My dog is a mess. He’s miserable, and so am I.
This is going to turn into a bit of a rant, and even though it’s not in the Christmas spirit, I’m ok with that. Because I’m entirely pissed off.
Mr. T is not an ‘easy’ dog. He does not fit into our family as snug as a bug. He needs to be managed. Knowing what I know now, he is not the dog I would have picked to be the second canine addition– even back then I had my doubts. I remember coming home from school and noticing this scraggily, scrappy pot-scrubber running around our fenced yard with our dog Kita, and asking Mom “Whose dog is that?” and feeling slightly apprehensive on hearing the reply, “Ours.”
But I love him anyways.
I’ve sat on this for a week and more, and my feelings haven’t changed, and my sense of well-being is still seriously disturbed. So, here goes.
I came home to Malaview pre-Christmas. I wasn’t feeling too Christmasy to begin with– December’s been one hell of a month, and setting eyes on my dog after more than 4 months away did nothing to improve my spirits.
Coming home is a constant dread, for this one reason. Is my dog alright? Is he happy? Healthy? Cared for? Loved?
Everyone else’s answers to these questions often differ from mine. Is he alright? Short answer: No. Is he happy? Well, Mr.T is happy 90% of the time, barring baths and vet visits, so, yes, but only because he is naturally a happy boy. Healthy? Well, he has a good diet, and isn’t overfed. But his coat’s a mess, his nails are overgrown, his ears could use some attention, his eyes are cloudy and gucky, and what little vision he may have is negated by his unkempt facial hair, his teeth –thank god– are pretty decent all things considered. He can hardly walk, he can barely see, everyone thinks he can’t hear, because he doesn’t listen to anyone –not that I blame him, and he is an exceptional canine actor. Cared for? Well, the sentiment of the household is “He’s not dead yet.” Loved? The jury’s out on that one. I think everyone would be happy to see him gone.
I would take him. I would take him in an instant. But my building doesn’t allow pets and with me being a student, well, I wouldn’t be home.
I spent the first few days in a pattern of avoidance. I am sorry to say that I hoped either it would turn out to be peachy and my family would have stepped up to become passable dog guardians or that it would simply all go away and I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I hate being the bad guy, especially in situations like these where it could have so easily been avoided.
So, finally, on December 22nd I steeled myself to tackle the nightmare. I’d bought some goodies for Mr. T, cut up some cheese, delayed his breakfast so I could hand-feed him a yummy (?) mix of quality kibble, cookies and tiny cheese cubes. I had a 2 day, 2 person plan: check him over, trim some of the most obvious bits, give him a bath, clean his face and feet and trim his nails.
I got as far as scratching him on the head, before I uttered the day’s first WTF, hugged him to my chest and started to cry.
I haven’t truly talked to my mother in about a week. She had offered to help me. I accepted, and then when I saw how far gone everything was, blew a gasket.
Me: I just don’t know what to say. It’s not that hard, even try brushing him once a week for starters. How could you let it get this bad!!!? How can you not care. Mats hurt, he can’t see, he’s got so much crap in his eyes and on his face! He is miserable! And so am I!!!
You expect him to take care of himself?! He can’t do it! He can’t brush his hair or his teeth, he can’t take a shower. How would you feel if you’d not brushed your hair or teeth or washed your face for 4 months!!!?
Mom: I know you’re upset, Sam but I’m doing the best that I can. You have to forgive me. It’s not the end of the world. Can you forgive me?
Mom, you have no idea how upset I really am. My blood is literally boiling. Hatred, fury, disgust, embarrassment. A broken heart. It may not literally be the end of the world, but Mr. T is the centre of my universe and he is a living, breathing, loving creature who deserves so much more out of life than just a bowl of kibble, a free for all at the local bike park, the occasional ball toss, and you people screaming at him when he does something wrong according to your messed up little rule book for which you’ve never bothered to teach him appropriate behaviours!
Doing the best that you can? Mom, I’m sorry, but your best is not good enough. Laissez-faire is not a concept that can be applied here.
I can’t look at any of you anymore. I can’t bear to look at Mr. T. I can’t handle it. Where is your pride? Where is your love? Where is your compassion? How can you have absolutely no desire to foster a relationship with another living being who would just love to play along with you, snuggle and romp in the back yard?
Everyone thinks this is a joke. They think I’m a joke. They think Twinkie is a joke.
It’s fine. To yell and scream at a dog. To break down that canine-human relationship, throw the training out the window, not to bother with a brush or leash or learning anything to better understand and communicate with this four-legged furry little man that shares your home.
Dog training is not a real job, you can’t make any money off of it. You spend your days covered in dirt, spit and hair, dealing with crazy dogs and even crazier owners. Who would want to do that?! I do. I really do.
And hey, sorry bro, but I’m more than a little jealous of you.
You’ve been riding since before you could walk. Now you are a professional downhill racer. A professional athlete. You’ve taken over the shop, the garage, half the shed, the entire kitchen. You have world-class equipment, support and facilities at your fingertips. We all support you. We all know the big names in the sport, we even read some of the same books and do the same workout routines.
The whole family is all in. Mom plans your flights, Dad rides with you at the park, people ask for your advice and expertise and actually do what you suggest.
If you have a pile of crusty, stinky laundry 3 feet high and leave the truck’s interior looking like the beach, nobody has a hissy fit. I’m not saying it hasn’t been hard work for you– I think you’re freaking amazing actually. But consider for just a moment…
I don’t have any space. Twinkie has no space. He has his kennel, which is maybe 6ft square, a few carpet samples and a barren back yard. We get screamed at if we leave a white hair on the carpet or a smudge of dirt on the back seat.
Remembering to get dog food or renew a license is treated as a huge inconvenience. My leashes and longlines get taken, used inappropriately and then left to the weather. Same with the toys.
Nobody has bothered to learn how to give a treat or a hello pat, or re-train a reliable recall, or even a “sit” or “go to bed”. I doubt anyone knows who Karen Pryor or Ian Dunbar are. I don’t have any support. I don’t have any facilities. I have to plan doggy visits for when everyone is out of the house for at least 2 hours so that I have time to clear a spot on the floor or counter for grooming or training and enough time to vacuum and air everything out, god forbid anyone should see or smell anything doggy! You live with a dog, for crying out loud.
And if you’d brush and bathe and teach that dog correctly, you probably wouldn’t have any unsightly or un-scently canine bits about the house…Toys and bowls can be washed regularly and even put in the dishwasher, but they aren’t because that’s too difficult, too disgusting. Coats and towels can go in the washing machine, but they never do. Dogs can be taught to accept grooming, to stay out of the kitchen, to come reliably when called. But you have to make an effort, make the time, make the plan….
For a family so concerned about cleanliness and healthfulness, it’s four-legged member is remarkably unclean and unhealthful. The canine-human relationship here is pretty much zilch. As is the level of responsibility.
Mom, Dad and Rube all think taking the dog for a walk equals going somewhere where you start out in the company of a dog. Leashes, poop bags and treats are optional, as is the dog. Forrest I don’t think ever walks anywhere, and he’s not the time for dogs anyways being always busy either sleeping, eating or biking — no joke.
Training: Mom, Dad and Rube are convinced louder is better and repetition of random words for which no canine meaning has been taught, is the way to go, or better yet mutilation of some formerly stellar cues…
“Get out of here!!! Out!! Out!” or “Come! Come, here!! Here!!!! Here!!!! Here!!! Come here!!!!!” or “No!!! No!!! Stop it!!! No!!!” or “Sit. Stay. No. Sit. Sit! Sit!! Stay! Argh!! Forget it.”
If you have questions, ask me! Give Andrea a call! Drop by the vet’s office. Find a groomer if you don’t want to touch the dog. You don’t want to keep the dog? Not what you signed up for? Well, then, let’s work together to find him a loving retirement home.
I’ve said all this before. I said it on the 22nd. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t watch this ending. I can’t believe I’ve failed so spectacularly at instilling some sense of responsibility and understanding in my family towards Mr. T.
Kita was different. She was “a real dog”. I worked with her every day for years. She was the size and breed, age and temperament that ended up gelling quite nicely with our family at the time, and after years of training and relationship building — I think all of us even once attended an Obedience class.
Well, here’s one. Kita was amazing. I love her still and miss her every day. The two of us worked incredibly hard together, we had a lot of help and support and we managed to fit into life pretty well.
But Twinkie is a different dog. He is a different size, breed, age and temperament than Kita-girl. He is still a real dog. He still deserves to be loved and cared for. He still needs help, and I am not going to be here to work for years to shape it all into a wonderful working partnership like the last one, though I know he has the potential. He is great, and he can be better.
If I could get the family to commit to just one set of lessons, to read just one book, to spend just 5 minutes a day with him in a controlled environment on something mutually understood and beneficial like practicing sit-stays or putting on and taking off the leash or just a cuddle with a few treats or a ball toss, everyone could stop looking and feeling like a hit-run victim and begin to build a relationship that actually works.
If you really care, can commit and will follow through, give me a call. I have lots of suggestions. It is not rocket science. Twinkie is a real dog. He is not stupid, or deaf. You can do better.
And no, Mom. I don’t have my period –I’m not pissed because I have my period and the hormones are raging– way to add fuel to the fire… Sometimes I get pissed just because I have a really good reason. It’s maybe not a side many people get to see too often, but it does happen. And I will not apologize for standing up for what I believe in, in the welfare of all beings, humane treatment and compassion.
I have so much more I’d love to say. So many more examples I’d like to give to support my argument for a better future. But I am still so angry, and embarrassed, and heartbroken. And I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to. So I’m walking away, now.
I hope to re-home some of my On Q articles here soon, to ease myself back into the dog-world I miss so much.