Archives for posts with tag: dog

(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

We were both afraid to close our eyes. In darkness, I was visited by nightmares while Jeanette felt desperately alone. The night after the surgery, she lay awake listening to the hospital noises. Finally, she decided it was time for her to get up. She didn’t want to make trouble for the nurses so she hoisted herself out of bed, clung to the rail and shuffled across the floor. Then she stopped, halted by the image of someone looking back at her from the mirror, someone with a bruised and beaten face. She searched her own eyes but couldn’t find herself in her reflection.

After four nights of sleeping on a rolled out blanket in the Eartha Kitt room at Rob and Amy’s, I was eager to go home. Jeanette’s brother David came with me and stayed in my guest room to serve as protector. Despite the comfort of my bed, I still lay awake and wondered how I’d manage on my own. Fear is a powerful and insidious force.

Jeanette was released from the hospital and moved into protective custody at Mary’s house. With her jaw wired shut, she started eating through a syringe until we perfected the art of making shakes and mashing food. Karen stayed with her but she would soon have to return to work, so another friend spearheaded the effort to provide around-the-clock care for Jeanette. An elaborate schedule of rotating friends was laid out—when one would leave, another would arrive.

My neighbor Amy decided she’d feel better if we got a dog, and she found one pictured on a notice at the café down the street. She called the number and arranged a meeting. I was out on patrol with Cagney when Michael showed up with his dog Gus. Michael had just moved from the east coast to study yoga at a teaching center on the beach. When he ran out of money, he moved into an ashram nearby but the group home didn’t allow dogs. Amy thought the arrangement would be perfect—she and Rob could take Gus on a temporary basis. She was excited about the prospect, more excited than the event seemed to merit. That’s when she revealed that Michael was an extraordinarily handsome young man. “I can totally see you with him,” she said.

(This story is part of a continuing series, Learning Grace, about a girl and her dog. The first part begins here.)

The first time I poured food into a bowl and set it on the floor, Grace ate like the fat man in a hotdog-eating contest. To be fair, her only mealtime experience before me had been first scrambling for an available teat, and then shoving and shoveling her way through a mound of food alongside five hungry siblings. Judging from her girth it clearly hadn’t been a problem for her, but now that she was at my house she’d have to learn some ground rules.

So day two began with her first training session.

Fortunately for me, a food-motivated dog is an eager learner, and mine was voracious. Upon waking, I let her sample a few treats, then I held one above her nose and pushed it back over her head. She tracked it with her eyes and automatically rocked back into a sit. Once her butt hit the floor, I said sit so she could assign the action with the word. Until she knew what the word meant, saying it first was just human noise.

We did that a dozen times or so, took a break to run off some energy, and then tried again. And again. And again. After one of our breaks when she wasn’t particularly paying attention to me, I casually walked toward her and said, “Sit.” I could see her eyes light with recognition. She immediately dropped back into a sit, and I quickly gave her a reward before going bonkers with excitement. “You did it, Grace! You did it!” She bounced, matching my enthusiasm, and we celebrated with abandon. But was it a fluke? I wondered. To make sure, I became still and waited for her to calm herself. Then I said, “Grace, sit.” She snapped to attention, dropped her butt to the floor and looked up at me with those sweet, expectant eyes, the ones that suggested that I was the center of her universe. Me and the raw, grain-free, wild-caught salmon treats.

I was completely blown away. My baby dog was sitting on command in an hour! Yes, I know it’s the easiest trick in the book, but it was also the first step in our journey of communication. And both of us seemed so earnest in our desire to understand one another.