After years of filing planned subdivisions away in the mental folder labeled No Thank You (“little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same…”), I have arrived at a change of heart. My two-car garage is just the beginning of a long list of minor luxuries that I adore about our new home. Not that I didn’t get a thrill from being outside in the dark, freezing morning, scraping ice off my windshield and dropping my glove into a slush puddle. But climbing into a warm dry car every morning is, well, pretty damn awesome, in comparison. The efficiency, speed, and beauty of my Sears and Roebuck Door Genie as it raises and lowers the garage door makes me feel as though I am a member of the Granthams, or at least the Beverly Hillbillies.
Nonetheless, the happiest new homeowners in our family are not the people. Our two dogs Henry and Pancake love our new place, especially our backyard which is spacious and green and surrounded by cedar trees. To fully grasp their joy, you must endure the backstory, which is thus. For the last seven years, since we brought them home from the Kanawha County Animal Shelter, they have been walked on a leash. Three walks a day (sometimes four) times seven years equals an approximate 7665 walks on a leash. Most of them involved a lot of pulling as neither dog ever really mastered the command “heel.” And with the exception of a trip to the dog park, or an occasional jailbreak, they have never been able to run around freely. Now, dogs are domesticated animals and I don’t feel a bit guilty about the fact that they have been kept on a leash for most of their lives. In fact, I’m sure that being on a leash has saved their lives many times. But no matter how many hundreds of walks they were taken on, they have never overcome their more beastly instincts to chase squirrels and other small animals (see below) or to just try to dash out the front door, if perchance, some oblivious teenager has left it ajar.
When we first brought him home from the animal shelter, Henry had pneumonia. He recovered with the help of a strong batch of antibiotics, climbed off his deathbed, and began pacing around our house like a caged lion. Once the front door was opened, he dashed out. We set out around the area looking for him and discovered him at the home of the Kanawha County Sheriff, where he jumped right up on the man and urinated on him in enthusiasm. The auxiliary dog, Pancake, has never had a thought that Henry didn’t have first, but occasionally Pancake sees some critter that Henry does not. Somewhere deep in Pancake’s complex breeding there must be a voracious rat terrier. Once he got away from me during the height of a winter storm when there was a foot of snow already on the ground and it was falling steadily. I corralled him in the front yard but he zipped by me, barking with glee. (Canis Montani Semper Libre! – Doggie Mountaineers are Always Free!) I was miffed, and so I just sat in the living room, refusing to go out in a blizzard to look for him. A half hour later, a cold and snowy Pancake appeared at our sliding glass door. His posture was submissive, but there was a glint in his eye that no amount of scolding from me could remove.
More recently I took the dogs out for their last walk of the night. There was a flash of movement in the bushes and they ripped the leashes out of my hands before I could adjust for the pull. I smelled it before I saw it and ran screaming back to the house. Henry and Pancake (mostly Pancake) valiantly battled the skunk as though they were something to win. Pancake bit him “right on the skunkhole” (Bryan’s term) and then proceeded to drool and vomit for several minutes. After a quick look at all the suggested remedies on the Internet and an assessment of the various soaps we had on hand, we settled on vinegar and water and proceeded to give our poor smelly dogs outdoor baths on a 42 degree evening. A fine reward for such bravery! More than three weeks have passed since then. We have thrown away collars, dog beds, rugs, and towels. Pancake has suffered several baths with a variety of products both home remedies and store-bought skunk remover. His head still stinks if you put your nose up close. (Please do not put any magical recipes in the comments section of this article about how to cure the smell–we stubbornly insist that Pancake continue to stink ad infinitum.)
Despite this incident, we have taken a big step in the dogs’ lives by purchasing an underground fencing system. (Our little slice of suburban paradise comes with a 40-page homeowner’s association rule book—no fences allowed.) We buried the wire, displayed the flags, and read the direction book. Then, we did absolutely nothing for over a week. The training process was daunting and we both felt that it seemed unlikely to work on dogs that come from the stalwart West Virginia breeding stock as our two canine specimens.
Finally we stopped worrying about it failing and started the training. The idea is that for a few days you walk them around the flags and let them hear the beep and then pull them back into the yard and reward them for doing so. Neither dog has a clue what the heck we were doing for three days. Pancake acted as though he didn’t even hear the beep. They were just happy to be outside and receiving so much praise for so little effort. Then on day four we turned on the “static correction” (that’s a pet store euphemism for electrical shock) to its lowest setting and repeated the process. Henry noticed right away when he crossed the line. He acted like a horse fly had bitten him. Sadly, Pancake didn’t seem to even notice he was getting a “static correction.” There is a scale of 5 for the shock: 1 being a gentle annoyance and 5 being akin to the doggie electric chair. Henry learned at 2. Pancake required a 4 to get the idea. It was as horrible as you think it might be as he yelped girlishly, came and sat down right next to me, and looked me in the eye. Yes, now I felt guilty.
We have officially, though perhaps tentatively, declared the underground pet containment system to be a success. They have played outside without a leash or a fence for a few days now. They run as fast as they can from one side to the other and Henry can retrieve the Frisbee to his complete exhaustion.
Henry and Pancake are thrilled with their new residence. In fact, they have rejected their Appalachian roguish breeding, evolving into canine suburban snobs. Yes, they are in fact the only dogs in the entire neighborhood that are not registered with the AKC, but they don’t know that. And who needs good breeding when you’ve got a sweet backyard to play in, and a bunch of French doors to smudge up with nose prints, and a soft new doggie bed to sleep in?