Sunday, May 06, 2012

Dog Etiquette ... by gimleteye

I could write about the Everglades today and the $890 million the state will reportedly spend (Miami Herald) as a result of litigation brought by Friends of the Everglades-- the organization for which I volunteer time as president of the board-- and which other environmental groups did not want to join when the original litigation was filed years ago, but instead I want to tell you about my dog. To be fair, Friends has partners in other aspects of Everglades related litigation ... I still want to write about my dog.

Cassius is a 90 lb Chesapeake Bay retriever. Here is a photo of Cassius the day I brought him home about five years ago. He is wishing his mother were near but instead is squeezed to sleep by the baseboard nook.

Cassius wants to please, but he wants to do it his own way.

He will agree to everything I want him to do so long as he agrees to it first. This explains why, when it is time to jump back in the car after a walk in the park, he will take the most circuitous route possible, testing my patience with every sniff and last pee until he goes through the pantomime of remembering: oh, now you want me to get in the car?

Then just before jumping, he looks up as if to say, "I'm here now. What is it you wanted me to do?"

Cassius is a one-way retriever. That is to say, he is half-trained. He will chase sticks endlessly, then bring them back to me in a manner of speaking. He takes the long route. When he wants me to throw the stick again he will walk ahead of me in the direction I'm walking and drop the stick for me to rediscover. In other words, the game of retrieve for Cassius involves me retrieving the stick he's retrieved. That's a Chesapeake.

Cassius will retrieve a log if I throw it. But of all the thousands of sticks, balls, toy ducks and miniature tires, what he loves best is to retrieve a blade of grass.

When I lie down on the grass in the yard he turns into an animated ball of attention. His entire being focuses on the blade of grass between my fingers. I drop it. He tries to find it. I pick another blade of grass and he goes into prey and quarry mode. Every fiber of his being wants to attach to my fingers and that blade of grass, or the next one, or the next one after that. Chesapeakes aren't for everyone, but they are for me.


Jeffrey Scott Wilson said...

I love this continuing article on your friend. Great writing.

EugeneFlinn said...

I am glad that you are enjoying your Chessie. We too once had a Chesapeake Bay retriever as part of our family. He was brought home at the most chaotic of times, a few months before hurricane Andrew. Quite a strong pup, both physically and in will. He always tested the boundaries with both Alexandra and me. He was quite imperturbable as well. I can still recall taking him outside (on the sheltered side) during Hurricane Andrew about 5 AM. To say that everything was blowing was an understatement, but the dog was more curious than frightened. The same remained true during New Years and Independence Days – a true gun dog by birth, the only dog I owned who never cowered in the face of fireworks, thunder or loud noise. To the contrary, he always wanted to be part of the action. A strong swimmer. Adult guests could hold the base of this tail and he would pull you (when so inclined) to pull anyone across the length of the pool. Truly his attitude was always “bring it.”

He was the first retriever we ever owned. The first I ever trained to fetch the paper each day (a duty now carried one with pride by our current yellow lab, Ginger). He entertained more than a few strollers of the neighborhood who observed paper retrieval as a chore most people consider more urban legend than actual benefit of ownership.

Our Chessie was a strong dog that initially seemed more wired for adult ownership. He was spirited to the point that we thought we would be giving him away upon arrival of our first daughter, but to our surprise, he immediately adjusted and became quite a fan of children, at times just strolling next to her as she walked and played in the back yard, never once even incidentally tripping or pushing a child. Never would he tolerate being excluded from being near the children. He was both their “guard” and companion.

On his annoying side, he was quite a high energy dog that would retrieve the silliest things in the house. Anything just to gain attention (I wonder what steered to him becoming such an extrovert?)

He loved our backyard (a great place for him when we were not sharing his high energy)– developing a taste for both mangos and a certain variety of oranges (I never figured out the variety before the tree was removed). I would have to race the dog to fight for any mango that dropped from the tree and the dog in his prime could jump to 6 feet high (ground to top of snout) to pull an orange from the tree (obviously he stayed behind our fence because he wanted to, having a strong sense of physical boundaries). He enjoyed more than a few strawberries that we grew, but tomatoes and peppers were always safe.

I still feel bad for the dog in that something within our yard caused him to suffer severe skin allergies that required constant treatment; medication, special foods and baths. The summers were often not comfortable months for him. We never were able to locate and eliminate the cause of the dog’s discomfort from our yard, perhaps it was airborne. Maybe he just was not meant for South Florida. The medication probably shorted his life.

In the end (and that the problem with dogs, there is always a far too early end to all stories) he suffered a terrible cancer. Surgery temporarily removed the tumors and we had a great additional 6 months post-surgery, but that 6 months closed without mercy. In the end the dog became our children’s first education of death. Better to break ground with your children on the subject with a pet than with one of their grandparents.

Loved the Chessie, and would have another but for the fear of South Florida just not being good for its skin.

Gimleteye said...

Thanks for the note. Sorry to hear about your loss. Dogs and pets generally do occupy a large space in the heart. When they go it can be brutal. Yes the Florida climate is rough on dogs bred for colder places. Cassius is susceptible to skin infections, too. Seems to be seasonal and also related to allergies. So far Cassius responds to antibiotics. More, later!

Anonymous said...

My Millie Girl is half-trained herself.


Love your story.

Geniusofdespair said...

I can't believe Cassius is 5 already. I remember when you got him and I would swear it was only about 3 years ago. Time flies when you're blogging. Love your photo and your story, I like getting to know the soft side of that big dog.

Anonymous said...

Chesapeakes are known as the dumbest of all the retrievers. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Really, Anon above, are you sure? Did you give each retriever breed a Wonderlic Test? It works on football players, surely it must be suitable for dogs.