I need to preface this post with the declaration that I have never been fond of animals. That began with my paternal grandmother’s rat terrier, a small but vicious creature which always seemed bent on devouring my ankles. Woe be to the person who attempted to dissuade the dog from taking a chunk out of their legs from kneecap down. Ester (I can call her by her first name since she is deceased) made it clear by voice and threats of caning that any attempt to discipline the dog would not be tolerated. We all knew from whom the dog learned its behavior.
Eventually the dog disappeared, no-one knew how or when. From the day after the dog went missing Frank (paternal grandfather) displayed a knowing smile and broke out into a mischievous grin while professing no knowledge of the dog’s whereabouts when queried. Shortly after the dog was not to be found, Ester died.
All though my formative years the subject of pets was forbidden by mother and except for the saga of the frozen goldfish, recounted elsewhere in these blogs, strictly enforced. It wasn’t until I married Tish that I learned the negatives of pet ownership, or I should put that more accurately, ownership by pet. By the time she died we had had a Heinz 57 mutt, a golden retriever, 2 Welsh Corgis, 2 Dobermans, and 2 Bassett Hounds. Each dog suddenly appeared in my house without warning. Tish always seemed to be the recipient of someone else’s largess. The dogs arrived without any of the necessities except fleas and health problems. Once domiciled in our home it became my appointed duty to walk, bathe, feed, and scoop poop. Whoopi!! When the dog had worn out its welcome it was my duty to dispose of the dog. Friends, animal shelter, anywhere I could find to rid the house of the animal. Before I recount the episodes of Sherlock the Clueless, I ought to add that in that time frame we also had a Siamese Seal Point cat, several Heinz 57s, and 22 Japanese Bobtail cats. These adventures will be described in latter Bloggs.
Our first Bassett Hound was Bailey, a female rescued from the pound who had been found wandering around a local lake. Tish picked her up after the dog’s hysterectomy. She ran out of the building and hopped into the car as if she had been born in it. Over the first several weeks her behavior seemed to indicate she had been trained to hunt. She would stalk and point, especially rabbits. Bailey settled in and I was OK with her in the house. I set up a doggie door for the patio slider and she quickly learned to use it. Tish was working for LA Children’s Hospital at the time in the Plastic surgery clinic. I was working in a mental health clinic as director of the homeless mentally ill program. One day after I worked late dealing with a crisis, I arrived home and was set upon by a strange Bassett Hound, the totally opposite from Bailey.
Apparently, one of the Docs with whom Tish worked couldn’t keep the dog. Unfortunately Tish accepted the dog and bought it home without consultation. The dog’s name was Sherlock. The name was ironic, somewhat like calling a thin man “Chubb”, or a man with white hair “Red”. When out with Bailey at one of her favorite hunting grounds, Sherlock would stick his face in front of Bailey when she was in her point, dance around her to return to the face planting, figure out what Bailey had sighted then run full tilt at the rabbits scattering them. On occasion Bailey would become so angry that she would wack Sherlock with a paw. Didn’t phase him much though.
Our back yard went out about 30-40 feet from the house to a rock wall. From there a slope went up 20 feet to a second level on which was a garden, several large redwood trees, and scrub to a back fence. One of the trees had a large dead branch about 8 feet off the ground from which Tish hung a squirrel feeder with peanuts. On this particular morning Tish and I were in the garden weeding and Sherlock was wandering around aimlessly as was his usual behavior. Bailey was sunning herself on the other side of the yard. As we watched, a squirrel ran down the branch and began to stuff peanuts into its mouth, squawking at Sherlock all the while. As the squirrel turned and begun to run back along the limb it slipped and fell… in front of Sherlock who immediately caught the poor dazed creature in his mouth, and stood there motionless. It seemed he was unable to decide what to do next. Tish and I yelled at him and eventually he loosened his grip and the squirrel scooted off. He then made several circuits on the ground under the feeder as if he was attempting to process what had just transpired. He then laid down and began looking up at the feeder waiting for the squirrel to come back and fall again. I could just imagine him thinking “I know what I am going to do now. I now what I am going to do!” For three days and nights this dog lay under the feeder convinced the squirrel would return, fall, and he would then know what to do. Psychologists who study learning call this “one shot learning”. All the while Bailey was watching, shaking her head as if to say “dummy”!
I find myself doing the same thing as Sherlock. A kind word, a piece of chocolate, or other rewards and I am under the feeder awaiting the squirrel. I need to learn to take these as they occur, accept them, and back off.