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August 26, 2011

DogLandia in the suburbs

I am pretty sure it is a covenant in my neighborhood that you own a dog. At least one, and we still smile indulgently if you have three, even three big dogs, as many do. I meet a great many of these dogs on my morning walks through the clipped and landscaped parkways of Briargate, because I am walking my own dog, Jack.  There used to be two, but Sasha, the sixteen year old terrier, died a couple of years ago.


Now, Jack is a chow mix. A chow mix who was rescued from a highway at five weeks and brought to me by my sister in law who knew I was grieving my old dog, who'd been put down six weeks before. Now, if you know anything about dogs, you know chows don't have the best reputations, and deservedly so. They were raised to be protection dogs for the Chinese royal family (or so I hear) and so they are both utterly devoted and very protective of their beloved. They are also very pretty, furry dogs, which means people want to hug them. Also, if you know anything about dogs, you know there are important socialization things that happen to puppies with their mother and sibling-pack between the ages of 1-8 weeks. Jack lost three weeks of introduction to Dogness. So, I am not only the emperor, I am his mother, and he is not a dog. Exactly. Except when he is.

So, I have a gorgeous, fluffy, puppy-looking creature that all children want to hug, housing the neurotic, nervous heart of a terrified pup who was abandoned on a superhighway. Not always the best combination of qualities in the suburbs, where every expects all dogs to be big hearted, friendly golden retrievers. I can't calculate the number of times I've seen a joyful creature flying down the Photo(2) paths, ears sailing out behind, tongue lolling, and the owner, seeing my apprehension, calls out, "Oh, don't worry. She's friendly." The trouble is, Jack is pretty sure that dog is going to kill me, and it is his sworn duty to protect me at all costs. He and I stop, and he sits down at my side, very close to my calf, and looks up at the bag of chicken breasts in my hand. I call out, "Mine is not, really. Can you leash her, or something?" (I do not mean to sound like a cranky person, but there is a leash law in this parkway. Because, well, not all dogs are golden retrievers, any more than not every girl is going to be Snow White, with long shining locks and a smile for every creature in the Realm.)

Photo(3) I know all the dogs on this route after years of walking them. Every dog and every human, but mostly the dogs, and I know most of their names, unlike the humans. We all walk our dogs every morning, somewhere between 7:30 and 8:30, depending on the weather and how long it takes to get breakfast. Notable is Jack's nemesis, Tiger. He's a rotweiller-ish mix with a brindle coat and a long nose who has to wear a nose harness along with his other leash because he snarls at other dogs. His brother is a dachshund who seems a bit myopic and never seems to notice what's going on until Jack and Tiger start lunging at each other. Their mother is a hearty professional woman of some sort who also wears her Avon Walk t-shirt, both the white and the pink (which represents completion) for walks. We don't get time for long chats, but I ran into in the grocery store once, and we were both proud of that accomplishment, a marathon one day plus a half-marathon the next in the high mountains around Breckenridge (from whence I write this piece, by the way.)

There are others--a pair of ordinary black dogs, walked by a vigorous middle aged woman in great shape, who probably runs Pikes Peak or something; a couple of Corgis on their stumpy legs, walked by either an old woman or an old man, both humans very hearty and plump, who like to sing out hellos! in a somehow British fashion. Sometimes I see the Airedale and his dad, a military man, jogging through. Once Sasha, getting deaf and hostile, slipped her leash and attacked that good-natured Airedale for no reason at all. I had to lunge for Jack, eager to Protect, smashed my face on the way down and cut my lip, while the military guy fought off the crazy terrier with a stick he carries for that purpose. Sasha finally gave up, ran down the path to be captured by a couple of old women. The Airedale was bitten and bleeding, and I called out my name and phone number to the military guy. He waved and ran on. Two or three days later, walking Jack by himself since Sasha was healing and in time out for bad behavior, I ran into the military guy without the Airedale. I apologized profusely, explained about the deafness and that we'd never had this trouble, and could I pay for hte vet bills? He waved a hand. "Things happen," he said. "I was a medic in Afghanistan and patched her up myself. She's fine." Which might be weird in your neighborhood, but I live in a town with five military bases.

My favorite dog is a black Scottish terrier named Barney. His mother is a 70-something woman who Photo(4) wears the heavy black sunglasses that make me worry that she has macular degeneration. She walks Barney in a stroller, and not a cheap one, because he has something wrong with his legs that makes it hard for him to walk for very long at a time. Mainly, they walk so Barney's mom can talk to people, I think. I see her stopped talking to Tiger's mom (Tiger and Barney are fine) and the very lean 80-something who walks the route by himself every day. Barney took a disliking to Jack a long time ago, so we don't stop to talk, even though Jack is now a very mannerly soul who has even been known to sit down on his own when we see another dog coming. But one day, Barney exploded out of his fenced yard and went for a run. The parkway would be safe enough, but there is a very busy street bordering the subdivision. Jack and I had just crossed it toward home when we saw Barney barreling down the sidewalk, hell-bent for the street. Except that when he caught sight of Jack, he made a detour and headed straight for my dog, who outweighs him by at least fifty pounds, deterimined to kick some chow ass on his once chance. Jack heard the challenge and took the stance, ready to kill. I could see Barney's mom running after him, screaming, more afraid of the street than anything, and I had visions of poor old Barney being eviscerated by Jack, who would probably end up being imprisoned and put down as a dangerous dog, all right in front of our eyes. Blood, destruction, death! So, as the ragamuffin terrier attacked the chow, I screamed and stomped and yelled and maneuvered to keep him out of the street. At one point, the terrier bit Jack's paw, and he bit back and my heart exploded, because it looked bad right across the belly, but finally the little guy gave up and ran back toward his mother, who was sobbing by then. A burly park worker caught Barney and delivered him safely to his mother, who buried her face in his unrepentant fur, and carried him home. Now, every time I see her, she says, "I love you, Jack!" And if she is with another person, she says, "You see that dog? He saved my Barney's life! I love you, Jack." Jack likes it. He prances when she says that. Barney sits docilely in in his stroller when we pass. There is no more snarling. They have evened things out in their own dog way, which as nothing to do with ours, but it doesn't matter. In Doglandia, the humans and the dogs together make the whole. Do you have a dog park or dog world you regularly visit? Do you have a dog that would not qualify for Dog Citizen of the Year?


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My wife got Violet in the divorce, but I am permitted to visit with her from time to time, which is more difficult than it should be, given that I live half a block away and can talk to her (both of them) from my balcony when she is in the backyard.

Violet is a good-natured, curious, poorly-trained mostly-cocker spaniel, about seven years old. She loves to visit with me, as I am the poop person. When I show up, it is time to poop. This is as it has always been, and will always be. We generally go down to the river by the old mill/post office which by all rights would be on the closure list if it were not the post office used by the Governor and DuPonts, and she and I play on the rocks and she looks wistfully at the ducks and geese who will not come over, even though she says she will be friendly to them. And, she poops.

I have Ernie, a 7-year old golden retriever who's decided he's never going to grow up. Last summer I took him to the vet (one of his favorite things to do. Along with everything else) and he was all hopping and lunging and telling everyone hello (including the well-behaved dogs who sat nicely with their owners while he was wrenching my shoulder out of its socket). One nice woman asked very sweetly, "Is he a puppy?" When I said, "No. He's six." She got very quiet and then shook her head and said, "Oh my."

I marvel at the dogs who heel while on leash.

Barbara, love reading about Jack. He sounds like a fun companion. Especially now! All the Chows I've ever met seemed a little neurotic, so don't take Jack personally. It seems to be part of the breed.

My daughter has had the dogs in our family, since our yard--on a busy road--is too large and awkward to fence, even electrically. They have their second Bernese Mountain dog, who is still only seven months old, but enormous! She is close to 100 pounds already, and will probably top out at 130. Which is damned big. But she is super sweet, when she isn't crazy. On my recent visit Miss Thing decided that my entire goal in life was to play with her, and every single time I came out of my room (door kept closed to protect my sanity) she would jump on me, and try to get me to chase her.

My son-in-law recited the mantra about Berners: Three years a puppy, three years a good dog, three years an old dog. It's going to be a long three years, I suspect.

But oh, my, does she have the softest fur.

Josh, there's your problem with women, right there. Yes? LOL

We don't have dogs anymore. At the moment. I mean--well, it's nice to be able to pick up and travel without worrying about a kennel. All kennels started to have issues we didn't like, and the teenagers in the neighborhood have all grown up and gone to college! But there are days when I miss them. Thinking of talking a stroll past the shelter now....

I hear there's a great book out now about dog park people. Does anybody know the author or title?

I am on my last Bouvier, after living with the breed for almost 40 years. Big, tough, can outstubborn a dead mule, but also loving, protective and just fun to have around.

We have several county parks that have off-leash dog areas and we use them constantly. Currently Odie's best friend there is a Boston Terrier who isn't even as big as Odie's head.

Mostly, Bouviers are mild-mannered and polite (when trained, of course) but I've had 2 that don't fit that. Vickie was one that disliked anybody but family and, as she went blind from cataracts and lost her hearing, it got worse. Exacerbated by having been poisoned (and survived) by a local kid who didn't like her barking at him.

Then there was Elwood (of Jake and Elwood, the Bouv brothers) who was definitely dog aggressive and couldn't be trusted at the dog park unless it was VERY early in the morning and no other dogs were there. He loved people but except for his brother, no other dogs.

I live Paris downtown and it’s almost impossible to have a dog here. My daughters want to have one and decided that when they’re 13-15, they’ll move in a castle in the countryside and will have a Labrador. They’re already picking up the name for the future dog. My husband supports them in their project and I say to myself that I have three crazy persons at home.

I loved your story about walks with Jack!

I have brother and sister English Cocker Spaniels, Nat and Pyxi, who are 4 1/2. They are sweet, loving, beautiful, dogs with totally different personalities and nervous systems. Give Natty 10 seconds and he's convinced that you need to be loved on. If you have a treat in your hand, he will run through the repetoire of behaviors he knows even though you haven't asked -- Sit! Spin! Reverse Spin! Speak!

Pyxi has issues and does not easily take to strangers. She is prone to inflammation in her ears that affects her hearing off and on even with a regular treatment protocol. This messes with her ability to pinpoint the direction that sounds come from sometimes and makes her even more anxious and high strung. When people come over, the sudden onset of extra sound puts her completely on edge. She retreats to her crate and goes into resource-guarding mode -- rushing out to bark and nip at people to back them away.

Fortunately, all of my friends are either dog-people or professional dolphin/sea lion trainers. They know her issues, come in quietly and ignore the dogs until they settle. Recently, I've begun to give treats and positive reinforcement to Pyxi for not reacting and she's starting to make the association that people coming over means good things happen. Once we people have all settled on the porch, she gets braver and comes out. If she approaches someone for a sniff, she gets lots of calm praise and reinforcement.

Oh, she also hates it when anyone reaches for the top of her head. Dogs interpret that as a dominance, possibly harmful, move. If people approach when we're walking and ask if they can pet the dogs, I tell them to offer their hands but please don't reach for the top of her head.

I am amazed at the number of people who don't listen. A friend brought a new guy over once -- a charming, but loud man. He could not grasp the concept. Everytime Pyxi worked up her courage to approach him, he'd loudly say, "Ahh, see, now she comes!" and then try to plant his meaty hand on her little head. So, of course, she'd jump away and he's react loudly in disappointment. All her fears were thereby reinforced.

Her behavior around others can be challenging, but even so, she's a great dog and I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world.

Paulina, your girls sound like mine! So funny.

Judith, love the Bouv brothers!

Sorry about the typos and strange paragraph breaks! I'm in Breckenridge for some R &R & the IPad is a great device, but not for stuff like this.

Josh, aw, it's tough to share custody, but you sound like a good dog dad.

My partner has dog kennels, Nancy. Two full-care (dog day care, training, grooming, boarding, etc) facilities, his side job hahahah. But Jack can't go, because he's so afraid of other dogs . I have to hire a sitter.

Paulina, it does seem as if it would be difficult to have dogs in the city--but it also seems there are many, many devoted dog people in Paris! It's so charming.

Samantha Lily (aka Sammi, Fluffinator, etc) is a black lab/golden retriever. She's all black but with the golden's long, silky, shiny hair. Which also means we battle huge piles of dust doggies constantly. She's the most even tempered, cuddly, loving dog we've ever owned. She loves most people and dogs, but she loves to chase rabbits and squirrels out of our yard. She turned 10 in June. She was even able to make my brother's dog hating, yellow lab, Aspen, be her friend.

Aspen loved people, but absolutely would not tolerate any other dog coming anywhere near her people. Whenever my brother would come for a visit, she'd always try to attack Sammi and would go for her throat. All she'd end up with would me a mouth full of fur, which she'd choke on.

You can imagine our reservations, about my brother's request for us to keep his dogs (He had two at the time.) for three months after he moved to the Washington DC metro area. If my parents didn't live next door we'd never have been able to accede to his request.

My daughter, age 22 at the time, was asked to be the primary caretaker, dog walking, etc. It was on these walks that Aspen grew to at first tolerate and then be friends with Sammi. I guess the dog-whisperer was right about walking dogs on leashes together, making them feel as if they are in the same pack. By the middle of the second month Aspen had moved into our house and was able to mostly control her jealousy over attention paid to Sammi.

Over the next five years Aspen came for many long and short visits and was much beloved by our family. She still couldn't be trusted around any other dog. At home in DC she couldn't be off leash when outside, but here in our small country town she could roam off leash in our yards without fear of her attacking other dogs.

We were very fond of Aspen. This past winter and spring she started going down hill rapidly. Tumors multiplied at an alarming rate. Strange fevers and lack of appetite saw my brother at many emergency vet hospitals in the DC area. Finally when she stopped eating all-together, he brought her here with the intention of having her put to sleep the weekend before Easter. Once here she started to eat again and he canceled the appointment, but left her here. As soon as he left she stopped eating again. My sister-in-law, who'd been out of town when all this began, came to our house. The decision was made and my father and I took Aspen to the vet for the final time. She's buried in our back yard next to our other dogs.

Crossed, fingers, knock on wood, Sammi is still in excellent health. I don't really want to think about too much.

I share custody of Fez and Cairo (and the three children) and it works out really well. People do find it odd, though. They'll come visit and say, "where are the dogs?" and I tell them they're with my kids' dad, and they can't quite seem to grasp sharing a pet.

Fez and Cairo are both rescue dogs. Fez looks terrifying and is so sweet, he's never met a person he doesn't love (which doesn't stop him from barking at them). Cairo is smaller, cuter and overprotective, thus not to be trusted around other dogs (except Fez). Makes for interesting dog walks, just like yours, Barbara.

The saddest day of the last year was spent with my ex-husband, both of us holding our dog Jinn while she died. We rescued her when I was pregnant with our first child, 12 years ago, so Jinn was our first baby. Josh, it's hard. So much family history wrapped up in that bunch of fur on four legs. Hang in there.

We have 2 little dogs. Manny, a Havanese (super sweet and mellow) and Jimmy, a Yorkie (very needy and fiesty). Both dogs are just about 1 year old. Manny loves to go for walks and does great. Jimmy has a bum knee and gets carried in a doggie front pack. There are NO dog parks around our area. In fact, most parks have signs that read, NO DOGS ALLOWED!

After 14 years with our Sheltie, Louie, who was very well behaved, but extremely dog aggressive and people shy, these 2 are everyone's friend. Jimmy's best friend seems to be the pit bull in the yard behind us who loves to jump the fence to our yard. I keep trying to tell Jimmy that she is waaay to big to be his girlfriend. Jim weighs 5 pounds soaking wet.

It's very odd. I never was an animal lover before we got these 2. Now I wouldn't know what to do without them greeting me everyday after work.

Harley, I love the fact that the dog goes back and forth for visitation with the kids. Good for everyone!

We don't have a dog, but we'd like to! But we could never manage it. So we decided on an INVISIBLE dog. Wheatie the Wheaten terrier. SHe's quite lovely, and not too much trouble.

No dogs here, only cats, but yesterday on Facebook, Barbara Keiler posted this: During my jog this morning, I spotted one of the regular dog walkers walking alone, without his beautiful Irish setter. I asked where she was. "I had to put her down yesterday," he said, and burst into tears. I hugged him and we cried together. I don't even know his name, but I can share his grief.

Sorry about the paragraph breaks, Barbara. My best try was lousy.

I've always had boxers, and loved each one, but Seamus was unique. He came from Boxer Rescue, nothing but skin and bones and covered in scars (Boxer Rescue thought that he had been taken from a private owner and used as a bait dog in dog fights), and was thought to be unadoptable due to his age and health. I was at the absolute lowest point in my life - divorce, job loss, serious health issues, and flat broke. But from the moment I saw Seamus, struggling to stand up, I knew we were meant for each other.

For four years we were inseparable, but I had to watch him like a hawk around strangers and other dogs. Seamus had a "bite first, ask questions later" attitude toward any person or dog that might be a threat to me. We walked twice a day thru the local park, and several times came across dogs running loose. The dog - usually a happy-go-lucky lab - would come running towards us while its owner shouted "don't worry, he's friendly" and I'd be shouting back "he's not" and desperately trying to keep Seamus from attacking.

Once Seamus got to know you he was fine, but I was always first in his heart. When my back was out and I couldn't walk, a friend of mine would come over to walk Seamus - but it was always a struggle to get Seamus out the door and leave me behind. Once Seamus got to the park he was fine, but just as soon as the walk was finished and they had made the turn to come down the street to my house, Seamus would break into a run and drag my friend all the way home.

We were together almost four years when Seamus fell trying to jump on my bed and tore all the muscles in his leg and hip. The vet told me that they could operate but no guarantees, and that Seamus would be in a lot of pain afterwards and recovery was uncertain. Given his age, I made the hardest decision of my life and decided to let him go. I still miss him terribly, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that when my time on this earth is over, Seamus is going to be waiting for me on the other side.

Gonna try to resond...

My Bonnie was a rescue, whom I adopted when she was five. She had been abused and tortured, and then they wanted her destroyed. But the vet felt that she deserved a chance, and so she got me via my parents (their vet, not mine).

She was scared of children initially, but friends kids helped her with that. And was a little terror with other dogs, and loved to boss my parents dog around.

Two years ago, she developed some kind of liver disease, but after an ultra-sound found nothing, they felt it was better to let her live rather then explore. This year, her kidneys started failing, so she just went to the Rainbow Bridge on August 5th. Still depressed, and swear I see her around the corners...especially when the cat goes into crazy mode and runs as if she is being chased.

It will be a few years before I get another, as I feel the need to get my own place, closer to work, to allow more critter time.

Oh, and no dog parks near me, unless you consider the cow pastures?

A wise man once said: Dogs are the best people on earth.

I agree. My Marcie was a Boxer/Lab/Pit Bull mix and she was good, kind, loyal, loving and true, even if she peed herself whenever she got excited and threw up about once a week. I miss her.

Most of y'all probably saw this, but just in case:

I have a cat who walks with me, and follows commands mostly. We don't walk very far, just around the grounds where I live. She once met a dachshund and hissed at him because she was bigger than him. Well, he barked and she ran. Now she is way more careful to know where home is. I love dogs, and I loved your stories. So much joy and love, and tears.

Mary Stella, love that story. It's funny how much of society reinforces the terrors of dogs. The things we think we are supposed to do that totally freak them out.

Oh, Kate, what a story! We do rescue them and they rescue us in return. Rescue dogs are often SO grateful!

Hugs, Debby. The saddest thing is that they don't live as long as we do. Don't supposed you'd like a pair of cats? They bring love and keep each other company and don't need as much one-on-one as dogs.

Holly, no no...the breaks are my fault, not yours! I'm eccentric when it come to breaks. Love that story of Barbara (she is my good friend) and the dog walker.

I am also a cat person. Very, very much so. Lil, I'd love to take my Gabi for a walk. She'd be so amazed! Intrigued!

Hank, love the invisible pooch. (I'd really like to have a wheaten terrier for my next dog, BTW. But it will probably be a three-legged abandoned shepherd or some such).

Because of my daughter, against my will, we added a small auxiliary dog to out main big dumb dogly Bagel, and she is little and nervous and yappy and female and small and piddley and barky and neurotic and fidgety and. All the things I HATE in dogs. I like BIG DUMB male dogs with BIG FAT HEARTS and not enough brain waves to be THINKY or nuerotic.

She is everything I can't stand....

I am SO crazy in love with her.

Our Bucky is twelve now. It has been twelve years of protecting Bucky from the world and the world from Bucky. But now he is finally mellowing. I think it is because we lost our Ginger to cancer in June and after a few weeks of mourning he has taken up some of Ginger's tasks. Ginger, a shepherd lab mix, was a lover of all other animals but she felt obligated to take care of kittens. The only time she was ever agitated was when a kitten or cat was in some situation she couldn't fix, then she would whine and carry on until we figured out the problem and got the cat out of trouble. When she passed Bucky's heart was so broken I was afraid we'd lose him too. But then he found some kittens. The neighbor had a litter she let outside to play. His interest in life was renewed. We took two of the kittens in and Bucky thinks it is his responsibility to care for them as Ginger would. They maul him, they attack his tail, boot him off the couch, play with his feet, and generally push every button he has that should provoke a response and all he does is offer a doggy smile. And when they cuddle up to him, well, I can't describe it but those are the moments Bucky is at peace.

Hank, your imaginary dog "isn't too much trouble"? LOL

I guess it would be a problem, just to remember you have one, since they don't make any noise, rarely pester to be petted or walked, and I guess you'd notice not needing to buy any dog food.

Yep, Joshilyn, even the awful ones sometimes steal your heart. Although I don't think my mother is ever, ever, ever going to love Toby, my dad's shit-zu.

Oh, Ramona, what a story. The other night on the news, they had a rescue dog from Afghanistan whose handler had been killed in bomb blast.

Hooray for Ginger and kitten watch! So sweet.

Ohhh . . . Kendall . . . just Kendall . . . sanity in a golden fur coat. See him swim. http://reenharringtoncarter.blogspot.com/

I am a cat person. Until last year I had never walked a dog on a leash. A friend said come on, go with me to walk the dogs. Here take Buster's leash. I had never used a leash, let alone one of those retractable things. Th poor dog was like a yoyo! I can mark that off my bucket list. Oops, I guess it had to be on my bucket list in order to get marked off!

Your Jack sounds like my Sam, a Chinese Sharpei. Sure, he's cute with his wrinkles and fat muzzle, except he actually hates every Golden Retriever he meets and gets into fights with other dogs all the time. Very seldom can I have him off-leash. He loves his family, but is suspicious of everyone else.

Thanks for a great post!


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