Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Right Thing

Hero's Pets has been to Duncan what I imagine Santa's workshop at the North Pole would be to children. It is a place where he is greeted by a chorus of cheers and whistles from all the good people who work there. They love him as much as he loves being among them and when they see him he is rewarded with more treats than any belly should be able to hold, and pats and scritches and a reprieve from following the rules he has at home, like jumping up on counters and sniffing out goodies or barking so loud the windows rattle. For the most part I have allowed it, pleased that he has found a place he loves so much and where his love is returned so generously and whole-heartedly.

Two night ago, though, things got a little out of control. I took him in to pick up a treat (a nice ostrich tendon, which he loves more than bully sticks and pumpkin crunchers) and Rhetta––his favorite person there, who lives with five Goldens of her own, is a trainer and a behaviorist––decided she wanted to trim up his feet, tail and ears. She's an amazing person with an enormous heart, kind and generous and a fanatic when it comes to Goldens. She squeals at Dunc each time we enter, tosses him handfuls of treats, and loves on him like no one else, not even his grandma. And after a lengthy and restless trimming, which didn't contain nearly as many rewards as Dunc preferred, Rhetta gave him some goodies, which he readily snapped up. Unfortunately he also accidentally snapped up a portion of her finger. Rhetta squealed and jerked back, Duncan recoiled and cowered and I was mortified to witness the blood begin to ooze up from the finger where his teeth had found a nice, juicy spot. It wasn't a deep puncture but the blood kept coming and coming and I was embarrassed. Duncan has never bitten anyone, has certainly never drawn blood, and has always been the kind of dog I trust with the smallest of children and the newest of strangers. He is not a biter.

Rhetta was very kind and understanding and insisted that the fault was hers, that he was excited after a long period of doing something he didn't particularly enjoy, and that she simply hadn't pulled her finger away fast enough. I apologized more times than I could count but Rhetta insisted everything was fine. Roo and I left, humbled and quiet, my head hung low, his tail between his legs.

So tonight when I had to go pick up an order I'd placed I took Duncan but insisted that things were going to be different. I kept him on his leash, which I rarely do there, and told everyone that he was not allowed any treats. It was not that he was being punished for biting our friend, it was that I wanted him to learn some restraint when we visited Hero's. No one seemed happy about my decision, especially Rhetta, who asked me several times if I was sure I didn't want her to give him a treat. Duncan sat at my feet looking up at me expectantly, his eyes wide and puppy-ish, his tail occasionally swishing hopefully back and forth, but I did not relent. We left and as soon as I pulled out of the parking lot I felt like the worst papa in the world. Duncan was quiet on the ride home, quiet as we climbed the stairs, and went straight to his room (the canvas kennel in the corner next to our bed) where he could sulk in solitude (he takes after me in this regard).

I felt awful because I have spent so much time learning how to live in the moment, from the greatest teacher of them all, my best friend Duncan. He knows Hero's as a place of tremendous joy and excitement where he is treated, well... like a hero. And tonight I robbed him of that feeling. So I called the store and asked Rhetta if I'd done the right thing in trying to teach him restraint.

"Hon," she said. "Duncan loves coming here and it's okay if he has a place where he can break the rules every now and then. That's what makes it so magical for him. This is a place of profound joy. Why would you want to corral his joy? He lives in the moment. Let him have his moment."

And so I did what needed to be done. We hadn't been home five minutes before I put his leash back on him, loaded him into the car and raced back to the store before they closed. As soon as I opened the door Rhetta greeted us, squealed loudly at Duncan and set his tail to swinging and his feet to dancing. She threw her arms around me and said, "I was hoping you'd come back. I'm so proud of you. You did the right thing!" And then she lavished so much love and affection on Roo that the building practically shook with their joy. They danced and barked, ran back and forth while Rhetta tossed treats at him, opened up a bag of frozen raw meat and gave a big chunk to him, slipped him an enormous oatmeal cookie and even treated him to a big, juicy buffalo bone with blood and squishy bits insides. She loves him and he loves her and I love their love for each other.

And tonight, with Duncan nibbling on his buffalo bone at my feet, his tail wagging happily, a smile on his face, I know I did the right thing. I will never corral his joy again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Found Head

Duncan found the duck head on Thursday.

It was laying in a gravelly, oil-slicked puddle in the parking lot on the far side of the complex, forgotten but impossible to overlook. It was swollen with winter water, grey and sandy, its color somewhere between green and asphalt, and its eyes were gone, as though they'd never been there in the first place, and the beak tightly shut like the thing was trying to hold its breath.

We've been working (and working and working) on Duncan not eating things he finds on the grounds. A neighbor has been known to throw entire pans of lasagna outside for the vermin, pizzas, too, and once I found half a bag of raisin English muffins. As soon as I figured out who it was I politely asked them to stop as we don't want foxes and coyotes coming onto the property, and I especially didn't want any of the dogs eating the raisins. I have tried numerous tactics with Duncan to stop him from downing whatever he finds, but some days are better than others. On this particular day, The Day of the Head, I spotted it before he did and tried to steer him around the puddle where it lolled, wishing it had eyes to stare at the blue sky. If I hadn't been so vigilant he would've had it in his mouth faster than the bunnies he chases can duck for cover.

But Dunc wouldn't have it. He pulled and pulled (another thing we've been working on, although I fear the root of the problem may be his father, who lets him get away with that kind of behavior on their walks) and I finally relented enough to let him lean in and investigate. He inched his nose as close I would allow, then leaned even further, pulling his entire weight against the leash until his front legs were no longer touching the ground. I jerked him away but he looked up at me with those big, brown doleful eyes and I knew there was nothing more he wanted than to bring the head home to play with while I was busy working.

Needless to say it didn't happen.

The next morning the head was still there, although the water had evaporated, leaving only the finest crust of ice around it, a white ring of crystals and sand, a sad little grave even for a head missing a body. Again Duncan looked up at me, pleading with raised eyebrows and the saddest look a Golden can muster. He wanted it. Wanted it bad. And me, being the softy I am, agreed. I picked it up quickly, without looking, and stuffed it into my pocket.

And now, washed and sanitized, Duncan has made it his new favorite toy. It hasn't been out of his sight for more than a few minutes a day, and when he sleeps at night he keeps it tucked under his paws, nestled down against his big fluffy pillow and the blanket my mother knitted for him three years ago.

It is cute. Maybe even more so because it lacks a body.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bath Day

The plan was to give Duncan a bath.

What I didn't count on was Duncan deciding I needed one as well.