Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Separation Anxiety

(The pen shown above is the actual one that Abby had bit into in one of her baby-girl fits one day when she was left alone.)

If there was ever a dog that had separation anxiety, it was Abby. The way she showed her separation anxiety depended on how mad Abby was and who she was mad at. Normally, Abby would be the maddest at the last person to have left the house. That is, the person who she thought left her alone. My mom was at the house most of the time while I was away most of the day so Abby got mad at my mom most of the time that she was alone since she thought it was my mom who was abandoning her.

It may sound silly that we would attribute Abby’s anxiety being directed to someone in particular, but all I can do is give anecdotes in support.

My mom loved to read novels by authors such as Stephen King or John Grisham. She would go through a book a week while sitting on the couch in the den while Abby lay on the floor keeping her company. Abby was very observant and would notice things if they were out of place. For example, if we moved a piece of furniture just a few feet, the first thing she would do when she came in afterwards would be to do directly to that moved furniture and sniff it. Abby paid attention and noticed everything. I would not doubt it that Abby noticed my mom using reading glasses whenever my mom read

There were many things Abby could have chewed up and destroyed while she was unsupervised during our absence, but she almost inevitably took the reading glasses off the coffee table and mangled the shit out of them beyond use or repair.

So, the person who last left the house was the one Abby targeted. My mom must have gone through well over a dozen reading glasses. Sure, she could have placed the glasses out of Abby’s reach and often she did, but often she forgot. I still don’t know why Abby didn’t go after the books themselves. Maybe she wouldn’t have received the satisfaction of tearing up that item like she did the glasses.

In the times Abby got mad at me; she would go back to my room, get something out of it and tear it up. Other times, she would go on the table beside my chair and grab something off of it. One time she snagged an electronic organizer (this was the mid 90’s) and chewed it up. She got a spanking for that. Another time she took a solid metal pen (Retro 51, a gift from my grandmother), bit down on it and dented this thing. She must have been very mad at me because these pens are solid. I’m surprised that she didn’t chip a tooth. I used that pen a lot and loved it. Abby knew it and was sending me a message when she did that.

I hated to spank Abby and the only times I spanked her hard was when she tore up that organizer and when she ran out into the street. Spanking helped to curb her destructive behavior, but we had to reinforce our punishments. For example, we would keep a pair of mangled glasses around, and when Abby wasn’t looking, we would place the glasses on the floor or coffee table. Later, when she came in the room, she did her best to ignore the item and that is when we would ask, “Did you do that?” while pointing to the object. Abby would get really quiet, try to look away and lick her lips. Then we would top it off with “Do you want a spank?” Abby responded by getting on her haunches and try to hug me. I would then get on the ground, hug her and tell her she was a good girl. It was so sweet when she did that. Sometimes I would say to her “you want a spank” just so she would huggy and kissy me. I know it sounds sadistic, but I loved it when she would lala me like that.

The spankings, constant reminding her of her naughtiness cut down on her destructiveness. By the time she was a year old, Abby had outgrown this phase. But she never forgot the word ‘spank’. Just mentioning the word brought fear and would guarantee that she would hug and kiss me. I may have spanked her once or twice after she turned one, and I think one time was for her eating chicken bones out of the trashcan. Some of her behavior change can be attributed to our discipline, some to her mellowing out as she aged, and maybe because of Andy coming on the scene. Abby hated to see Andy get spanked much more than actually receiving one herself. When we bought Andy, this seemed to change her and she matured because of her protectiveness of him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Abby's First Swim

When Abby was young she hated swimming despite being able to swim. I don’t think she realized that she was bred for and was supposed to swim. One time I picked her up and put her on the top step of the pool. She immediately hopped out, went straight to the corner in the patio and starred me down for several minutes. She knew how to put on an ugly face if she wanted to express her anger. She sat in the same corner as in the photo of this entry except she didn’t have a cutie-pie face. If looks could have killed that day, I would be dead right now.

Something I noticed when I was going through old photos was that there were not many photos of Abby as a puppy swimming. That was because she did not swim often enough for us to snap photos of her in the pool.

I chose the photo above because it was with those girls along with some of their friends not shown who whipped Abby into a frenzy for her to go swimming.(Edit: I decided against showing photos of the kids.) During the excitement, Abby just didn’t get in, she jumped in. I was doing yard work so I missed the event, but I could hear the splash when Abby had gone in and the girls yelling and cheering for Abby.

As Abby got older, she didn’t have to be so excited in order for her to get in the pool. Normally, she had to have company and she rarely went in the water alone without an audience. Examples of ‘company’ would be Nikki coming over or houseguests. Abby rarely went in during cold weather, but she did love going in during a hot summer’s day. Abby loved to show-off. When a guest would come over, she would slip into the pool, swim in a small circle, and look up at the guest in an attempt to catch that person’s eye. Many times, Abby was trying to entice the guest into joining her in the water. She often did this to me after I had moved out of the house but came back for a visit.

This is in contrast to Nikki or Andy who would get in the water anytime of the year. I’ve seen Andy try to break through a layer of ice to try to get in. As Abby grew older, the only times she would swim was when I was in the pool. Part of the reason for this is that she liked my company. Another reason she would swim only when I was around is that I was the only one she trusted to help get her out of the pool. In her later years, Abby was afflicted with severe arthritis and had problems moving around or getting up and down steps. Abby knew I could help her out, and sometimes, she really did need help getting out. Even in her advanced years, Abby could still swim well with a fluidity and grace. She would slip quietly in the water and use that powerful ‘otter’ tail to steer her way around the pool. That tail had a useful purpose in the water, but on land, that thing could swipe a table clean with one wag of it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

She Loves Me; She Loves Me Not

Part II

When Abby saw me arrive home every day, she would be excited and want to play. It wasn’t from being isolated or alone. My mom was with her at home all day and kept her company almost all the time. But when I came home, Abby would wag her tail, run to me, jump up on me and start to play. I didn’t think about how much she really loved me. I wrote it off as boredom or excitement of something new.

(I showed the ‘aerial’ view of the backyard to show the relation of the pool’s edge to the fence and to the trampoline. From the edge of the pool to the trampoline was about 3 or 4 feet and the height difference from the pool’s edge to the top of the fence was about 3 feet.)
Even in my mid 20’s, I would often jump on the trampoline. One day after arriving from school, I greeted everyone, changed into my shorts as I usually do (in the lab I wore jeans) and went to play on the trampoline. Jumping on the trampoline meant not playing with Abby or paying her any attention at all which frustrated her quite a bit. On this day when I did this, this was too much for her to handle, and with my back turned to the fence while I was on the trampoline, I could feel something drop onto the trampoline. It was Abby. She had run down the pool’s edge, leaped completely over the fence and landed on the trampoline!

I couldn’t believe it. Even as a puppy, Abby was big-boned and stocky, so it was shocking that she had so much pop in her step. Looks were very deceiving in this case. It kind of reminded me of this 350lb Olympic weight lifter who could slam dunk a basketball.

Abby was so happy to be with me, and we started to wrestle on the trampoline. Abby would jump the fence a few more times in the weeks to come. The last time she did it, she clipped the fence and tumbled onto the trampoline. I guess that scared her a bit so she never tried it again, much to my relief. It was fairly obvious how attached she was to me. I wouldn’t realize how attached I was to her until later.

In the mean time, we owned two dogs that our fence could not contain. Father could climb the fence, and often did. As a matter of fact, that was his choice of getting in and out of the fence. He would not wait for us to open the gate for him when he wanted to get on the other side from where he was at. Although Abby could jump the fence, she never did except when I was on the trampoline.

This concerned my mom, so she bought a new fence. It was around 5-6 feet high, and its perimeter went around a wider area of the backyard than the old fence did which gave Abby much more room to play out back. Abby wasn’t able to jump the fence nor did she ever try. Father, on the other hand, could climb it, which he often did. There were days when he was tired where he went to gaps or weak-points between the fence and the ground and crawl under it. Fortunately, Abby didn’t try that method of escape.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

She Loves Me; She Loves Me Not...

(Actually, Abby always loved me.)

Even though early on I did not view Abby as my dog, I had a lot of fun playing with her, and she was a good companion for me, too. In that year, my parents divorced, my dad had been arrested, two relatives died, my research was spinning in place and going nowhere, and a hurricane swept through the area. It was not a good year for me, and Abby was a shining light in an otherwise miserable time. There is a saying that if you want a friend in Washington, then get a dog. By extension, the same thing can be said about graduate school.

Abby and I viewed each other as playmates, but when did Abby really become attached to me? I would say that the earliest sign I can remember was a little over a month after we bought Abby.

Before my mom went on vacation to her sister’s condo near Myrtle Beach, my mom decided that Abby would stay at my cousin’s house. Since I was gone most of the day, often from 8am until 11pm, leaving Abby alone for such a long time would be cruel to her. Besides, she was wild as hell, and there was no telling how much damage she would have done to our house when she would pitch a fit. And believe me; she did pitch fits when she was left alone for more than 5 minutes.

My cousin, Patty, had Nikki, a big yard, a young daughter and a pool, so Abby would always have company. Abby always loved company, and when she was young, she especially loved kids, so being at my cousin’s would be heaven for Abby. Of course, Abby always loved Nikki until the day Nikki died. As Abby aged and mellowed out, she would noticeably change whenever Nikki visited. Abby would revert to her old puppy ways and behave real silly and goofy around Nikki. Keeping Abby at my cousin’s was a good idea.

Anyway, at the end of the week, my cousin planned on going out of town herself, so she was going to drop off Abby at our place on Friday. When I arrived that afternoon, I saw a note on the porch. It was from my cousin. She told me how Abby had been that week and had gone into detail about it. The last line of the note read, ‘And Abby is out back in the fence.’ No sooner had I finished that last line than I heard Abby plaintively cry at the porch door. I hadn’t realized that Abby was in the backyard until I heard her cry out.

Abby immediately jumped up on me when I opened the door to greet her. When a dog wags its tail so real hard, the dog’s whole body starts to ‘wag’, shake and start to squiggle. Abby was elated to see me. I was happy, too, to see her and felt sorry for her being alone in the backyard, but her joy in seeing me far exceeded what I felt for her. I was happy to see her, there is no doubt about that, but I felt more pity that she was by herself. She hated being alone, and I knew that. At the time, I didn’t think she was particularly attached to me. I attributed her response at my arrival to being alone for a while, and the subsequent elation when somebody-anybody-came home to see her.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


(We never captured a shot of Abby being a 'horsey', so I have to settle for the next best thing which is a photo of the 'scene of the crime.' At the time Abby was going through this phase, the dining room above was carpeted and did not have the rug shown.)

“Horsey” was a description of something Abby occasionally did when she was a puppy, and it wasn’t a game or even considered playing. It was more of a catharsis for her. She would seemingly spontaneously run back and forth from the foyer, through the living room and into the dining room where she would go around the table, back to the living room and finally the foyer where she would do at least 4 or 5 more laps, all of this at full speed. We didn’t know exactly what triggered these events, or else we would have prodded her into doing it more often instead of having to wait for the moment to strike her to be a ‘horsey’. We thought it was funny when she did it and cute, too. We called it ‘horsey’ because she was running so fast that it was like she was galloping when she did this. The only sound she made during these events was a shrill whine because she was breathing so hard, but, she didn’t bark or growl.

We do know that she had to be excited to do this, but her being excited wasn’t enough to trigger one of these episodes. Houseguests always excited Abby. The most notable ‘horsey’ incident happened while my brother from Atlanta was in town along with his friends while they were over one weekend when they were going to go to a Carolina football game. (Carolina was good that year and ended up with an 11-1 record.) Our house is a around a 45 minute drive to Chapel Hill, so the place was close enough and convenient for them to stay and big enough to accommodate all the guests.

What made the incident so memorable was the torment and embarrassment it caused my brother, who is very self-conscious and embarrasses easily. A trip home for him with any guests can be a minefield for him with a family as eccentric as ours. On that weekend, Abby did not let us down. The last thing my brother wanted was a crazy dog running around the house, but that is just what he got.

On Saturday morning about an hour after the guys had woke up, Abby took off in the living room and started running like a bat out of hell. Just seeing my brother embarrassed was worth it alone. He turns a little red, and the vein in his forehead pops out a little, too, but he did not vocalize his discomfort. His friends handled it politely, though I’m sure they were confused at Abby’s erratic behavior. Some of them laughed, while one guy, Rob, kept turning his head back and forth as he watched the whole scene play out. He looked like someone watching a tennis match the way he kept moving his head from left to right and back again. Abby had an especially lengthy session of ‘horsey’ that day. She put on quite a show. Meanwhile, Father had already absconded from the scene because one of the guests had an especially deep voice which must have scared the shit out of Father when that guy greeted Father, so Father was either hiding in the woods nearby or hiding in my mom’s closet.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heartworms: The Follow-up

Part II

I chose the photo above to show the strength and vigor Father had after he had fully recovered from heartworms. He was strong, fast, and had quite a bit of pop in his step. Look at how far he got off the ground in that photo, and he was able to get to the ball first before dogs many years younger than he was.

A few months after Father’s heartworm treatments, I would realize how debilitating heartworms is. One evening, Father went running with me, and during this run, I thought back to the last time Father went running with me, which was weeks before his heartworm treatment. On that run, Father barely made it a quarter of a mile because he couldn’t keep up with me. He had to cut short the run, turn away and head back home. By no means was his inability to keep up with me because of my speediness. My days of averaging 6min/mile on a daily 6 mile run were long behind me, because of my being plagued with injuries. At this point of life, I was a slow footed 200 plus pound man. I attributed Father’s inability to keep up to Father’s age. At Father’s first vet visit, I had asked the vet how old she thought Father was, and the vet said around 5-7 years. Father was definitely middle aged.

On this day, many weeks after he was declared heartworm-free, Father was not only keeping up, but he was literally running circles around me. On our run, Father would often be distracted by something, take a look around, while I kept running down the street. Eventually, Father would scurry down the street to catch back up with me. Father was fast; he had always been fast, but he was even faster now, and he now had endurance. It made me happy to see Father get a second chance at life, and he had a jaunty step now where ever he went.

I didn’t realize how much the heartworms had debilitated Father’s health until he had made a full recovery. Father had been a very sick dog, and he had cheated death twice as far as we were aware. Father would never suffer again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Heartworms: The Follow-up

(I chose this photo to show how much Father had recovered after being heartworm free. He filled out, and his coat looks really good.)

I took Father back to the vet several weeks after his heartworm treatment. This involved another lovely trip to Knightdale with Father puking and peeing the whole way. In the typical vet visit, we would check in at the receptionist’s desk, wait in the reception area, stare at the wood paneling (the place was built in the late 60’s / early 70’s, decades devoid of architectural advancements and abundant with tackiness), hope that Father wouldn’t try to kill another client’s dog, a trip to an exam room with a pit-stop at the scales in order for Father to be weighed, followed by some more waiting in the exam room, a pre-vet exam by a vet tech, followed by an exam by the vet his or herself.

Father and I were waiting in the exam room a few minutes when a middle-aged man entered the room. It was Dr. Kahdy, a partner in the practice. He himself was a dog owner (Great Danes, I think), and he owned horses, too. Father immediately tried to hide under my chair. It was sweet that Father would come to me for protection, considering that several months ago, all he would do around me was bark and growl. I was starting to gain his trust. Although Dr. Kahdy is a short guy and doesn’t look menacing, he does have a deep voice which must have scared Father more than he already was under the circumstances. Strangers, especially men, scared Father. We speculate that men in Father’s past may have abused him.

Dr. Kahdy could see how scared Father was, and when I told him that Father was scared of strangers, especially men, Dr. Kahdy said “OK” and left the room. A few minutes later, a female vet came into the exam room. She had dark brown hair, blue eyes and was petite and perky. I found her to be attractive. Dr. Lindsay, an associate vet at the clinic, stuck around for several years, but moved to Greensboro because of her husband’s new job. Whenever Father visited the clinic, Dr. Lindsay was almost always the vet who looked after him. With Abby or Andy, they were seen by any and almost every vet practicing at the clinic.

Father was heartworm free; the treatment worked. I knew that Father wasn’t going to die, but I didn’t know if there would be visible changes in him now that he was cured of this disease. A few months later, I would find out what a difference being free of heartworms had for Father’s energy level. He grew stronger and faster by the day. Of course, his gaining weight helped, but it wasn’t until later that I realized what a horrible and yet easily preventable disease heartworms is.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Games Abby Played: Part I
An Addendum

If you look closely at the photo for this entry , at the bottom right, you will notice a gap in the tile. This is where the slide used to empty into the pool. My grandparents put the slide in when we were little kids in the mid 70’s. It was either that or a diving board. My grandparents ruled out a diving board because the pool was too shallow and the pool could not be dug any deeper unless some explosive devices were used. When the pool was originally built, the contractors couldn’t go deeper with standard machinery because they had hit bedrock, so a sliding board it was.

The slide even had a water connection so we could slide even faster. However, after a few years, the water-line deteriorated so if we wanted to keep the slide wet, we would either have to splash the slide or spray it down with a hose. It was kind of red-neckish, but it worked

After a couple years, we didn’t use the slide just for sliding. I got the bright idea of jumping directly from the top of the slide into the water. The top of the slide was between 6 & 7 feet, and was around 3 feet from the pool’s edge. In a way, we got the diving board we had always wanted.

For 20 years, we never had an accident from using that slide, even after four grandkids, extended family and friends had been using that thing. Nothing, never, nada, zilch, nechevoa. At it wasn’t for lack of trying, and considering the usage of the slide in a way the manufacturers never had intended for us to use it, that was a pretty impressive record.

That was until 1996 during a 4th of July party my mom hosted. We had a couple of dozen friends and family over. Nikki was there, and with all the people running around which included a couple of kids. Abby loved kids, company and especially Nikki, so Abby was in heaven that day.

A drunken guest, a husband of a life-long friend my cousin’s, went down the slide and just before he made it to the pool, he tipped over and smacked his head on the edge of the pool, even loosening part of that tile. It was as if the scene played out in slow motion as I look back. I can still hear him say ‘ow’, followed by his drunk, dumb-ass jokingly say that he was going to sue us. Fortunately, he didn’t, but that was enough to spook my mom. A few months later, she had the slide removed. My mom was not going to take a chance of someone else getting hurt. Next time she might not have been so lucky.

However, taking away this slide removed a source of fun and amusement for me and Abby whenever we played in the pool. Thank you, drunken and clumsy houseguest for screwing it up for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Games Abby Played: Part III

Another fun activity inside for Abby was what I call ‘chasing games’. Sometimes Abby would chase me while other times I would chase her. I wouldn’t actually chase her since she was faster than me; instead I led her on into thinking that I was going to chase her. My mom frowned on this type of play, after all, who would want a 200 plus pound man romping around in her home with a dog in tow?

I can think of a couple of ways I could get Abby to start chasing me. The first way was to stand at a distance, call her name and take off running. This wasn’t very subtle, but it worked. Since Abby was always faster than me, she always won this game, no matter how much of a head start I gave myself, but I did have some advantages such was when she had to round a corner on a hardwood floor, which she had to slow down for, more so than me. Also, there was a ‘loop’ that we would go around which consisted of the living room, den, kitchen, dining room and foyer. If I was far enough away from Abby, I could change directions which would throw her off a bit and give me a little more time, but eventually, she always caught me. Abby always took the bait and she always won.

The more subtle method to get Abby to chase me was to catch her by surprise when we were walking somewhere in the house. Abby, when she was a puppy, would always follow me around the house. When I would round a corner, she would be mindlessly sauntering behind me, and that is when I would make my move. The moment I had rounded the corner, I would pick up the pace but doing so as quietly as I could. By the time Abby had rounded the corner and saw that I had created quite a gap between us, she would start to hustle down the hall and that is when I would start to run myself. Of course she would eventually catch up, but the chase and the surprise element excited her. She bored easily, so keeping her interested was necessary to keep her from moping.

Like I said earlier, I really didn’t chase her. I only led her to believe that I was going to chase her, and that was plenty of fun for her. The best way to get her going was to say “I’m going to get a little girl.” The cadence, tone and emphasis on the right words were important to effectively carry out this scheme. She would crouch down, start to growl, and the moment the word ‘girl’ was uttered, she would go berserk. She would take off running into the dining room, around the table, back into the living room and to the foyer where she would turn around and come back for more. All I had to do from there is keep telling her I was going to get a little girl, reach my hands out menacingly and swat at her rump. She would dodge my hands, scoot by and continue running. This would provide for several minutes of entertainment for her. My mom didn’t mind so much when Abby was the only one running, since she thought it was cute. Father idly stood bye, perplexed at the whole situation.

As Abby grew older, she would still respond to “I’m going to get a little girl”, but she would not run around like in her younger days. She would grow visibly agitated and would bark on-cue after I said the word ‘girl.’

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Games Abby Played: Part II
The Inside Games

Even though this entry is about Abby playing inside, the above picture was taken outside while Abby was playing with Nikki. I don’t have any pictures of Abby roughhousing me, but the above photo well represents the fierce intensity with which Abby would play with me. She was all in it and didn’t hold anything back when she played. I don’t know remember taking that photo or even the day it was taken, but I can promise that Abby was the instigator of the event given her aggressive nature as a puppy.

Inside, Abby’s main form of play was her toys, in particular her chew toys and tugging toys, and roughhousing either me or Father, and it did not take much to get her going. I do remember that if I sat in my chair, I was safe from her, but if I sat on the floor, I was fair game for her and was essentially inviting her to play. Abby would approach me and do one of the three things or a combination thereof: climb on me, jump on me or bite me. If I pushed her away, she would only redouble her efforts to get at me. Just as in the above photo, Abby would bare her teeth and smack at me with her paws just as she did to Nikki in that photo above.

Sometimes I would lie on my back and put my feet up in an attempt to keep her away. She would first respond by trying to run around me to get me, but since I could swivel pretty quickly on my back, the ‘run around’ tactic most often failed. Abby would try to jump over my feet. Once in a while that worked, but sometimes it didn’t. Barking and growling at me the whole time, Abby would pursue these bouts for several minutes at a time, a few times a day, especially on the weekends when I had more free time. After a few rounds of this, my arms would be red w/ bite and scratch marks all over them.

People said to me that I should not have played so hard with her, “It makes her mean” they would say. I honestly don’t know if it is true, after all, I knew very little about dogs when Abby came into our lives. There is a “nature v. nurture” aspect to this. There was no doubt that Abby was naturally aggressive in her younger days, but maybe playing so hard with her intensified her aggressiveness. I tried roughhousing Father and Andy, but they would have none of that. It turns out that the ‘wrestling play’ was a phase in Abby’s life. She was a high energy, turbo-charged, rambunctious puppy, and her outlet for relieving that energy was with physical play-fighting. Andy was just as high energy as Abby, but he loved to play fetch – inside, outside, morning, noon or night. I haven’t introduced Andy yet in this blog, but when I do, the subject of fetching will be brought up and discussed at great length.

Abby’s other source of fun inside was what I call ‘chasing games’. I’ll discuss this in a later entry.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Games Abby Played: Part I

(This is a good example of Abby turning a 'chasing' toy into a 'tugging' toy. By that point in her life, she didn't play fetch as much, but knew Andy loved it, so to get his attention, she would antagonize him by taking his toys.)

What was Abby doing while Father was going through his medical ordeal? She was adjusting to her new surroundings and new people in her life. Even a few months after we bought Abby, I still did not view Abby as my dog, and technically she was not. My mom picked her out and paid for her. I considered myself more of a caretaker or even her playmate. Abby definitely thought of me as her playmate. Maybe because I did not consider Abby mine while she was young that I did not pay close attention to many details of her then. Of course now, I wished I had.

I said Abby was my playmate, and play she did. Her main source of fun was her toys, Father and me. The toys could be categorized into three areas. There were chew toys that Abby liked to gnaw on when she was bored such as a rawhide bone or a pigs ear.

Then there were ‘retrieving’ toys such as balls or Frisbees. When Abby was young, she lived up to her breed’s namesake, the retriever part, and loved to play fetch. In particular, Abby loved to catch objects in mid-air such as chasing down a Frisbee and catching it before it landed or catching a ball in mid-air either before it landed or after it had bounced. Abby’s retrieving activities were mostly done outside were there was lots of space. Inside, Abby didn’t like to play fetch. Andy, on the other hand, loved to play fetch. The little rascal is almost OCD about it.

The third category of toys was what I call ‘tugging’ toys. Something such as a rope or a stick would suffice as a tugging toy, but Abby could turn almost any toy into a ‘tugging’ toy. Abby would grab one end of the toy, and I the other. Then we would partake in our own version of tug-o-war. Abby, having strong jaws and being aggressive, was very good at this game. There were times when I would start to swing her around and around with the rope like she was on a ride at the carnival. As dangerous as this may sound, Abby always held on and never fell off. She absolutely loved it.

Something noteworthy is that Abby was the only dog that would play that game with me. Father and Andy would never tug at a toy that I had in my hand. Doing so, I guess, would have been confrontational and a challenge to my status in the pack. Father and Andy would play the tugging game with Abby. Abby, the fat lazy baby she could be, would lie on the floor with a toy in her mouth and entice Andy into playing with her. Andy, obliging her, would grab one end of the toy and start pulling with all his might. Abby wasn’t going to let go, so something had to give. The result would be Andy dragging Abby across the floor. To the unaware observer, Abby’s growling would have seemed unpleasant and hostile, but Abby was having a wonderful time whenever she could coax Andy, Father or me in to playing tug-o-war with her.

Friday, March 12, 2010


(That photo was taken well after Father recovered from his heartworm infection, but that was about the same area on the same couch that Father would lie on when he was recovering from the heartworm treatments. He particularly liked the round area of the couch on the end.)

There was not much discussion on whether to have Father treated for heartworms. Admittedly, I did not know much about the disease let alone the treatment. What I did know was that the disease could be deadly, and the heartworm treatment, an arsenic based agent, could be deadly as well. I did, however, know that the treatment would be expensive. Interestingly, after paying for Father’s first few vet visits, which included the heartworm treatments, I had spent more on Father’s medical costs in that year than I had spent on my own medical care in that whole decade up to that point. (The year was 1996.)

I did not even know how the treatment was administered (by a shot). Two rectangular patches on the dog’s back towards the rump are shaved out. Then the vet administers a series of injections. From there, I had not idea what to expect other than the fact that there would be no guarantee that the treatment would completely rid the dog of heartworms.

My most vivid memory of Father after his treatments was how lethargic he was. He could barely lift his head to eat, languishing on the couch and sleeping all day. All I kept thinking about was how toxic arsenic is. It reminded me of that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the guys were trapped at a cliff’s edge by bounty hunters. Robert Redford balks at the idea of jumping into the river below because he can’t swim, to which Newman scoffs and says the fall alone will kill you. And so it was with Father. He was trapped with this disease and his plan of action was almost as deadly as what he was afflicted with.

The vets also prescribed other medicines for Father, but I was not sure exactly what at the time. The dogs’ medicines came in green containers so as to avoid confusion with human medicines which are usually in brown containers. Looking back and after doing a quick internet search, I can guess that it was some kind of blood thinning agent. The heartworm treatment leaves the dog vulnerable to clotting and subsequent death due to an embolism (pulmonary or heart, but I’m not sure), hence the blood thinning agent which would reduce the chances of clotting.

Anyone with a pet can attest to how difficult it can by trying to administer pills to a dog.
My mom was in charge of that department. At first she would hide his pills in bread and Father took it with no problems. But after a few doses, Father would turn his head away whenever my mom tried to give him a pill. So, my mom switched over to other foods such as turkey, peanut butter, ham or liverwurst. The results were about the same. Father would take the pills for a few tries, but then turn his head away.

It got to the point where my mom would hide the pill in the food, wash her hands to hide the ‘pill smell’, and then hand Father the food. That worked well, and this tactic carried us through to the end of this regimen. There is one other thing to note about Father’s feeding immediately following the heartworm treatments: he would only eat by hand feeding alone. He was too tired and fatigued to get up or even raise his head up to eat. It was very pitiful to watch.

Eventually, Father regained his strength but we wouldn’t know for sure if he was heartworm free until his next visit to the vet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Father Goes to the Vet: The Pick-Up

Later in the day after the morning I had dropped off Father at the vet, I went back to the clinic to pickup Father. After arriving at the front desk, the receptionist sent me back to an examination room where she said someone would bring Father. I wasn’t in the exam room long until someone brought in a dark, small, short-haired dog. It was Father, and I didn’t even recognize him. He seemed so meek and pitiful looking. His long, black, majestic mane had been shaved off leaving about an inch of hair on him. Even the sheen on his hair was gone. His hair had a dull tone to it. To add insult to the situation in addition to taking away Father’s looks was a tiny, blue ribbon attached to the top of his head. It was as if all of his dignity had been taken from him. He had been stripped down naked, and I was sad to see him like this. Father weighed in at around 35 pounds, which was far short of his ideal weight of around 55 pounds. Father didn’t look good, and it turns out, it wasn’t just cosmetic. Being underweight and flea infested was the least of Father’s problems.

I was about to take Father away when the vet tech told me that the vet wanted to have a word with me. I could tell by her tone that it wasn’t going to be good. A female vet entered the room. I don’t remember her name nor what she looked like, but she was an associate and not a partner in that practice. At the time, the clinic had a bit of a turnover with the associate vets making it hard to remember who they were since they didn’t stick around long then. The one thing I do remember well is her saying that Father had heartworms. The vet explained to me what it was, what would happen to Father if he were not treated and what treatment options were available, and of course, the treatment’s cost, several hundreds.

I didn’t make an immediate decision on something of this magnitude because something like this needed to be discussed w/ Father’s co-owner, my mom. I took Father out of the room, stopped by the receptionist’s desk, paid the bill and left.

On the way home, Father got sick again.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Father Goes to the Vet: The Drop-off

We waited almost a half a year until we decided to take Father for a check-up at the vet. It took us a while to do this because we had been burned by the “Princess Ordeal”, and we didn’t want to get emotionally or financially involved with Father only to have some negligent owner swoop in and take him back. However, after waiting a while and asking around with the neighbors about Father, it was apparent that Father’s owners were not going to step forward.

Not only was Father going in for an exam, but he was also going to be groomed, so I was going to drop him off in the morning and pick him up later that afternoon. My mom made the appointment and gave instructions to the clinic what needed to be done while I was the one who had to take Father to the vet. What made the chore annoying was that my mom wanted to use a vet in Knightdale, a town about 10 miles east of where we lived, and it was also in the wrong direction on my way to school, so I was going to have to go 40 miles out of my way that day to get Father to the vet even though there are many choices of vets inside Raleigh itself. At the time, the US 64 Bypass had not been built, so the only way to Knightdale was US 64, which is also a major artery from Raleigh into eastern Wake Co. and eastern NC. That 10 mile drive at the time would often take 30 minutes but it wasn’t unusual for it to take over an hour. It was a pain in the ass having to go through that hick town with all of its randomly timed red lights.

I learned several things that day. First, Father gets car sick – easily. I had hardly pulled out of the driveway onto the street when Father started peeing and throwing up in my car which I had otherwise kept in good shape of 8 years. Poor Father was panting heavily in the backseat the whole way. When we arrived at the vet, a vet tech was in the only person at the reception desk. I told him my name and that we had an appointment. He asked my why Father was there, and I said I really didn’t know what was scheduled for him that day since my mom had made the appointment. The guy, Bob, got gruffy. Then when another client came in, he grew even more frustrated and yelled in the back for some help. Later, a few months, I commented to the vet that Bob scared Father, to which the vet said “Bob scares a lot of people.” I was a little put off by the guy at first and still find him a little odd, but the guy has been at the clinic well over 14 years now, and from what I know, he is a loyal and dependable employee. Vets would love to have employees like that.

Bob took Father to back for his exam and grooming while I went to school with a detour home in order to clean the backseat after Father’s mess.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Scott, you just don't get it."

Those who are fans of the Austin Powers movies will immediately recognize the movie quote above. It was said by Dr. Evil in response to his son’s persistence in using a simpler and more straightforward method to eliminate Austin Powers as compared to Dr. Evil’s elaborate and drawn-out scheme to get rid of Austin Powers. After a lengthy exchange with his son, Dr. Evil finally snaps at Scott, his son, and says “Scott, you just don’t get it.” I guess for Dr. Evil it was the joy of killing, the journey if you will, and not just the killing itself which gave him satisfaction. Anyway, the quote reminds me of something Father did one time when he was trying to get my attention in order to let him outside one evening.

A few weeks after Abby had learned the ‘stare at the door’ trick, Father thought he would copy Abby. Abby’s trick was to sit in the area on the living room floor between my chair and the TV, stare at the door, which was behind me, and cut her eyes at me. I would then ask her if she wanted to go ‘out’ or ‘pee-pee’, and if she immediately hopped up, then I would let her out.

One evening, my mom was entering the living room and told me to turn around and look behind me. There was Father sitting at the far end of the living room pointing towards the door. He had to go outside and was using Abby’s method of getting my attention except for one crucial element – getting my attention.

Father didn’t understand that a key aspect of that tactic was getting my attention. On one hand, I was proud of him for trying to learn and for paying attention. However, he just didn’t grasp the whole concept what Abby was doing. He only grasped why she was doing it. Father didn’t get it.

I thought it was sweet for Father trying to learn. At the time, he must have been around 6 years old, so learning something like that must have been very difficult for him. I found it sad that he had to look to a puppy to guide him in his learning and adjusting to his new situation. It would be like a 35 year old man learning from a kindergartener on norms and customs in society.

Father later switched to another method to get my attention when he wanted to go out. He would walk up to where I was sitting, stare at me, and make small quick steps in a jittery manner. He would almost seem to bounce when he was doing that motion. I would ask him if he wanted to ‘go out’, and he would head towards the door.

Father was learning.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Teacher Becomes the Student

Communication is a two-way street, even with dogs. My dogs were normally taken out three times a day: after waking up, just after I returned from work and in the late evening. If my mom was taking care of them, they went out a few more times in addition to their ‘normal hours’. My mom often spent time by the pool, at the patio or in her garden, and the dogs were normally out there with her the whole time. But what if the dogs needed to go potty outside of their usual times? Fortunately for me, Abby was a smart dog and had her ways of communication with me.

For example, at night if she needed to go out, she would sit right beside me in the bed and stare at me. Since I was asleep, I shouldn’t have been able to notice her looking at me, but it’s strange how someone knows when someone or something is looking at him. It’s almost like an ‘extra-sensory’ perception. Normally, that would work, but sometimes Abby had to put a little ‘oomph’ into it and whine a little. That definitely woke me up except for one time. When I woke up that next morning, I found out the hard way that Abby had diarrhea the previous night and there was doo-doo all over my bedroom floor. (Did I mention that I was a sound sleeper?)

During the daytime, Abby used different tactics to tell me she needed to go outside. The most simple and effective was the ‘bark’. She had a way of barking to let me know she wanted to go out as opposed to wanting to be feed or wanting to play. She also had a ‘deep voice’ , as it were, which made it hard to ignore her. A more subtle method was for her to sit in area between my chair and the TV in the living room. She would have her back to the TV and her face pointing towards the door. She wouldn’t look at me directly, but she would cut her eyes at me from time to time. I would then ask her ‘You want to go pee pee?’, and if she needed to go, she would immediately get up and heads towards the door. Sometimes I wouldn’t take the hint, and that is when she would go ‘woof.’

This is an example of many when Abby was able to figure things out and perform without my trying to make her do that act. I don’t know much about dog behavior to figure out to get her to do things as complicated as what I just described. (It’s complicated to me, anyway.)In a way, Abby was training me. She was definitely an 'alpha' dog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Housetraining Abby

One of the most frustrating things about a new puppy is housetraining it. I do not claim to be an authority on the matter, but I will recount the ways I tried to housetrain Abby. As I noted earlier, I lucked into finding a way of keeping Abby from going to the bathroom during the night. But sleeping takes up around a third of the day which leaves around 16 hours of dealing with a puppy’s random and erratic potty habits.

When I woke up, the first thing I did, even before tending to my own duties, was to immediately take Abby outside to the backyard. When I say ‘take’, I mean picking her up from the bed, bringing her outside and placing her down on the ground. In the morning, Abby didn’t need much coaxing into using the bathroom. The moment I put her on the ground, she did her business. I only had to do this the first week or so after we got Abby. However, at night, before we went to bed, getting her to ‘go’ was a chore.

It was very frustrating to leave a puppy out for a half an hour, only for it to immediately relieve itself the moment it returns inside. I asked my cousin, Nikki’s owner, what to do, and she said to always praise Abby every time she would use the bathroom outside. As silly as it sounded, I gave it a try since my method was obviously not working. So, the moment we woke up, I’d ask Abby if she was ready to go ‘pee-pee’. Then while she was doing her business, I would say ‘good girl’ and ‘pee pee’. I’d use a singy-songy voice that was pleasant to her ears. But at first, even that wasn’t enough to entice her at times. Embarrassingly, I would actually pee in the yard myself in order to coax her into peeing. As cooky and eccentric as this sounds, it worked.

Once Abby got into a routine, she would regularly go outside about 90% of the time with no problems. It was the other 10% that was the most difficult addressing. One thing I do know about housetraining is that it takes time and persistence.