Saturday, January 21, 2012

Four-legged inspiration for today

Here I sit, another blank blog page in front of me with nothing of quality to write about. Oh, I could go on-and-on about my childhood or the political season and today's primary election in South Carolina. Or I could sit and poke a fork in my eye and probably feel better than writing about those topics.

Celeste is staring at me with her deep brown eyes -- the kind of eyes that you can get lost in and make people infer human emotions and thoughts onto their four-legged companions. And then she goes over to sniff the behind of Harley Quinn (our Schnoodle) and expects me to warmly welcome her back by allowing her to lick me on the face. Again she stares at me, looking as if she could say, "Mommy, hurry up and finish making those clicking noises on that thing that takes up so much of your time so we can take a nap on the couch together." Meanwhile, Harley -- whom I'm convinced is completely insane -- just looks at me as if this huge interloper who only joined our family last July (Harley's been around since 2009) has broken every rule in the house and should be the one left-behind when we go out.

Harley could have been a service dog and was adopted from the local Humane Society to be trained as one. My previous service dog, Cody (a Sheltie), was aging quickly and his health was very poor. Once Harley was added to the household, he began to perk-up and was even attempting to show her what she would and wouldn't be allowed to do in "his" house. Harley was basically a "nurse dog" for Cody -- licking his eyes and ears to help keep them clean, laying next to him when he'd fall asleep on the floor instead of his cushion, and was even there right beside him the day that he passed away. I used Cody as an example for Harley. I'd tell him to sit and he would. I'd praise him highly and then ask the same of Harley. She looked at me as if I'd just asked her to build a time machine and would walk away.

Cody was a "superdog" -- a phrase we use in our family for a dog that has fabulous talents and, yes, those human qualities that we shouldn't place on our dogs but we just can't help it. He was a puppy mill rescue. He'd been a breeder dog and had never known love or affection. Even toys baffled him. Roll a ball to any dog of most any age and they're going to go after it. Roll a ball to Cody and he looked at you as if to ask, "Why would you do that to me?" He never played catch; he never got into a tug-of-war; and he never tried to perform a trick or command for a treat. The only time he would ever jump on the bed was if it was storming outside. Not only could he jump up onto the bed but he could clear me and land right between Husband and me. But, if I forgot to take my medication or if I was having a panic attack, he was right there nudging me awake and looking at my purse where my meds are kept or laying on my chest to help me relax. He tried once to bring my purse to him, but the people who had him before me had so poorly taken care of him he didn't have many teeth left. Pulling with his gums was very uncomfortable yet he still tried every day.

So bringing in Harley was, I thought, a stroke of genius. She could see up-close-and-personal what was expected while hearing the commands and being able to be rewarded for properly completing them. Little did I know that when you have a dog with as much ADD as the owner, the dog isn't going to pay attention to crap. Actually, let me rephrase that -- because she did pay attention to crap. The cat's crap. And found it to be a delightful after-dinner dessert before trying to lick your face. That habit was broken VERY quickly!

But I thought that her being around a trained dog and having the structure of becoming trained as a service dog would help speed along the process. Schnoodles are Poodle/Schnauzer mixes. They're considered a "designer dog" and I felt very lucky to have found her at the pound and to give her a new lease on life. Poodles are very, very smart dogs and have hair instead of fur -- something that would be ideal for a family of asthmatics like mine. Schnauzers are terriers and are also supposed to be very intelligent with very little odor or shedding. Again, that was a big plus for us. And Harley showed every bit of the Poodle in her with the exception of the Schnauzer beard that no matter how you trimmed it still wanted to stand-out as a Schnauzer trait. I had hoped that it was the only stubborn part of the Schnauzer we'd gotten but I was wrong. So very wrong. As she got older the terrier part of her personality became very prominent. She to this day still growls and barks at every squirrel, bunny, or leaf that passes her view as if they're the largest threat ever to mankind and she's the only dog that knows it or can do something about it.

You can just say the word "squirrel" in our house and she'll bolt for the nearest window or door and begin to stand guard.

The more I worked with her, the more she tried to learn but just wasn't able to keep it all straight in her head. Plus, add a hyper dog to a person with anxiety and you've got a bad mix. She was very good at mimicking Cody by trying to lay on my lap or my chest to calm me down during moments of panic. What she wasn't good at doing was staying there until everything had passed. What was more likely to happen was she would be there for me to pet and try to calm down before she would jump off, growling loudly at something only she knew about which would then increase my anxiety even more because I'd become worried over something that I'd missed or that could actually be dangerous. I started freaking-out on my own over leaves tumbling down the driveway for no apparent reason!

Soon, the State of Missouri passed a law that only service dogs (and grandfathered service horses for the blind) would be recognized and that they had to be trained by an accredited and certified service animal trainer. That effectively put an end to my continuing to self-train Harley for the job I needed her to perform but certainly wasn't going to get. However, she was definitely assured her continued place in our household because once you've met her you can't forget her. She's hysterical and, as I said above, almost certainly insane. She's just the right size for cuddling and picks-up quickly on emotional changes of not just family members but also anyone she's around.

And if you recognized where we got the name "Harley Quinn," you'll understand that the insanity was aptly named before we ever encountered it.

So, I began my search for a service dog that would comply with the new State laws and was paired with Celeste. She had been trained very well and it took a week of training me to get me up to speed enough so that she'd realize that I was the new person in charge and that I had worth to her. That "worth" being food, water, shelter, and affection. That's another reason why I have "DO NOT PET" on her vest -- she needs to have her entire attention on me and if she gets lots of attention from others, why would she want to keep protecting me?

Celeste has tried to blend in with the family and not usurp much of Harley's "dominance" (for lack of a better word). However, when Harley has her bits of insanity and believes that a 30-pound dog can go toe-to-toe with an 85-pound dog in No-Holds Barred Hardwood Floor Rambunctious Roughhousing, Celeste is quick to put a paw on Harley's shoulders as if she could say, "Look think you're big but you have NO idea what you're getting into and I'm gonna let you off easy even though you've been trying to bite at my ear for the past 10 minutes. How about you calm down and we'll all get along?" When that doesn't work, she just grabs her by the nape of the neck and moves her out-of-the-way. Celeste was raised in a pack and learned pack mentality. Harley was abandoned on the side of the road and we have no idea if she understands the standard pack pecking order. But she's learning it now.

While I've been typing this Harley has decided to come in and join the staring. They both are looking as if no one has ever, EVER in their lifetimes given them a pet or food or any attention whatsoever. They try to push my hands off the keyboard and, especially Harley, get into things they know they shouldn't but they also know will annoy the crap out of me and make me get up to see what they're doing. I guess I'll end today's post.

Plus, when they act like that it usually means they need to go "walkies" and that's a whole other adventure in itself.

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