Sunday, May 28, 2017

Service Dog People II


Charlie has been wearing the exact same look for the last four years.

The placement counselor at the Humane Society was right. I had a lot of dog on my hands. Now known as Brockle, my new boy was a whirling dervish. He would sprint the length and back of the off-leash area in Garden of the Gods seven, eight, a dozen times before I finished half of the two-mile loop. He tormented the other dogs non-stop. He didn't bite, but he yipped and bullied. Charlie, my good old blue-collar rat terrier, was horrified.
In the house, he paced an endless loop, checked every window, made sure I was where he left me, cruised the backyard and started again. I'm pretty sure I know why he was returned by his third family after barely 12 hours.  Brockle spent his first evening in our home repeatedly trying to hump every single human in it. We explained to him pretty damn quick how we felt about being humped and it was the last time the subject came up. He ate nothing, but dribbled diarrhea everywhere for days. 

He latched onto me with everything he had. I couldn't shift my weight in a chair without having his hot nose poking me to see what was up. He walked with his muzzle against my leg, everywhere. He searched my face and looked deep into my eyes every chance he got. I timed him one day. We made intense eye contact 30 times in five minutes. I couldn't blame him. He had been dumped three times before he turned a year. Separation anxiety much?

Then there was the bad stuff. He went nuts in the car, barking and snarling at every dog he saw. Our first walk on-leash ended up with me laid out on the ground, where I rolled up the leash until I pinned  him and stopped him from tearing the head off a passing dog. The same thing happened on our second walk and the third.

My close friend, Susie, came over to meet the new dog. She came in the front door, unannounced as usual, her sweet Lab, Mandy, at her heels. Brockle threw himself at the new dog with a roar. I ran up and pulled him off poor Mandy and he air-snapped, just missing my face. It was time to ask for help.

I made an appointment with a trainer, Jim Beinlich, whose regular column I read in our local newspaper. His posts were intelligent, well-written and made sense to me. I explained my situation.

   "Do you think you're in danger?"  

   A great first question if you ask me.
   "I don't," I said. "I may not understand him, but he's not attacking for fun. He hasn't threatened any family member, human or animal, since we brought him home. There's a good dog in there, but I don't have a clue how to coax it out."

Jim specialized in protection obedience  and scent work. He wasn't cheap. It was going go be tough to find the dough, but curiosity and my gut told me Brockle was worth the investment. We arranged a first lesson later in the week and I put down my worry. Part of the reason I  wanted another dog was I desperately needed a project that didn't involve illness, bills and sadness. Brockle soon proved himself worth every dime spent on lessons and then some.

Parkinson's Disease messed with me constantly. One of the biggies was chronic insomnia. I've never been much of a sleeper, but now it was crazy. Being my S.O.'s sole caretaker wasn't helping much. His stroke had left him a very different man, frightened and seeing terrible things in every shadow. I still blame my decision to adopt Brockle on chronic sleep deprivation.

One murky 2:00 a.m. I wandered down the hall for the hundredth time. This time, I crashed. It was the first episode of many, I still deal with it today. I felt dizzy, barely had time to think, Uh Oh, before I did a face-plant and passed out. The P.D. seemed to have squashed the ability to save myself in a fall.

I oozed into consciousness snorting a nose full of dog hair. As a matter of fact, I was pretty much blanketed in dog. A big, pointy nose snuffled my dog, slobbered face. Brockle had pressed his entire length against me as I lay unconscious on the floor. I struggled to sit up and he let me lean into him when the room began to spin. We sat on the floor with our foreheads pressed together. He stayed quiet and still until I felt strong enough to get on my feet.

Then he went outside and jumped poor Charlie.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Service Dog People

Some of you know Brockle.

He's the amazing dog who came into my life at a time I needed him most.

He's also an absolute shit, but I digress.

I'll give a quick background for those who don't know him, a little bit of where we're at now and then get on with my point.

I found Brockle at our local Humane Society. We visited, we clicked, and I said I wanted him. Before I could adopt, there needed to be a meeting with the animal placement counselor. I was surprised, our animal shelter is pretty matter of fact. If you like the dog, you meet the dog, if you like each other, paperwork is filled out, money paid and off you go.

It turned out my future dog was a three time loser. He had come into the pound as a three-month-old stray. He was adopted out to a young couple who moved to California. They split up and she returned with nine-month-old Brockle. She needed two jobs to afford her crappy apartment with a 10'x12' community "dog park." Within a month Brockle snapped, blew up his kennel, CHEWED THROUGH THE APARTMENT WALL AND INTO THE COMPLEX HALL. This was after he ate her couch.
He ended up back where he started, at the Humane Society.

At ten months a family adopted him. They had a yard, rough and tumble kids and everybody just loved him.His paperwork was done at closing and they all skipped off into the sunset. The father of the happy family was waiting at the Humane Society door, first thing in the next morning, dog in hand.

"We don't have a lot on what exactly happened," the animal placement counselor said. She riffled through her notes.
"Hmmm...'he's a horrible dog, why didn't anybody warn us....this dog should be destroyed...he's lucky I didn't shoot him myself'...he didn't give any specifics."

The counselor had more to share. The large, bony, hairy dog was well-liked by the staff, and it was decided he could do a stint at Camp Woof-Woof. The camp was a business who donated training for pound dogs. They got socialization, basic obedience, manners and specific problems like leash aggression, guarding behavior etc. addressed. Dogs that should be great, but are just missing the mark, are sent for a little re-hab. He failed the program at Camp Woof-woof.

"What part?" I asked.

"All of it. Everything. He wreaked so much havoc they sent him back."

I sat back and studied the counselor. I was sick, swollen, old, and one-armed. Clearly, she was studying me too. I thought about the dog. When he was first brought to our meet n' greet, he paced, to the window, to my daughter, to the bubbly volunteer and back to the window again. He would brush against my knees as he passed. I waited. He paced. When he finally settled, he laid across my feet with a sigh and his back pressed against my shins. We spent a quiet five minutes and I knew we'd work out.

"I think we'll be fine," I said. I'm an avid walker. I'm not inexperienced with dogs and although I'm not a dog trainer, I am a retired horse trainer."

"Do you think your training background will be enough?"

"I'm not trying to come off as a know-it-all," I replied. "Being a horse trainer just means I'm smart enough to get professional help if we need it. I've never given up on a dog before and I won't start now."

We filled out paperwork, I wrote a check and took my new dog home.

Well, soo-prize soo-prize, look at that. I got all long winded and will have to come back to my original point next time.
Later gators.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Horses

   Starbucks was a beautiful bay with a bright white star on his forehead. He was bred right, had a refined and solid look to him and had been a show horse for seven of his eight years. The gelding was a solid performer in both reining and cow horse, and won about eight grand during his career.      Starbucks survived being started, ridden and trained by his green owner with grace and dignity.

   The game little horse had his quirks. He was hot and bronc-y when I first got on him, spooky, and hyper vigilant, especially around cattle. If I stepped up and kicked him through his fear, he would put in a sharp performance. The wide eyed, blown up nostrils and pricked ears gave him great expression.

   I became actively involved with Starbucks when his owner put him up for sale. One of my clients was looking for a new horse and they were an excellent match. She put him in training with me and immediately asked if I would turn him out in the big corral filled with horses in front of my barn. It was kind of a catch-all pen for the wash-outs, the cheap 2-year-olds, and the occasional abandoned horse.

 "I'm going to keep him on pasture with my other horse and I want to make sure he can get along and respect fences," she told me.

   This plan got me in immediate trouble with the Big K. He had a strict policy against turnout for client horses. If they were on the property, they were a legal liability, and they stayed where they were safest, in their box stalls. I chafed at the restriction, the life of a horse in training was tough enough without ever getting the bucks out or a run with a buddy. This of course had created a friction between us.

   Starbucks spent the last two years in a stall with a 2' x 3' pee hole.It was regularly filled with shavings, but deep enough to twist my ankle when I went to halter him. He developed the habit of standing stretched across the hole and slept curled around it  like a fawn in the grass,  instead of flat out. I moved Starbucks to a stall where he could sniff noses with his future pen mates and feel the wind in preparation for his big move.

   I turned him out the following week and he took off, bucking and bolting around and through the horses. Thirty minutes later, he ran out of steam and stopped to snort and paw with the boss mare. His kind and gentle way with people translated right over to horses and he settled in without a single squeal.

   K stopped by to give me an earful, but I explained it to him.

   "It's better he work things out here than get run through a fence after he goes home," I said. Something, somewhere must have been aligned that day because he shrugged and walked away.

   That afternoon, Starbucks found a warm, sunny spot out of the wind, laid down and stretched from stem to stern in the soft, dry manure. He slept harder then I've ever seen a horse sleep. Worried, I kept checking on him, but he seemed fine. The only thing bothering him was me, so I finally left him alone. Except for eating, he slept in that same spot for a week straight.

   His owner came out and decided to stay off him until he voluntarily gave up his naps. She was one of the clients I honestly liked.

   Once I started riding again, it was like I was on a new horse. Starbucks hadn't been ridden for most of the week, but he led out of the corral as calm as he usually came in after a ride. There was no buck, no fidget, just interest. He was still snorty, but what a difference. His ears flicked back and forth, his tail swished a gentle happy beat and our ride was smooth and solid.

   He went home to his new life in the mountains and only got better. I heard from his owner off and on for a few years and ditzy, snorty Starbucks grew to be a rock-solid gem.

   I look out my window at my horses. They are fat, their manes and tails are tangled and they're kinda sorta muddy. Nobody has worn shoes for years. They're a little irritated with me because the pasture is coming in and they're still free feeding on 2016 grass hay, but a horse who free feeds doesn't get worked up about much. They are calm. Even Madonna is quiet and content.

   My horsekeeping plan evolved from my health limitations. It's working out pretty well, but the image of Starbucks stretched out in the warm manure and soaking up the sun is in the back of my mind all the time.



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