them in and out. Jedi is miserable. She despises the pup, seemingly bereft of any maternal instinct. The pup loves her, takes a proprietary interest in her bowel movements, making it impossible for her to go. She snaps at him, which he interprets as a playful yip, and continues to jump at her.

Jedi loves Skylar, because he is easy for her to boss around. He always defers to her wishes and the two of them have had a long, happy friendship. But this pup is a complete pest, in Jedi's opinion, and she treats him with a mixture of lofty disdain and irate despair.

I think back of the parade of dogs I have known and loved throughout my life. At the farm where I grew up, we always had dogs. They ate corncobs, potato peels and other scraps, never had a shot or a license, were amazingly healthy and lived a long time. Today, I spend tons of money on Jedi's food, sit in veterinarian offices for a long list of shots, pay for her dental health, the gloss of her fur, the death of all fleas and other pests, and I "babysit" the family's pups.

I would rather be having a conversation with an educated, stimulating adult, but I am stuck for a week with these dogs, so I decide to teach the pup a trick. He is smart, this dog, smart enough to know that he should leave my books alone and stop chewing them into confetti before I can read them. I sit on the floor next to him and make him look into my eyes. He evades my gaze, because he is guilty as hell and knows it.

It takes a while, but I finally teach him to shake hands. Any civilized creature should know how to shake hands. It's a part of growing up to be a courteous person. Of course, I have to give him a treat after every shake, but that's a part of the learning process. I feel very proud of this accomplishment, as though I am a scientist reaching through the barrier between species to communicate.

When my son and his wife returned home, I was delighted. If a million dollar lottery win had come my way, I couldn't have been happier. I could hand over these canine companions to their rightful owners, summon my own spoiled companion, and drive away! Life is good! Jedi is bouncing with joy, and we both can sleep in our own beds. There is nothing like someone else's vacation to wear you out and make you appreciate your own digs.