My first day as Maya’s sole guardian went about as you would expect–if what you expect is chaos punctuated by feces, urine and occasional naps. It felt very much like the times my wife and I have babysat for the infants of friends, where everything is fine and good so long as the child is asleep, cause once they wake up there’s lots of screaming and poop.
I have to confess here, too, that I was kind of in shock throughout Day 1, because I was still wildly unsure that agreeing to take this dog was a good idea AT ALL. Sure, she was a nice enough dog, and all, but she was definitely throwing a wrench into the relative calm and normalcy of my usual world. Here I’d spent the better part of five years getting our first two dogs to a place where they didn’t crap in the house or attack people too often, and were pretty calm chill dogs most of the time, and now we had this bladder-spasm-afflicted lummox (albeit a sweet one) who was, when awake, constantly in need of attention and always ALWAYS in danger of excreting things I didn’t want to deal with. In other words, I had yet to bond with Maya in any fundamental way and so everything she did seemed like a rude intrusion upon my life, rather than temporary inconveniences that would lessen as she acclimated and was properly trained.
I had a similar reaction to Moose’s arrival a few years ago and it took a couple of days for me to bond with him. (I think the moment I did was when he fell asleep in my underwear, which happened to be around my ankles at the time due to my seated position on the toilet.) It’s a good thing we did bond, because he was a toothy monster to potty train. Took at least a month to get the heavy lifting done so that he would let us know when he needed to whiz. Even after that, he wasn’t perfect and would have lapses about twice a year, though about age 4. (Now he’s great. In fact, he’s very polite about it. These days he just comes over to me and quietly stares at my face, waiting for me to pay attention to him. He might give off a low “brrrr,” if I’m taking too long, but usually just keeps mum. Then, once I’ve noticed him staring, I’ll ask if he has to go potty at which time he’ll just light up with barking, the volume level depending on how urgent it is.)
I was hoping that Maya, being female and of similar breeding to Sadie, would be quicker to train. Sadie picked up the whole potty training thing in a couple of weeks. Maya’s willingness to let fly with whatever she had in the chamber, however, didn’t bode well.
Throughout Day 1, any time I saw the dog wake up I would immediately take her outside to potty, because if I didn’t she would start searching around for somewhere to have a squat. Whenever she successfully pottied potty outside, I would praise her for doing so and give her lots of pets. Through this method, I managed to make it most of the day before she had an accident in the house and it was completely my fault when she finally did. (A wise man once said: when a puppy piddles on the carpet, whose fault is it, the puppy’s or its owner’s? Answer: the owner’s, because he’s the one not paying attention to his puppy. That’s paraphrasing, but we read something very similar on a puppy potty-training website, back when we were first trying to train Sadie. It’s as irritating a statement as you’re likely to find, but it’s also true. Potty training a dog to “go” exclusively outside is a long and uric-acid soaked process that can drive you nigh onto insanity.)
Can’t say we had a bonding moment, but she seemed to like me pretty good.
It occurred to me that I really should start training her with our shock collar wireless fence system, since she would need to know about for the times we both could not be at the house. However, doing so requires the inevitable moment when the dog fails to come back when you tell her to stay away from the border flags and I just didn’t want to see that moment yet. Let her have a few days to settle in before the painful realities of the yard were introduced. Instead, when I had to leave the house, or, as I had to on Day 1 Solo, step into the studio to do a Skype interview for the nonfiction book project I’ve been working on all year, and which is finally in sight of wrapping up, I left her in the garage with a small fluffy throw rug. She didn’t like this and jumped and jumped on the inside garage door, but that was about it. Or so I thought.
The first time I left her in the garage, I returned to find the fluffy throw rug soaked with urine. Should have known that was going to happen. When I left her in there the next time, sans fluffy throw rug, I returned to find a puddle of urine in its place by the interior door to the house, which she had then trod through and then spread all around the garage in pissy footprints. She had also smeared similar pissy footprints ALL OVER THE INTERIOR DOOR!!! These were NOT bonding moments!
What was something of a bonding moment–or at least was in sight of one–was Maya’s developing relationship with Moose. As I said before, Moose doesn’t always get along with other dogs and tends to drool and snarl at them. Maya, however, he warmed up to. By mid-way through Day 1, they were actually running and playing together. It made me cry, because while Moose used to play like that with Sadie all the time, we’ve not seen him play like that in months. Moose occasionally suffers from a reoccurring condition in which he has sudden bouts of painful weakness in seemingly random legs. It’s a condition he developed a few months after we moved back to Lewisburg from our 4-year extended stay in Princeton. We initially thought it was Lyme disease, as the symptoms seemed right. But no amount of super deep testing could prove that and the vet school in Blacksburg was unable to determine a conclusive cause for it, beyond build-up of lymphatic fluids in his joints. He went through months of heavy steroid treatments with Prednisone, which requires a lengthy weaning period. And he was fine for a couple of months after being off entirely before it reoccurred. It has reoccurred three times in the months since, so when it does happen we just put him back on a much smaller dose of Prednisone and it goes away for a while. That he was playing like his old self truly made me happy, to the point that I had to send the video to the wife so she could cry too.
Maya was something of a wonder of awkward puppyness. Being mostly legs, she was of the habit of walking along a perfectly level surface, only to trip over a line in the floor and go sprawling. We gave her the nickname of Tiny Dancer and quickly made up a voice for her. We have voices for all of our pets, which sound consistent no matter which of us is doing them and which pretty accurately depict their base-personalities. Maya’s, at this point, is that of a proud, naive, country-girl who says things like “My paw calls me `Tiny Dancer,’ cause I’m so petite and graceful.” Our pets also all have nicknames, sometimes multiple ones. Sadie is “Pa’s girl,” “Mama’s girl,” “The Baby Dog,” “Say Say Dog,” and “Sadie Mac.” Moose is called “Pa’s Buddy,” “Moosetastic,” “Moose E. Boy,” etc. Actually, Moose’s real name is Seamus, so “Moose” is the biggest nickname of all. I used to make fun of dog people who treat their mutts as kids and lavish attention and cheesy nicknames on them. They say you mock what you fear and become what you mock, so I’m afraid we’ve become those people. (If any of you ever catch me trying to bring one on a plane as an anxiety comfort dog, you have my permission to punch me in the dick.)
On the afternoon of Day 2, I took Sadie and Maya for a ride to the vet. It was time for Sadie to get some shots (an appointment I’d missed two days earlier) and I figured Maya should get a checkup to make sure she had all her fingers and toes. I brought her in first. While we waited in the lobby, Maya charmed most people who saw her and was sweet, if restless. Then she began barking. At first I thought she was barking at the life-size cat cutout on top of a shelf of woefully expensive dog food. Then we discovered that she was actually barking at the small flatscreen TV that was affixed to the wall next to the shelf. It was showing vet-stuff on a loop and she would give off deep woofs at the motion she saw there. I had to turn her around so it wasn’t line of sight, but she kept looking back to it. That’s when I realized I had not watched TV since the night the wife had left to go pick the dog up, so she’d not yet experienced our big flatscreen at home. Fun times were in the offing for sure.
The vet had a look at her and pronounced her healthy. She wasn’t even all that alarmed at Maya’s thinness, saying that even though she was a little ribby she was still in great shape. I explained that we didn’t have any vet records for Maya, so we didn’t know what shots she might need. We were pretty sure she’d not been spayed yet, which was a priority in my book cause I did not want to spend any time dealing with a dog in heat and at 10 months of age, she was probably ready to go into heat fairly soon. We opted to wait until we received her records, though, which Amber had said the former owners would soon be sending.
I took Maya back to the car and retrieved Sadie. While she was terribly excited to be out of the car, Sadie and Maya were night and day in their behavior. It wasn’t until I got her into the vet’s examination room that it became apparent, but I realized that Sadie–for all the hell she gave us as a puppy and young adult–has become a remarkably good dog. It’s why people like my parents, who had run ins with her during the early years, are so pleased to see her now, because she’s really settled into a superb dog. She’s still a nervous nelly and, as such, has occasional issues with strangers, but she pretty much does what she’s told.
“Wow,” I said aloud to the vet. “The contrast between the two really makes me realize what a truly good dog Sadie is.”
“She’s a great dog,” the vet said.