My friends ask me why every book I own tends to have a dog on the cover. Or why my stories usually involve the rescue of a dog from a burning building, a tree limb or an amorous cat. My answer is the same. I have dog issues.
Dixie, my childhood dog, greeted me at the front door when I came home from school and slept next to me at night. She was a chubby lonely girl’s best friend. At least that is how I remember her. What I know for certainty is that as a young child I lacked appreciation and as an adult, I wanted to get that love back.
But living in a city that isn’t dog friendly to renters, I spent years waiting to get another dog. This time I knew I would be the perfect dog owner. My dog would get daily walks, the healthiest food I could afford and smothered with love. This time I would do it right. So when interest rates were just as high as housing prices, I bought a small townhouse, installed a doggie door to a cozy backyard and stalked petfinder.com like others would do on match.com. One day I found him.
Riley might have looked like Dixie but he let me know right away, by trying to herd my not-amused and not-declawed cats, that is where the similarities ended. We failed Petsmart’s basic training course. I pre-paid a private trainer to come to my home for 5 lessons but she disappeared after the third lesson. So we adjusted to life without outside assistance. When I come home from work, under no circumstances am I permitted to disturb him when sleeping. Allowances to snuggle are on a strict case-by-case basis but can be influenced by cheese. And I transform into a silent ninja on our daily walks, doing everything in my power to avoid any other form of life; humans, dogs, cats and even freaking squirrels.
What I wanted was a doggie do-over, what I got was a cranky old man.
I have given my situation a lot of reflection. I can’t be the only person who adopted the same bred of animal, expecting the same results, but were given a fast lesson about individual dog personalities. I have learned two things. First, try as you might, you can’t replace an animal. Second, for better or worse, Riley is my crazy baby who gets away with murder.
Subconsciously or not, in all my stories, a dog will creep into my heroine’s life and become a central character. Some are show dogs in matching glitter outfits, while others roll around in mud before stretching out on white living room carpet. All might be issues I’m working to resolve with Riley. Luckily my hobby for creative writing has become a form of cheap dog therapy.
Here at SJP we agreed to upload new author photos with our animals. So why is my photo of my childhood dog? See below for the answer, a non-cooperative doggie.
“The thing is,” the male deputy said, “this area looks like a town, but in reality you’re in the country.” He paused. “In the country, we shoot bad dogs.”
“But this is not a bad dog. It’s a very bad owner,” I protested. I had just told him and his partner of my morning trauma when a neighbor’s dog attacked Sammy and me.
“Unfortunately you can’t shoot the owner.” The female deputy offered a small smile.
It’s not the first time the big black dog has acted threatening toward us. His name is Bo and he defends his territory whenever we stroll by his yard on our morning walk.
Like most dogs do.
Like Sammy does from behind the fence whenever another dog comes close to our property line.
But that morning, Bo didn’t just growl and snarl, he attacked and had Sammy’s throat in his giant locked jaws.
Bo’s owner likes to keep him off-leash when she gardens in her front yard. She has never bothered to train him, so he ignores her shouts of “stay” and “come.” My best friend called the sheriff’s office earlier in the summer when she dog sat for me. Bo got too close and his owner didn’t listen to my friend’s repeated requests that she leash her dog.
Sammy’s no angel. He’s a rescue dog with hang-ups that includes chasing cars, picking fights with other dogs, and barking excessively at birds flying over our house. He’s strong and can drag me down the block when he chases after a dog or a squirrel. I control him by using a pinch collar.
I’ve asked Bo’s owner several times to use a leash on her dog. Each time she said that since Bo only has a problem with Sammy, the problem is mine, not hers.
Well, I made it her problem. After watching Sammy struggling for breath in Bo’s choke hold and earning several bites and scratches of my own when I fought him to release my dog, I had enough. I called the sheriff’s office.
And that’s why there was two very nice officers in my kitchen. The male deputy recommended carrying pepper spray. “It doesn’t actually hurt dogs,” he explained. “They don’t have tear ducts, so it doesn’t sting them. It just confuses their scent, and so they stop.”
I love dogs. My heart ached over the thought of pepper spraying a dog because its owner is irresponsible and won’t listen to reason.
I thanked the deputies as they leave and promised I’ll consider pepper spray. But I wasn’t. I’ve never been scared of dogs. I grew up with them. In our neighborhood there are several dogs running around loose and when I speak to them with authority, they back off.
The next morning, a yellow lab that I’ve never seen before surprised me when it rushed out from behind a building. It snarled and barked, getting closer and closer. My heart beat increased and blood pounded so loudly in my ears, I thought my head would explode. The dog slunk away after I yell, but I was too worked up, too afraid to continue the walk.
The second morning I didn’t take Sammy out. “I’m late for work,” I told myself.
The third morning my bruises were swirls of ugly yellow and purple. They covered my right thigh and I had a few on my left arm. That day I stopped by the store on the way home from work and bought pepper spray.
It’s been more than a week since Bo attacked. I haven’t seen him or his owner.
I walk Sammy every morning again. I take down his leash and watch his excited twirls and yips as he runs to the door. I tie the poop-bags on the handle of his retractable leash and then make sure the pepper spray is in my pocket. Maybe I’ll forget about it in a few months, but right now its weight pulls heavily on my clothing.
I miss the walks when I listened to music and strolled through the neighborhood with relaxed arms and legs. The walks worked wonders to loosen my stiff neck and hips, the banes of a writer who spend too many hours in her office chair.
Now I walk with my free hand close to the pepper spray pocket, shoulders high and tense. I’m constantly on the lookout for dogs that may attack because their humans don’t keep them behind fences or indoors.
Bad owners. Very bad owners. I wish I could spray them instead of the dogs.
I have a quiet one. My Bloodhound rarely barks. And her long, sorrowful bays only happen at night. Sleep baying. It wakes my husband and I up… but Frankie finishes each round, paws twitching, never opening her eyes. Not once. I can’t help but wonder which scent memories have been conjured up in her vivid dreams.
In spite of her quiet nature, she is still quite the talker and her powers of communication are a stunning display of hound-doggery.
Heavy sighs: Dinner’s late, she’s disgusted.
Throaty grunts: Hoping to score after-dinner treats, Frankie does a full-body fridge block and grunts when I ask her to move. My after-dinner workout includes pushing 85 pounds of hound dog out of the way and running the length of the house shaking a box of doggie treats.
High-pitched nose whistle: A supreme universal being has crossed her path… a cat! Both curious and fearful of felines, she lets me know one’s nearby and keeps a worshipful distance.
But for meaningful hound dog conversation, look to the paw.
The Power Paw. That left front foot tipped in purest white fur speaks a language that’s impossible to ignore. Whether she flings her empty ceramic bowl across the kitchen floor, scratches her snout before letting loose a mighty sneeze, thumps the edge of the bed letting us know she needs a middle-of-the-night pee, that left paw drives the message home.
Yet it’s the quietest moments when the paw speaks the loudest. In times of trouble or sorrow, like when I learned a dear friend had lost his battle with brain cancer, my Bloodhound reads my mood and senses my loss. Placing a paw on my leg, she comforts me. That’s the true power of the paw, friendship, and love. And sometimes that big pink tongue snakes out of her jowls and catches a tear or two.
This month, we’re celebrating Dog-tober. Us Janes are active, fun-loving, and have our noses in everything, so of course we’re dog people!
When I met my XY (it’ll be 20 years ago next year) he came pre-packaged with a dog. I admit, us two bitches got off to a slightly rocky start: she ate a pound — a whole pound! — of Fannie May fudge my mom had sent me and she ate six — SIX! — of a dozen donuts (she wasn’t a total glutton, but she DID eat the ones with chocolate, grr) I had hidden away, and she wasn’t even guilty about it.
Maybe it was our shared love of sweets, but it didn’t take long before it was us two against the boy. Girl power!
She was the first dog I was substantially responsible for, and when she died, she left a dog-sized hole in my heart. I knew we’d get another dog eventually. I mean, what do you even DO with yourself when you don’t have a dog? :( So when the time came, I found Monster Girl, who you met in our first Dog-tober post:
Yes, this is my little dingbat (half dingo, half vampire bat). She’s a dork, as you might have intuited from her photo, so we get along fantabulously. She, like her predecessor, is a well of energy, silliness, and good times.
And also life lessons.
What I’ve learned from my life of dogs
- Get up & go out
My dogs have always loved to sleep. They want their eight hours of beauty sleep, plus after-breakfast nap, midday nap, post-dinner nap, and evening nap. But they know the best naps come after hard work. Somebody has to keep those squirrels on the move! So whenever you find yourself cooped up too long at the computer, remember to get up and go, for a little while at least. THEN snuggles, lots of snuggles.
- Let it go
Mistakes and bad things happen. (Why can’t you ever vomit on the hardwoods, not the carpet?!) But brooding doesn’t make it better. So as much as you might resent baths, leashes, and mean cats that don’t want to be friends, take a moment to let your ears droop… then find a way to sneak out the back fence and run around like a loon.
- Eat ALL the snacks (metaphorically)
Hey, life is short in dog and people years. If you run around hard enough, you can eat all the snacks (carrot chips, peanut butter toast, blueberries, and anything that comes in a bag labeled for cats — mmm-mmm good) guilt free! But the treats can also be a romp on the beach, a cuddle on the couch, rolling in fresh-cut grass (and dead worms!), or whatever. Look for the simple pleasures that make you happy.
And don’t forget your microchip, so you can always find your way home!