Joy Is In The Eye Of The Beholder–The Dog Wins This One

Last July, I wrote about how my sweet shelter-dog was killing all the animals in the back yard in, Asta: Bloodthirsty Weredog or Family Pet? Squirrels and baby groundhogs were her prey, the latter pretty easy to catch. This week, she started back up again for the season.

The first inkling was when my son called me at work to tell me the dog got out of the yard by going over the fence. I was a bit skeptical because Asta is a relatively small dog and the fence is about four feet high. Nevertheless, I told him to keep her inside until I got home and could investigate.

Such an innocent face...

Such an innocent face…

When I got home, I looked out into the back yard and saw, on the other side of the back fence, a big groundhog. I guess groundhogs are creatures of habit, because darned if last year’s mama groundhog isn’t back in the same place. Perhaps she wintered down in a burrow behind our property.  

A while later, having rather forgotten about the dog-escape problem, I failed to tell my older daughter not to let the dog out. As I walked past her, vaguely wondering where the dog was, our land line rang. I never answer my landline, at least not without checking the caller ID, because most of the calls are from telemarketers. I did check, and it was a local cell phone number. Curious, I picked up. Thank goodness! It was a woman a block away who had been walking her dog when mine came up to say “hi”. Sigh.

My daughter had overheard the conversation and as I apologized for not filling her in on the dog-escape problem, she put on her shoes, grabbed a leash, and took off to recover our dog. Once the dog was back inside, we went out back to survey the situation. The first thing I noticed was that the far right corner of the fence was a bit bashed down. Then I saw that the groundhog had dug back under our fence, just as she did last year, leaving an escape path for Asta. This seemed the likeliest path for her escapes.

Continuing to the far left corner of the fence, we saw no holes or damage to the fence. Just then, our neighbor came out to tell us what had happened. She said that Asta was furiously chasing an animal and leapt over the fence and caught it! She told Asta to drop it, and a baby groundhog was released and got away. So, now I have a bigger problem. We blocked off the groundhog hole under the fence, but if the dog can leap clean over the fence, we are in big trouble!

The next day, I got a call from my younger daughter…”Mom, Asta killed a baby groundhog…what should we do?” I suggested she find a shoebox to put it in and bury it in the yard. Not being particularly clear myself as to where our wild-animal graveyard is, I suggested she consult her brother. He had the honors last summer of burying the dead. I also re-iterated the need to keep the dog on a lead, even in the back yard. Keeping an eye on her just meant witnessing her hunting prowess.

Find the Joy in the Journey…my dog sure has it figured out!

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Asta: Bloodthirsty Weredog or Family Pet?

Last year I wrote about my sweet, shelter dog, Asta. She’s named after the talented dog from The Thin Man movies. We were told she was a border collie mix, believable based on her looks…more unbelievable, but true, she turned out to be Great White Pyrenees, Chinese Sharpei, Harrier, and Welsh Terrier, plus a mix of other breeds. She used to try to run away at every occasion. These days, even when she gets out, she stays pretty close. We’ve been able to teach her the basic tricks like sit, stay, beg, and play dead. She is definitely a family dog and no longer a stray. She prefers to sleep in bed with one of the kids, or at least on a dog bed nearby.

Last fall, we had a little scare when we heard her screaming out in the back yard, behind the garage and out of sight. There are no lights back there, so we just kept calling her. Eventually she came, limping around the garage. My daughter ran out and scooped her up and carried her inside. I thought she’d sprained or broken a leg, but after a while she was up on all four feet. We examined her closely and found a raccoon bite on the white fur of her inner front leg. This dog is a fearless fighter.

This summer, Asta has become a blood-thirsty hunter. She goes out the back door and stands at attention at the top of the steps. She surveys her backyard domain…she waits for the perfect moment. When she spots a squirrel, she waits for it to idle, then seeing it unsuspecting, she springs into action, running at lightning speed to try to catch it…she rarely succeeds.

But in the last month, Asta had a couple of easy kills…and then she got bloodthirsty. We found the first, a baby groundhog a day or two after she killed it. Apparently it’s not “good eating”, because she left it where it died. We saw her sniffing at it, which is how we found it. I thought at first that she was innocent, since she hadn’t eaten it. My son, in a rising moment of adult behavior, dug a grave and buried the unfortunate fellow.

About a week later, in broad daylight, just moments after going out the back door…Asta appeared with an animal in her mouth. This time the baby groundhog was still alive. Now, I’m no fan of critters in my yard…but I also can’t bear to see an animal, even a wild animal, suffer. I made the dog drop her prey and sent her inside. I watched as the little animal struggled to breathe and realized that the dog, leaving not a mark on it, must have crushed its lungs. I felt compelled to kneel down and stroke its back as it struggled to breathe and ultimately died.

Groundhogs apparently banished from our yard, my husband and I left our college-aged son in charge of our house and dog and took off on vacation for Ecuador. While we were gone, the dog took on a skunk. Of course, she lost the battle with the skunk, but she seemed completely nonplussed at being incredibly stinky! Our son bathed her in hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dish liquid…although he didn’t know to leave it on her before rinsing it off, so she was still a bit stinky when we got home.

Just days later, again in broad daylight, Asta killed a squirrel and was halfway through devouring it by the time we could drag her away. Then, a few days after that, I was at work when my older daughter called me to ask where I’d put the dog tar shampoo. We’re not sure what she killed and ate this last time, we only know that she was covered from snout to tail in animal blood. No remains were found.

So, what is this animal who sleeps in bed with my kids? Is she a sweet pet or a weredog? I guess she’s something in between. I hate to deal with the dead animals and the aftermath…but to put a good face on it…at least my fenced-in backyard is on notice for critters!

Find the Joy in the Journey…even if you have to put up with a bloodthirsty weredog along the way!

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part III: Asta

When Lucy died, I was able to come to peace with it although I felt very badly that I had let her down by not noticing her quick downturn right away and for not being able to save her. She had lived a long and well-loved life of 12 1/2 years in the bosom of our family.

I didn’t have as much peace with the passing of Bailey. She was sick for months; the first symptom was that she stopped eating. I wrote about her in Part II, and skipped the sad stuff, but suffice it to say that there seemed to be hope for her at every step along the way and money ran through my fingers like water in an attempt to save her. She was only 5 and we’ll never know exactly what started her illness, but the side effects were killing her.

This time, my husband didn’t wait long at all…he and the kids found a new dog at the shelter to bring into our family. The shelter had given the black and white stray the name Glitter, but it didn’t seem to suit her. We came up with several possibilities for names and my older daughter created an internet poll for our friends to vote on her name. In the end, we named her Asta after the famous dog of The Thin Man fame. Asta in the original book was female, but in the movie they cast a male dog, Skippy, and made the character a male. The character was so popular that the dog’s name was changed to Asta and even 77 years later he is so popular that he has his own fan page!

The shelter said she was about 1-2 years old. She seemed well-cared for, but they’d picked her up as a stray and she wasn’t chipped and no one came to claim her. She was house trained, but that was the extent of any training she may have had. She didn’t sit, stay, come, heel, or know any other commands. She was also afraid of other animals and skittish around us at first too.

A few days after we got her, it was time to take her to our vet to have her stitches out from being spayed. I found the lead, but not the choker chain, so I just clipped the lead to her collar and walked her out to the garage. When I hit the button for the automatic garage door opener, she got scared, pulled back hard, slipped her collar and ran off! I ran to the back door and yelled that the dog had run off and my older daughter, also known as the dog whisperer around our house, flew out the back door, down the long drive, spotted Asta in a side street and called for her to stop…which she did!

Key portions of our fence had been taken out when we renovated our house, so we finally replaced them so that Asta could play in the yard off-leash. She still doesn’t really know what to do out there, but with lots of practice she has learned to fetch a stick or ball on command. And of course, she chases the wildlife off, including the raccoon I recently wrote about!

Asta can now sit, stay, and beg too…but she just cannot get the concept of heel. My husband used to take her out running when the weather was cooler and she’d easily go 10 miles with him. But, she pulled so hard on the leash that she wore away the fur on one side of her neck and my husband got so tired of the pulling that he stopped taking her. She reprimanded him by pooping on his running shoes.

We had always wanted to know what breeds Bailey was, but it’s too late for that. I sent for a DNA kit and sent it back with some of Asta’s cheek cells. Most people guessed that she was a Border Collie mix, a few thought she had some Dalmatian in her, or maybe some cattle dog. Surpise! None of the above. Our unique pup is 25% Great White Pyrenees, 25% Chinese Sharpei, 12.5% Welsh Terrier, 12.5% Harrier, and 25% a mix of German Shepherd, American Bulldog, Chow Chow, etc. She’s a true American dog!

Asta has been with us for just over 8 months and we don’t know what we’d do without her. She has taught me how fragile a soul can be and how quickly it can respond to unconditional love. I’ve also learned that no matter what you think you know about someone, you could be completely wrong! (My 35 pound dog is part Great White Pyrenees???)

Find the Joy in the Journey and embrace a shelter dog today!

Related Posts:

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part I:  Lucy

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part II: Bailey

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part II: Bailey

About six months after Lucy died, we moved back into our house. The renovations weren’t complete, but our rental was being sold and we didn’t want to move again. The biggest thing left to do was the kitchen. We got adept at cooking in the microwave and washing dishes in the tub. We were happy to be home, regardless. But it didn’t really seem like home without our dog, Lucy. My husband kept saying he wasn’t ready for another dog, but he started taking the kids to the animal shelter on the weekends.

One Saturday, he went to the shelter twice. He was visiting with Bailey. She was identified as a cattle dog and border collie mix, but we’ll never really know what she was. She looked like she had a lot of Sheltie in her and definitely had the ticking of a cattle dog. Her owner had brought her in, so we knew she hadn’t been a stray and were fairly certain of her age…born on my younger daughter’s 5th birthday, she was 1 year old. The owner was elderly and couldn’t manage Bailey any longer. Finally, after weeks of visits, the shelter told my husband that if he wanted her, he’d better hurry up and adopt her. There was a threat in there, but at least it was the push he needed; he finally took the plunge and signed the papers to adopt her.

We thought that her name was cute and fit her well, so we didn’t change it. She was very sensitive and if one of us even slightly raised our voice at her, we had to deal with the ensuing puddle on the floor. It took her close to a year to learn that we weren’t going to hurt her. We did wonder just what that little old lady had done to her to make her so scared.

Bailey was a sweet dog and very good in most ways. She did like Chocolate cake, though, as we discovered at the expense of my older daughter and myself. My daughter was born two days after my birthday (despite me trying several techniques, illuminated in old wives tales, to elicit labor so that she would arrive on my birthday). My mother and sister gave me a beautiful, rose-blossom bundt cake pan and a rich chocolate cake mix with chocolate chunks. This seemed the perfect opportunity to make the cake for my daughter’s birthday.

I got up early on her birthday and made the cake. I left it to cool on the counter. Imagine my shock when my daughter got home from school and called to tell me that Bailey had eaten away one side. I imagined that she had dragged the cake off of the counter and ruined it…but it turns out that she just ate what she could reach…I didn’t even realize she could reach the counter at all!

Now, I am still very sad about Bailey’s last months, but I don’t want to write two sad dog stories in a row, so I’ll leave that story for another time. Instead, I’ll talk about how the dog expressions that she taught me came from real dog behavior, whether wild or domestic.

Dog tired—dogs sleep or rest most of the time. They sleep all night and they sleep while you are away at work. They wake up to eat and play and that’s about it!

Wolf down—a dog can eat an entire meal in 70 seconds flat…I timed her.

Dogged my heels—Bailey would follow me all over the house. This was kind of sweet, she was always good company. It was also dangerous as she’d weave in and around me including on the stairs.

It’s a dog’s life –I used to think that this meant living like a prince, being pampered and taken care of all the time. At least that’s how our dogs have lived! I was surprised when I looked it up to find it means the exact opposite. It’s used to describe having a terrible life situation, being out on the street surviving by begging, stealing, and being tougher than the others out there competing for food and shelter.

Tail wagging the dog—when we first got Bailey she knocked herself down more than once by wagging her tail so hard she lost her balance!

Then there are dozens of dog expressions that I my dog didn’t teach me, and it’s just as well. Things like, every dog has its day (unless you count her snagging that birthday cake!), hair of the dog that bit you (which originated as a remedy for rabies and was literally a tonic with a hair from the rabid dog in it), throw to the wolves/dogs, let sleeping dogs lie, sick as a dog, in the doghouse, a shaggy dog story, go to the dogs, go talk to a man about a dog, and on and on. I guess dogs have been a part of human language from the beginning!

Here’s to the memory of my dogs, Lucy and Bailey, and to all beloved pets that have passed on. And of course, to all those dogs living a dog’s life and surviving the best they can like junk yard dogs.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and don’t be afraid to take a dog or two along with you!

Related Posts:

Things I learned From My Dogs–Part I: Lucy

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part III: Asta

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part I: Lucy

I never had a dog as a child. Well, wait a minute, I had one for a couple of days when I was 3 or 4. My dad brought him home to see how things would work out. I never knew why…he wasn’t a puppy and we weren’t obligated to keep him. I remember few things about him, he was medium sized, he was black, he nipped at my feet at the dinner table causing me to sit on my feet. And, I remember the dog biscuits. They were shaped like bones and were several unnatural colors. My sister gave me some to eat, which I did. Thinking back on it, that was really gross! But after we gave him back, my sister reminded me that we still had the biscuits! Green, yellow, red! Treats…ok, the lesson there is to be careful what you eat! Also, not to give up too soon on a pet.

We had cats almost all my life. When I was three we went on a family outing to bring home a kitten. I had a wicker basket full of an aluminum tea set and dumped it out so that I could go get our kitty and bring him home in a basket. I have no idea where that idea came from, but indeed, I brought home our first family pet, Inky, in my wicker basket cushioned by my baby blanket.

Even as an adult I had cats…my husband gave me one when we started graduate school and he later gave me a stray that had been found by the employees of a video store. In other words, he needn’t have mentioned her but he did. So, my non-cat-loving man gave me two cats! But it’s the dogs that have most touched my life.

I went to the mall for lunch with my girlfriend one day and we ended up in the pet store. This was not long after my husband and I bought our house. I’d put him off for years about getting a dog, I had told him it wasn’t fair to a dog to live in an apartment and had said that we had to have a fenced-in yard…but we finally did!. So, I took him back to the pet store that night. We really didn’t like the idea of buying a dog from a pet store…but once you hold a puppy, you are lost. I gave him Lucy as a birthday present when he turned 29.

She was a Belgian Tervuren with a mostly red coat. My husband named her after Lucille Ball. We had no idea at first why she was sold through a pet store but It turned out that she was way too large for her breed. We didn’t care how big she was, we just loved her tremendously. I could tell many Lucy stories, but this is about what I learned from her.

  • A dog will teach you how to fetch before you “teach” it how to fetch.
  • A dog is not a child. You can put it in a cage or out in the yard while you go shopping or out for dinner.
  • A dog can scream. You really don’t want to ever hear it because it will break your heart.
  • A dog isn’t a child, but she depends upon you for her care, well-being, safety, and ultimately her life.

Lucy was our first dog and my younger daughter’s first real word was “doggy”. Lucy wasn’t perfect…she liked to chew up the kids things and she was stubborn. She was too big for me to control physically and I was not her Alpha. She figured out how to get over or under the fence (we’re not sure which) and would run off on occasion.

When we had to leave our house while it was uninhabitable during the renovation, we moved into a small bungalow. My husband and I took over the fixed-up attic space which was quite spacious. We filled up the closet and kept some items in the storage area in the eaves. On the first floor were a kitchen, a small living room, two small bedrooms, and the only bath. We put a bunk bed in one room for the girls and a twin mattress on the floor in the other room for our son. The basement was split into a utility area and a living area. We managed to squeeze our dining room table on one end and a couch, chair, computer desk, and the TV were crammed in the other end. The space was really tight…and with the dog, it was really cramped. We tried to get my treadmill into the house, but couldn’t get it in the door…I knew that was the end of my attempts to maintain my weight.

At first Lucy was her old self, but in that year and a half she started to fall apart. She was elderly, for a dog, but she’d always been highly energetic even into her 12th year. She seemed slow now. She moaned in her sleep. We were so stressed and busy, we didn’t pay enough attention to her. She started having a lot of trouble controlling her legs and my husband would hold up her torso when he took her out to do her business.

But, nothing prepared me for her screams. I got home one evening and even before I got out of the car, I heard the screaming. I rushed inside and found her splayed out on the kitchen floor. She’d lost control of her limbs and had slid down on the slick floor into an awkward position. I called the vet, it was just before 6 or they would have gone for the day. First thing they told me was to adjust her legs into a more natural position (why didn’t I do that first?) and thankfully she stopped screaming.

I had a board meeting that night, and my husband and children took Lucy to the emergency vet hospital. The next day, we took her to our vet for one last evaluation. She determined that the problem was above the neck, likely a brain tumor. At that point, we were out of options. Over our heads financially trying to save our house, we couldn’t afford the MRI, much less a risky brain surgery.

My husband left the room. I petted Lucy and looked deeply into her eyes. She kept her eyes on mine the whole time, and her eyes told me that she loved me and that she was grateful to be looking into my eyes as the pain faded away and she drifted off to a peaceful end.

The death of Lucy was profound to us. When we finally moved back into our house, it was having left one of our own behind.

Sometimes there is no joy in the journey, but if you look for it, you may find a profound grace.

Related Posts:

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part II: Bailey

Things I Learned From My Dogs–Part III: Asta