Terror In The Dog Park

The sun had set about an hour ago. It is almost dark and a fog is growing up. I just picked up my son from soccer and I am on my way to pick up my daughter from her circus training. We have a bit of time to kill so I decide to stop at a dog park on the way and play a little ball with Colt, my border collie. I don’t often frequent dog parks because incidents happen there too often for my liking. But I doubt anyone will be there this late. Sure enough as I pull up to the curb the park looks deserted. Not a soul around.

I hold the gate for Colt and Aidan and I chuck the ball. I lose sight of it quick. Colt rockets for a small patch of trees that look like grey shadows in the distance. And that’s when I hear it. A huffing sound and the soft thunder of paws hitting the dirt like horses galloping, but quieter. Aidan and I both freeze and squint our eyes trying to see what is making that sound. Colt has turned round and is flying back to us with a huge black shadow on his tail. Four times his size. As they get closer my heart sinks. I know what that is. It is this.

Ferocity A Tibetan Mastiff. A 160 lb. Tibetan Mastiff. His name is Shizi, Chinese for lion, which he resembles because of his large ruff like a lion’s mane. His owner had flown to Tibet to purchase him two years ago. He was bred for protection. These dogs can kill wolves and leopards.

When Colt was a puppy of about six months I brought him to this park on a more regular basis. I met Shizi a number of times. He was a year older than Colt and already huge. His owner would bring him into the park with a muzzle on him, walk him around on a leash for about ten minutes, unleash him and then about ten minutes later remove the muzzle. Many people were not good with this and would leave the park when they saw him come in. Others, like myself, rationalized away their discomfort. The man is socializing him and that’s a good thing, right? Not ever having seen a Tibetan Mastiff before I asked lots of questions of the owner. The last time I saw him, about six months ago he told me his neighbors on either side were not happy and threatening to call animal control since the dog would snarl and lunge if they got close to the property boundaries. He was also getting rough in his play with other dogs, throwing his weight around. Things weren’t looking good.  In fact, last time I had come to the park no one had seen Shizi in months.

Seems he was making night visits. About twenty yards in front of us Shizi hits Colt for the first time. Aidan and I both yell Colt’s name. He comes squirting out from under that snarling mass of hair and runs for us full bore. My son gasps. I say Aidan we are going to turn around and walk out of this park like nothing is wrong. We are about thirty yards from the gate. Colt will follow us. Breath normally. Don’t hold your breath and don’t cry. I am as terrified as he is.  I am terrified that my dog is about to be killed and I am terrified that if Aidan shows his fear the Mastiff will redirect his attacks to him. I know I can’t call Colt to me and pick him up. That he has a much better chance on his own. He is lightening fast and agile. The lion dog hits him again just as we turn around and take our first steps.

I can hear the owner now as he runs out of the trees, yelling Shizi, Shizi, come! But that dog doesn’t even cock an ear. He just slams into my pup again and again. His weight, though, is also working against him. As Colt scrambles from beneath him each time and takes off, it takes Shizi longer to regroup. Colt is also able to change directions on a dime and this gains him ground as well. I look at Aidan, who has tears streaming down his face now and quietly say we’re almost there. Colt is going to be okay. We are about five yards from the gate when Colt yelps. This is the first time he isn’t coming out from under. I call, Shizi, sharply. Then I think what have I done, as Shizi glances in our direction, lips curled, teeth bared. Aidan is visibly trembling. Colt uses this moment to free himself. I reach out for the gate. Go Aidan, Go. Colt, Colt! Colt flies through the gate and I spin myself onto the other side and slam it shut just as Shizi slams hard into it. As his owner reaches us, he says I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I can see he is. I say, me too. Because I can only think that Shizi’s days are numbered.

As we pull away from the curb, I roll down the windows so Aidan and Colt and I can breathe and I hear the man calling out of the darkness, Shizi, Shizi as the dog gets farther and farther away from him.

 

When a Tree Falls On The Sidewalk Can Any Doggie Play

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Shovelhead was a 145 lb. brindle mastiff pit bull cross. His neck circumference was 44 inches. Yep. 44. Brenda his owner is four feet eleven. His head came up to her armpit. People crossed the street on a regular basis when Brenda walked him. But “Shove” was actually a sucky baby in Cujo clothing. He was sweet and gentle and super playful. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing on this particular day.

Brenda was raised in a family of dog lovers so when her brother Scott found himself dog-less for a while, he borrowed Shove. Took him camping, on walks, to work. Shove rode in the back of Scott’s pickup and Scott could leave him there without worry if he had to make a stop. No one was ever going to steal Shove and Shove would never jump out. Ever. Until…

Scott is on his way to work one morning when he pulls into a service station.  He is gassing up when he notices a man in a green conifer tree costume on the corner, swaying in the breeze, drumming up business for the garden center down the street. What Scott doesn’t realize is that Shove notices him too. Scott enters the station to pay for his gas. As he hands over the money he glances out the window just as Shove vaults from the back of the truck and high tails it in the direction of the rubber tree/man. Oh my god.

Scott flees the station, runs after him, yelling. “Shove! Shove! No! Leave it!”

Through a hole cut high into the tree Scott can see terror grow the man’s eyes huge as he catches sight of Shove barreling towards him. The costume does not have holes for the fellow’s arms and it comes down just below his knees.  Scott yells at the man.

“Don’t run! Don’t run!” Yeah right. The man wheels awkwardly and tries very very hard to run, but with his arms pinned to his sides and his stride severely compromised, the best he can do is a quasi shuffle.  For about three strides. Then he falls. Flat on his face into the gravel. That’s when Shove leaps. And Scott groans.

The conifer tree/man is pinned under Shove’s front paws like a large rubber toy.  Long anticipatory ribbons of drool slide from Shove’s jowls. The man’s legs flail in the air. Scott calls Shove off and helps the man to his feet. The poor fellow is clearly in shock, but he also seems a little embarrassed, as he brushes a few grains of gravel from his cheek.

“I am a tree.” The man says. “I get why your dog did this.” And he beetles off down the street toward the garden center, the tree costume whipping back and forth like it’s being blown by gale force winds. Scott runs Shove back to the truck before the man has a chance to come to his senses and complain or worse.

Do you think animal control would buy the fact that playful sweet Shove simply couldn’t resist a Shove sized squeaky toy?

Beloveds

photo 2_FotorThis is the bulletin board at the entrance to the trail system where I often walk my collies and  no, that’s not a lost dog sign. I wish it was.

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Brina was my favorite “other person’s dog”. No offence everyone else. You know I love your dogs, but Brina was like a miniature Piper dog. Piper was my dog before collies and she was practically perfect in every way. Brina looked like Piper fresh out of the dryer. She had Piper’s, feel too. A gentle, playful dog: born to love.

I received an email from Kathleen, Brina’s owner, a few days prior to the poster going up.  It said much the same thing.  A  few days before that email, Kathleen called to tell me Brina had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of the throat. It was growing fast. All the dogs on the trail system had been cycling through an odd flu for the past few weeks. Kathleen thought Brina had it too when she got sick. But when Brina didn’t seem to be getting better like the others she took her to the vet.

Kathleen called a couple days after that to ask me if I want to walk my pups with her and Bree. She’s waiting for biopsy results, she tells me.  Oh crap! This may be Brina’s last walk with us she says.  I’m gutted. I’m already on the trails. Meet you by the train tracks in twenty minutes, I say.

Brina is weak and slow. Not carrying her bright orange ball that she always has in her mouth. Her neck hurts. Not greeting me like I am her favorite “other person” in the world. Backing off a little when Colt or Bea come in fast after a stick. Usually she is right in there. Kathleen says if the test confirms the doctor’s diagnosis she is not going to wait until Brina is in dire straights. She doesn’t want her to suffer any more than she already is.  Brina is almost eleven and this event has necessitated  a healthy dose of pain meds already.  Two days later she is gone.

I don’t see the notice on the board when I enter the park. Rufus and Surrey’s owner tell me about it. A small group of us are at the foot of Benny’s Hill, named for Benny the regal ridgeback who when standing at the top of the hill looking out over the golden tall grassed field looks like he is overseeing his savanna. The group fell quiet.  Damn, someone said. She was a very cool little dog said someone else. Kathleen must be so very sad.

All of us have been there. Most of us a few times and will be a few more. It sat heavy upon us. Shall we walk, suggested someone. And we did. We walked on through the trails, sharing our memories of Kathleen’s beloved Brina.

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Monkey Dog

“I have a new dog.” It was my friend Colleen calling me.

“You what?!”  She already has three dogs. In the twenty-two years I’ve known Colleen she has always had at a least two dogs. Since she moved up country and onto two and a half acres it’s been three, sometimes four.

“Does George know?” George is her husband: a dog lover, but not always instantly joyous about the number of rescues.

“He does now. I brought Monkey home today.”

“Monkey?” I think not the nicest name for a dog.

“He’s a little monkey.”

“I see.” But I don’t.  It seems insulting somehow.

She sends me a picture.

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Oh my goodness, he looks like a little monkey. Nope, not a good name. Calls attention to the fact.

I meet him a few weeks later. He adores Colleen, that is clear and he is so calm, not at all what I expected from a Chihuahua X Boston Terrier. He is very, I don’t know. I can’t quite put my finger on it. If he were human I would say self realized. I like him instantly. A lot.

“He does this cool thing,” Colleen says. “ If I get a headache or feel sick he will lie beside the part of my body that hurts and I feel better. I think he’s a therapy dog.”

Six months later, Monkey is certified through the Saint John Dog Therapy program.  He passes with ease.

Their first foray into the field is a senior’s center.  An Alzheimer’s Senior Center. Enter a small black/brown dog that resembles a monkey. Called Monkey. You know where this is going. What’s his name? Monkey. I thought he was a dog.  He is, his name is Monkey. Yes, I can see he’s a Monkey. No, he’s a dog. What’s his name?

To confuse the issue further, nurses write on the social board “Monkey Visit Today”. Sometimes whole families show up. Fortunately once the daily confusion is sorted out, Monkey is appreciated and fawned over. He is a bundle of good life energy bounding from room to room.

Colleen loves the work and so does Monkey so she has him certified to work with kids. They participate in the Tails Reading Program, where dogs sit with children who have difficulties learning to read. Monkey, again, is stellar at his job. One little boy, very ADHD finds it impossible to sit for even brief periods of time. Monkey curls up beside him in a bean- bag chair, but Colleen can see the child isn’t really engaged with the dog. She watches with awe as Monkey crawls carefully up around the child’s neck and lays his paws on each of the child’s shoulders. Then he climbs down beside him again and stares at him. The little boy reads a whole book to him. The boy’s mother is flabbergasted, delighted. Hopeful.

Monkey is thriving. Colleen takes him to agility to balance the emotional work. Then she gets wind of a new program starting up at The University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, the Bark Program. Students experiencing homesickness, exam stress, depression, etc., hang out with dogs. Many of them have left beloved family pets at home. A  success, they are in their second year and the program now includes staff and faculty playing or snuggling with the dogs.

On the phone again with Colleen talking about Monkey and how he attunes himself to the very different needs of three populations it occurs to me she should have called him Yoda.

“His name is Monk, Crystal.”

I see what she did there.

LINKS:

St. John’s Ambulance Dog Certification: http://www.sja.ca/English/Community-Services/Pages/Therapy%20Dog%20Services/Become-A-Therapy-Dog-Volunteer.aspx

UBC Barks Program: http://education.ok.ubc.ca/programs/bark.html

Tails Reading Program: http://www.kelownanow.com/news/news/Local_News/13/06/28/Kids_Books_and_Dogs_What_a_Great_Combination

An Indelicate Solution

I am sitting at my desk working when I smell burning rubber tires. I get up to close the window when I hear the backyard gate click shut and then the dogs’ feet on the deck stairs and I get an extra strong waft of marijuana mixed with burning tires. Wait a minute. Oh no! That’s when my phone rings. My husband, who had the dogs on the trails, and is driving around to the front, warns me not to let them in. They’ve been skunked! You don’t say.

In all my life owning dogs that invariably rolled in all manner of malodourous substances I have never experienced this level of olfactory trauma. I also have no idea what do to about it. I think pet store first, they’ll have something, but it’s after nine and they’re all closed. My husband reports his family used tomato juice on one of their dogs. I should use that. I should? Wait a minute; they got skunked on your watch mister. Yeah, I just walked them for an hour, my clothes reek, as does your car, I might add, and I have to be in a van tomorrow with four guys scouting locations. I can’t smell like skunk.  Oh, and I have a budget to do. See ya and he ducks into his office. Bastard.

So, tomato juice. How much, I shout through the door. He doesn’t know. I consult the Google God. It seems tomato juice does not work as well as urban myth would have you believe. The number one suggestion is hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap. Except that the solution is somewhat caustic and can’t be applied near eyes. Colt has been sprayed directly in the face. Bea only has a little on her right shoulder. Hm…what else? What else? I scroll. No way. I must be reading that wrong. The second most recommended home remedy is douche?! Yep. A feminine hygiene product. You simply bathe your dog using douche as you would soap. Okay weird, but something has to be done, so I run off to the twenty-four hour pharmacy where I awkwardly purchase six packages of scented massingill.  Country Flowers. I feel obligated to explain that the douche is not for me. My dog has been skunked. Is that right, says the pharmacist. I scurry  from the store.

I am happy to report that douche does indeed deliver. However six packages is not enough to scour a direct hit out of a forty-five pound collie. I had no idea how small the plastic vials inside the box were. I figure I need about six to eight more packages, but, but, oh man, I really don’t want to face that pharmacist again. Besides I have a very unimpressed Colt dog still in the tub and my clothing is drenched. Hey, I yell to my husband, who I have not seen hide nor hair of since he disappeared into his office. You’re going to have to go to the pharmacy! Okay he says, no problem. I can do that. How many cans of tomato juice am I getting? For the first time since the skunk invasion I smile.

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Nicole and Gromit

We are hiding in the alcove of a childrens’ hospital room on a cancer ward with a puppy zipped into a gym bag waiting for the nurse to do what nurses do before they get the heck out of the room!

The child in the room is Nicole. She is my daughter’s best friend. She is fourteen and was diagnosed with a rare cancer six months prior. Nicole has always wanted a dog. So during a challenging bout of treatment she pulled the cancer card as she put it and asked for one.  After all, studies indicate that dogs often lower stress levels and reduce depression and anxiety in people with chronic illness. Thus began the search for a young medium-sized rescue dog with a cuddly personality that already had the basics.

Nicole is in the hospital when I find Happy; a well loved six-month-old Bichon Frise. Her family spring her for the day to check him out. Upon meeting, Happy sniffs Nicole all over, licks her face a million times, then plops down in her lap. He is a lot of exuberance packed into a little white curly haired being.  Nicole is amused by him. Yes, he is just right, but the family is hesitant. He is the first dog they have actually interviewed. They tell Nicole they should all take the night to sleep on it and drive her back to the hospital.

They last two hours and decide to surprise her. Nicole’s Dad has a plan.  He pulls into the underground so that we can take the elevator directly to Nicole’s floor.  He zips Happy into the aforementioned gym bag and tells him to be very quiet. We are all giggling with nerves. My daughter and Nicole’s sister scout slightly ahead of us. Nicole’s mother and I walk either side of Nicole’s Dad. Happy is mercifully quiet in the elevator. When the door opens to the cancer ward we all look at one another. There are a lot of nurses at the nurse’s station directly across from Nicole’s room. We form a scrum around Dad and we walk in sync trying to look all nonchalant past the station. Yes! As we enter the alcove into Nicole’s room there’s that nurse. Damn! Dad darts into the washroom off the alcove. We guard the door praying the pup doesn’t bark, while we wait for the nurse to finish up. It takes hours, okay ten minutes.

As she leaves we whip the door closed behind her and Dad places the gym bag on Nicole’s bed.

“We brought you some things from home.” He says.

Nicole seems puzzled. Odd that we are all there, but she unzips the bag and then startles when out pops Happy’s head. He is all smiles and so is she.

“What? Is he ours? Mine?” Nicole asks as Happy scrambles out of the bag and into her lap once again.

“He is.” Says Dad and Mom.

“Oh wow. I am leaving here tomorrow whether the doctor says I can or not.”

Thankfully, he says she can.

Nicole renamed Happy, Gromit after “Wallace and Gromit” and though he was her companion, he brought a great deal of happiness to the entire family during a difficult time. I must tell you that Nicole and Gromit’s relationship ended where it began. Gromit was a regular visitor during Nicole’s hospice stay three years later. He was lying on her bed, her hand on his head just hours before she left us.

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