Ode To A Fifth Hand Dog
I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything today, and my sister suggested that this might help. So I’m taking a mental health day here, and I’m going to use it to tell you about a very special guy.
He was born a purebred collie in a breeder’s establishment. He received some obedience training, but he didn’t conform to the physical standards they sought in a show dog. So even though he was a very good dog, they packed him off to an animal shelter.
The elderly lady who adopted him loved collies. She brought him to what would be his third home. She fed him people food and love. But the lady wasn’t up to walking him so the only outdoor world he knew was her fenced back yard. Even so, he would have been happy to stay there forever, but the lady was old and she passed away. And although her relations knew and loved him, no one had room to house such a large dog. So he was left all alone in his third home for a week. People came in and fed him, but then left him by himself again.
Then my sister agreed to take him. Since she worked from home and had space, she would always be with him so he wouldn’t be lonely anymore. He rediscovered the joys of walks, which he hadn’t had since being a puppy. It was a good fourth home and he was happy. But his world changed again when she moved house to go back to school. Suddenly he was left alone all day long in a new place. He barked and cried at the door all day when she was gone. So the landlord gave her an ultimatum: the dog goes or she would have to move.
So she brought him to our house for the weekend of my son’s tenth birthday. Since this nearly hundred pound dog had no experience with children, we didn’t allow him to join in the birthday party games. He fell madly in love with my sister-in-law’s dog who was also there for the party. He was friendly and happy and pretty well behaved. We had no intention of getting a dog who outweighed our boy, but we agreed to try to find him a home. And really, what it came down to, we didn’t pick out a dog, the dog picked us.
We started to advertise, but my husband really wanted a dog. His only childhood pet had been a guinea pig. I would have preferred a puppy who could grow up with our son. And besides, I was a mutt person. There are far too many health problems with purebreds.
But our son had started life in a home with four feline “siblings”. And now we were down to one. Our son did not want a dog at all. He had loved his aunt’s previous dog, but he didn’t want to fall in love with this dog and then lose it too.
The other problem was that we had lots of squirrels and birds visiting our yard. Our cat was too old and slow to be a menace to them, and he worried that if we kept this collie he might eat these little woodland critters. But Dad really wanted a dog.
Really really really.
And as a mother, I worried about how our son would have to cope with the loss of our remaining cat. Having a dog to cuddle would help him get through that when the time came. So after we solemnly vowed that we would never allow this dog to eat any of our wild friends, finally our son agreed to have a dog. So Cody joined our family.
Cody wanted to be a member of our pack. From the very first he wanted to fit in and do whatever it took to make us happy. On that first weekend he tried once to go upstairs, but he encountered our little old cat coming down the stairs. She hissed imperiously at him and he backed away. He was told, and he was smart so he listened. He never went upstairs. (Quite an amazing amount of his fur managed to find its way upstairs over the years.)
He always loved cats and so wanted to be friends with them, but the feeling was never mutual – they always hated him. From a cat’s perspective he was a monster. The sister we got him from had cats who ensured that he knew his place. So he was always respectful towards cats, and was clever enough to stay out of claw range. But he was always sad that cats rebuffed him. When he became part of our family he met my parents’ cat and over time was accepted by him.
I grew up with a german shepherd/border collie cross who was marvelous. He formed my ideal of doggie pulchritude. Personally, I am not a big collie fan because I find their noses too long and pointy. But this dog was beautiful. His nose was much shorter and rounder– more like my childhood dog (which was quite probably why the breeder flunked him). The vet told us that this was a good thing for him health wise. Quite often purebred collies have vision problems because of the signature long pointy nose thing. (And people have done this to dogs on purpose!) He was quite long and broad as well. He’d stand up in two parts like an articulated bus: first the front would stand up, and then the message finally hits the hindquarters and they would get up too. He was always a tad overweight, and flatfooted. We were cautioned to try to keep him from jumping too much.
Cody was a full grown dog in his prime, and he had no experience with kids. He’d done some playful no-hold-barred wrestling with my sister’s adult male friends, and we really didn’t want that happening with children. The only toy he ever enjoyed playing with was his rope. Tug of war with plenty of snarling and growling. A bit intimidating, especially for children.
So we embarked on some obedience training where we learned some valuable lessons. The humans must be the alpha dogs, so that we can keep our pet under control. The alpha dogs eat in a different place. No dogs allowed underfoot when humans are eating. The dog eating place should be separate. The dog sleeping place should be also be separate. So our geriatric cat’s decision to keep the interloper dog downstairs (so she could have a dog free zone) was a good thing for the obedience training.
Probably the biggest thing is that the dog does not get to do is make decisions. He must always defer to the people (we are the top dogs). This is really important because if the dog is allowed to make decisions, he is then within his rights to decide who to bite. And that is a definite no no. So dogs should never be allowed to win tug-of-war. Cheat if necessary, but the winner is the alpha, so the humans have to win.
This also translates into not letting dogs go through the door ahead of you, not allowing him to choose which direction to go, and not letting him bark whenever he wants to. After the training sinks in, you may relax some of these things, but if unsuitable behavior happens you have to get firm again. So although all of that was valuable, we had a major philosophical disagreement with the trainer. She told us that our son would not be able to control the dog until he got bigger because the dog was too big. Our thinking was that if it was just down to brute force, we wouldn’t have bothered to go for obedience training. My husband and I could control the dog by using our weight against him. The whole reason we were there was so that our son would be able to keep control of the family dog. So although we stopped going for training, our son learned the lessons the best of all (and in fact took great delight in correcting his parents when we did things incorrectly). He was handily controlling his dog (funny how quickly that happened) long before he outweighed him.
So Cody was our fifth hand dog. One of the sad things about adopting a “used” pet is that they come stuck with somebody else’s idea of a name. So although I called him Cody because it was the name he knew to be his own, it was a name he’d been given by total strangers, so I more often called him by my own pet name: Fuzz.
Collies have a lot of fuzz. His outer coat was long silky fur, (perfect for sweeping up all the debris on the forest floor) with an undercoat of thick and dense fuzz (perfect for sticking all that wonderful forest debris to so that you can bring it home). He was not a water dog. He could live with getting his feet wet, but he hated going out in the rain. He hated getting wet. Even if he needed to go out pretty badly, if it was raining hard he’d try to hold it until the rain stopped. But if it started drizzling on a walk, it could be an awfully long time before he would even notice because he had so much fur. It took a long time for water to penetrate all the way through to his skin when giving him a bath. And if there was a burr within twenty miles, it would find his fuzz to stick to.
He must have been severely paper trained. He never had an accident in the house except when seriously ill, and he never wanted to do his business in our yard. He’d always hold out until we were at least a block away. I think that was partly due to natural doggie territorial urges, but I think he wanted to make sure that he would continue to get taken for walks and never have his world reduced down to a mere back yard again.
Another sad thing I learned about our fuzzy puppy was that he was afraid of small white dogs. I first noticed this when we were walking home from school, and he started going slower and slower… down to a crawl. A cute little fluffy dog ahead. (One of the nicest most well socialized dogs I’ve ever met). But our Fuzz didn’t want to get anywhere near that guy. He was scared stiff.
When my childhood dog first met our neighbor’s barn cats they viciously attacked him, even though he was much bigger and could have eaten them easily. But at the time he was a puppy and they were adults. (He continued to hate cats his whole life. When he was grown they certainly had to run for it when he saw them.)
So our best guess is that Cody was probably tormented by a small dog or dogs, most probably when he was a puppy in the shelter. So we worked hard socializing Cody with other dogs. If he was standing, especially if it was a smaller dog, which was almost always the case, he would make friendly overtures but at the same time use his hindquarters to kind of quietly body check the smaller dog to prove that he was the boss. My favorite technique was getting him to sit and allowing the other dog to come to him. He would be fine then. It was necessary to be extremely vigilant in the beginning, but for the most part Cody wanted to be sociable, and to have doggie friends.
He became best friends with a miniature schnauzer down the street. When they first met the schnauzer was a puppy and they would romp together every time they’d pass our house or we’d pass theirs. What was funny was that when the puppy grew up it was Cody who wanted to keep playing, creaky old guy that he was, but now his much younger buddy just wanted a quick sniff and to be off again.
And girlfriends! He loved girl doggies and mostly they loved him back. His most enduring romance was with his “cousin” Pif. He would run and play and generally bend to her will in all things. The first time he woke up lame was after a family visit, and I took him to the vet but he had simply over exerted himself trying to impress Miss Pif by being Joe Studly.
But if another dog was agressive, he was ready to give it right back. Two little dogs down the street always barked furiously at him. So he’d bark back. Once when we hadn’t made sure the screen door was secure, he nudged it open and ran out to chase those two little dogs. They were being walked by their owner (fortunately a very nice lady indeed) and of course Cody really had no idea what to do with them other than chasing them around. So they ran around and around winding their mistress up like a maypole before I got there to drag the miscreant back home. But he didn’t hurt them at all. He just had to show them that he was tougher than they were. Nya nya.
We always tried to bring him with us whenever we went anywhere. After all, isn’t that the point of having a dog? Yet there were times he couldn’t come with us. Because of his multiple owners in his early years, I think it took most of the time we had him before he trusted that we would really always come back for him. And that he was really a full fledged member of our pack.
Because he is such a big dog, he had a big bark, so I spent a lot of time training him not to bark all the time. But there were times when he insisted on barking. If you sing happy birthday (or anything else) its barking time. Cheering and applauding at a soccer game. Bark! Bark! Bark! Given his way he would have barked his way through the entire game, but we worked hard to limit it to a bark or two at appropriate times. After all, it wouldn’t have been fair to let him frighten the other players.
He payed absolutely no heed to the television, except once or twice when a particularly compelling dog voice got his attention. Until our son took up the saxophone. Suddenly, this was music to hum along with. Humming and howling. After that, any time even the barest note or two of sax music popped up in a movie score and doggie humming would ensue.
Cody loved going for rides in the car. Once when my husband was walking him he saw a parked car with its lights on. He opened the unlocked door to turn the lights off and our Fuzz launched himself into the car. Of course it was very different configuration than our mini van and Cody tangled on the seatbelt and tripped into the seat and my husband. But darn it he wasn’t about to miss out on a potential car ride.
And he adored camping. Hiking, meeting new dogs, interesting sounds and smells, sleeping in a tent with his very own pack! What could be better. Of course when camping with your dog it becomes a challenge being able to go out for dinner. We really liked camping at Cypress Lake Park and if we wanted a meal out the Leeside had a lovely patio we could even bring the Fuzz to.
Really, that’s probably the main thing that made camping so important to him. He wanted to be with us always, and with camping, we were never out of his sight.
At home, people would go off to work, or school or shopping. Even when we were all at home I think his biggest challenge was trying to figure out where to lay so he could make sure he knew about it if one of us slipped away. All the exits had to be in sight before he could get in a peaceful doggie snooze. So naturally he would unerringly sleep in the center of a path. You have to realize that he was a very big dog. So you could step over him, but it was a very big step. And heaven forbid: if he decided that you might step on him when you were making that giant step over him, he might decided to stand up and get out of the way…. lets just say it wasn’t pretty.
So he was trained to vacate at the command “excuse me”. This command was ennacted simply by carrying the laundry basket down the stairs toward him. Since I couldn’t see him over the laundry there were a few stepping-on incidents. So I said “excuse me” and he’d get clear. Even if I forgot to say excuse me coming down, the creaking wicker of the basket was usually enough incentive for him to relocate. He was really smart. If it was in his own best interest and you communicated it to him, he’d learn it right off.
He loved pleasing us. He wanted to do things that would make use of his abilities. He liked to learn tricks. He didn’t really like dog cookies, but he’d eat them if he had earned it doing a trick for you. That was the price that he paid for the fun of getting to do a trick. The first time I bought him dog cookies he would only eat them after his boy pretended to eat them first. If the kid ate them they must be good. (Okay, he was really smart but he was a dog. And our son is a budding actor.)
He was probably zealously trained not to lick faces. My sister in law tried and tried to get doggie kisses. And sometimes she even succeeded. He was always gentle. He never wanted to take things from your hand. Even if he really wanted it he was always happier picking it up off the floor. He never quite understood children’s games, and was a little sad that he couldn’t rough and tumble with the boy and his friends, but he accepted it gracefully. Boy and dog played rope together, with lots of growling on both sides, and chase games too. They even developed the “catch the squirt gun stream” game which was always good for a bark and a laugh or two. And the dog would sometimes wrestle with his doggie friends. Whenever father and son would wrestle, Cody would always bark at the Dad.
Whenever one of us was out, he would stand guard by the door, very subdued, waiting for his whole pack to be back together again. That was when he was happiest. Although he’d be sad if Dad was away for a night, he didn’t pine as nearly as much as he would when his boy was away on a sleepover. If we had to all be away without him for a day, I think he just slept until we came back. And I do think that after a few years he began to trust that we would always come back.
He was a good dog.
I was still a smoker when the Fuzz came to be part of my family. I didn’t smoke in the house because I figured that when I tried to quit it would be easier if I wasn’t used to smoking in the house. (And it did help enormously when I was finally was able to quit). So the front porch was my smoking lounge. And naturally, if I was going through that door I would have fuzzy company. The porch appeal was also in the visits by all manner of native wild life. I would sit there and read (and smoke), and because we would sit quietly we were visited by various little critters who would come by for the bird seed we put out.
Cody was OK with squirrels, unless they digressed into chasing each other around. At that point, ol’ Fuzz would want to bark at them. My husband’s theory is that what he really wanted to do is get down there and herd them, since herding is what collies were originally bred to do. Of course, the squirrels would have taken a very dim view of that. And the idea was to not scare away the wildlife, so the barking was discouraged. The consequence of barking was being sentenced to go back in the house. It wasn’t too long until he didn’t bother to bark… if the critters antics were driving him nuts, he’d just get up, and turn around to face the door so I could let him in and remove him from temptation. What was funniest of all was that sometimes when the provocation was too great, he’d be quiet until I’d let him in, and when safely inside he’d bark his head off.
I think because he’d earlier lived with a caged bunny, he showed absolutely no interest in the local rabbits. There were many times when walking with my Fuzz in the twilight I’d see a bunny frozen in immobility and he wouldn’t even glance at it. He laid quietly on the porch, just watching bunnies hanging out in our yard. There was one we called the Brave Little Bunny, who would sit in dog munching range in our yard while one of us would wander past with the dog en route to a walk. Personally I am certain that this is one of our very local rabbits (probably resident in the mini-forest across the street) who correctly assessed our dog as non-threatening.
Good thing that nobody wanted him to be a hunting dog because he takes even less interest in birds. We think that birds and squirrels were a feature of the back yard of his first home, so they don’t make him nervous.
Chipmunks, on the other hand, could drive him absolutely– excuse the expression– nuts. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe its that they are so darned fast and that they startle him when he’s just dozing. Maybe its that they jump on his porch and come drink from his water bowl when he is right there. Regardless, he was never comfortable with chipmunks. And of course we probably made his chipmunk antipathy even worse by adopting the orphaned baby chipmunk I found stumbling around on the street with its eyes still closed. I brought it into our house to raise for a few weeks until it was old enough to release back into the urban wild. It certainly made our poor dog nervous having that thing in the house, even if it was in a cage. Adding insult to injury, the cage got to live upstairs. Cody was certainly happy the day our littlest boarder moved outdoors again.
The other animals who would irritate Cody… no this was much worse, raccoons sent him into a frenzy is what it was. You knew there was a raccoon in the tree if Fuzz went batty underneath it. We didn’t ever want to risk him getting into an actual fight with a raccoon for his own safety, although he would have joyfully gone at it given a chance. But we didn’t really want to encourage the raccoons to move into our neighborhood either, so allowing him the opportunity to yell at them for a bit let him get some of his macho dog feelings out, then we’d take him inside to give the raccoons a chance to beat a hasty retreat. OK, maybe they just sauntered, but they did leave.
Go dog go!
Our Fuzz was never really keen on dog food. But because they have been overbred, collies have exceptionally sensitive stomachs. So even though he’d been fed human food when just a youngster, any deviation from his standard diet could cause him tummy trouble. Yet every time we fed him we’d get the look that said “Dog Food? Again???” . We learned early on that it wasn’t a good idea to leave a bread bag too close to the table’s edge. The only clue to the culprit in the case of the missing loaf of bread is finding the licked clean bread bag in the living room. OK, I admit it, it took us two loaves to learn this one.
When he got a nasty rash on his nether parts last year following an inadvertent trek through a pesticided lawn, he had to go on antibiotics. We assumed that being a dog he would eat anything, but just for safety sake we thought we’d try embedding the antibiotic pill into a bit of wiener. Now, for a dog with a sensitive stomach, we didn’t know if this would be a good idea or not. But the wieners I used were the ones from the butcher with no preservatives. They won’t even last a week in the fridge before they spoil, so I thought in might be a good way to get the pills in. So I sliced into a chunk of wiener and slid the pill inside out of site. So our terribly clever pooch carefully sucked the wiener off the pill and promptly spit the pill out.
Now I can understand a cat doing this but a dog? I mean have you ever watched a dog eat? They just inhale. I mean most of it can’t even touch the taste buds it goes down so fast. Our son suggested that the silly dog was channeling Clancy, our previous cat who had been the Houdini of hiding the pill you put in in his cheek and spitting it out twenty minutes later behind the potted plant when you weren’t looking. As it turned out, the only way these pills would go in Cody and stay in was by tossing them down his throat and clamping his mouth shut until swallowing. (Just like we learned to do with Clancy in fact.)
Of course Cody had to take the pills twice a day with food, so since he was resistant to the idea of eating more than one meal a day, we started mixing bits of butcher wienie in with his breakfast. So he ended up getting the wieners after all. Amazingly, even in conjunction with the medication, they did not bother his stomach, so we began including them with his breakfast every day forever afterward.
He was getting old, and since most other treats bothered him, it was worth it to increase his quality of life. When we got Cody we were told that he was approximately 3½ years old, but no paperwork had been found. But after only a couple of years he started getting listless and slow. So we started him on senior dog food and glucosamine supplements about three years earlier than he should have needed them for a dog his size. Since it helped restore him to his energetic self so dramatically we are sure that he was at least 2 or maybe 3 years older than we’d previously thought.
Like most pets (and kids) he went through his “acting out” times. Whenever he behaved badly I know he knew it, but I swear he was doing it to make his life more interesting. When he first got here probably the hardest thing to get used to was horse drawn buggies. Coming from suburban Montreal he had no idea what these creatures were. They would send into a barking frenzy. After a while he got to meet a few buggy-less horses and he liked them just fine. So I think what he was mostly doing when barking at buggies was protesting against those loud nasty buggies chasing his friends the horses. Eventually he didn’t even bark at them at all anymore. Except when life was boring and he wasn’t getting enough attention, it gave him something tangible to get excited about.
Whenever we took him to any large human gathering, like a parade, a fair, or a festival. his behavior was exemplary. (Even the time when the lady in spike heels tromped his tail at the parade. Just a yelp of pain and a soulful look of reproach. What a good dog.) Maybe when we were at one of those things there was so much going on and life was so much fun that Cody just didn’t have the time to test our authority, or maybe he was enjoying things so much he didn’t need any extra attention.
And of course being beautiful he just always had people stopping and patting him and complimenting him for being beautiful, which he always ate up with a spoon. And every now and again some wag would tell him: “Lassie! Timmy’s in the well!” But he always knew they were just joking and simply basked in the attention.
Last winter the cold started to bother him for the first time. He was certainly getting old now. And over the last year or so he’ d decline to eat a meal here and there. He was getting really creaky. He couldn’t jump into the minivan anymore so we bought a shorter car for him. Pretty soon that was too much so we bought him an extensible dog ramp. So he could still go places with his pack. But he was getting slower. The walks were getting shorter, and play became more difficult.
On Friday night he declined to eat his dinner. On Saturday he still wouldn’t eat his breakfast. My husband saw a flea on Cody, and we told ourselves that he was feeling anemic. One year when we were camping the deer flies targeted Cody and he became really lethargic. So we took him home and he recovered. Our cat Buddy had had the same reaction to fleas. But after a flea bath he was better. So although Cody was shaky on his feet, we gave him a flea bath. By the end he couldn’t stand up and he spent the afternoon in the sun.
We hoped he’d feel better after drying off, but he wouldn’t shake off, so it took even longer than usual. My husband carried him inside when the sun started to go and it got cooler. He could hobble a little and made for the fleece blanket I’d made a bed for him to lay on while drying off in the kitchen. He would never lay in his bed when he was wet. Even out in the yard that night he could hardly stand on his own, and although he squatted and staggered nothing came out. After he gave up Bob carried him back inside.
We left paper on the floor for him because we know he badly doesn’t want to have an accident. We hadn’t wanted to take him for a long drive to a vet he wouldn’t know at an emergency clinic he’d never been to. He didn’t seem to be in any pain, just totally lethargic. So we decided to wait until Monday to take him to the local clinic where he knew everyone and was comfortable. Maybe he would get better.
He’d dragged himself into his bed over night. When it had warmed up we took him outside for most of the day, and took turns sitting with him. He was very subdued and pretty unresponsive. He’d drink a little but still wouldn’t eat.
On Monday we knew we had to take him to the vet, although our boy was still being incredibly optimistic. But our precious Fuzz still couldn’t walk. Sitting outside with him for the early part of the afternoon he seemed much brighter. He drank more, and sat up and looked around more. He responded to us, and seemed to enjoy the extra attention. When we took him to the vet he was relaxed. When the vet examined him she found a number of other things we had no idea were wrong. But then he alertness started to fade. He just didn’t have the energy. And even though we could have tests done and some treatments made, his quality of life would not improve. It would only get worse.
He’d given up days before and now we had to let him go.
We stayed with him until the end. He was a good dog.
When we came home I packed up his well worn bed and threw out all the partially gnawed chew toys. His cousin Pif can inherit his toys. But I keep expecting him to be there. And every time I’m not thinking about him, something reminds me.
We don’t have to give the screen that extra tug so that he’s not tempted to chase after a horse drawn buggy. It isn’t vitally important to close the toilet lid anymore. We don’t need to hoard plastic bags any more. I don’t have to be careful not to step on him or trip over him anymore.
But I have two regrets. Because I was allergic, I didn’t pet him enough. I would only pet him if I could wash my hands right away when they’d start to itch. Of course he was a dog so he never understood that. And I know he would have been happier if I had petted him more. And because I’m a human, I regret it.
The other thing I regret is that I didn’t get him his very own kitten. I had always planned to. He wanted a cat to like him, and if we had gotten a kitten they would have bonded. We’ve wanted another cat for a long time, but there were always reasons not to. So I put it off and put it off. But he would have been so happy to have a kitten to mother. He would have loved it so much.
So it makes me sad that I didn’t do this for him. Because he was such a good dog. He may have been a fifth hand dog but he was first in our hearts. I miss him already. And I’ll always love him. He was a good dog. He was the best.
[Thanks to my sister Nicole… this has helped.]
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