Border collies are known for their teamwork when herding.
How about this teamwork when "getting hosed"?
Video Source: https://www.cyclerides.com
Early in the process of writing Lance: A Spirit Unbroken, I joined a critiquing group. It was the single best thing I did to improve my writing. Subjecting my work to others’ criticism wasn’t easy for me, but better to learn from fellow writers before publishing, than learn the hard way from readers after publishing. In those early critiquing sessions, I was told to do two things: get rid of the big words and write less formally. The former was relatively easy to accomplish; the latter required a leap of faith on my part but I'm confident the book became a lot more conversational by the time it got published.
Along the way, one of my fellow critiquers suggested that I make Lance a talking dog. Other members of the group rolled their eyes, but he was dead serious. I thought about his suggestion, but not for too long. To do such a thing would have changed the trajectory and the mood of Lance’s story and, in my mind, diminished the serious purpose I had for writing the book. That purpose was to raise awareness re: animal maltreatment and, hopefully, inspire the reader to take action.
Though Lance and I did not have oral conversations (except for the occasional bite!), I feel there were times when he and I communicated mentally, beyond his obeying a command or understanding words like “treat” or “hike.” For example, not once, but twice, he escaped from his abusive owners’ property and showed up on my doorstep. Wasn’t that a silent cry for help?
In the book, Lance occasionally "talks" to me, not in quotes but in italics. I’ve wondered at times if a reader might find my communication with Lance a stretch, but so far no one has commented to that effect.
How about you? Do you have “conversations” with your dog? What has your dog “told” you and vice versa?
GOLDEN RETRIEVER: The sun is shining, the day is young, we've got our whole lives ahead of us, and you're inside worrying about a stupid burned-out bulb?
BORDER COLLIE: Just one. And then I'll replace any wiring that's not up to code.
DACHSUND: You know I can't reach that stupid lamp!
ROTTWEILER: Make me.
LAB: Oh, me, me!!!! Puleeeeeeze let me change the light bulb! Can I? Can I? Huh? Huh? Huh? Can I?
TIBETAN TERRIER: Let the Border Collie do it. You can feed me while he's busy!
JACK RUSSELL TERRIER: I'll just pop it in while I'm bouncing off the walls and furniture.
POODLE: I'll just blow in the Border Collie's ear and he'll do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.
GERMAN SHEPHERD: I'll change it as soon as I've led these people from the dark, checked to make sure I haven't missed any, and make just one more perimeter patrol to see that no one has tried to take advantage of the situation.
COCKER SPANIEL: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.
DOBERMAN: While it's dark, I'm going to sleep on the couch.
BOXER: Who cares? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.
CHIHUAHUA: Yo quiero Taco Bulb.
IRISH WOLFHOUND: Can somebody else do it? I've got this hangover.
POINTER: I see it, there it is, there it is, right there!
GREYHOUND: It isn't moving. Who cares?
YORKSHIRE TERRIER: I'm over qualified, have the boxer do it!
AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD: First, I'll put all the light bulbs in a little circle..
OLD ENGLISH SHEEP DOG: Light bulb? I'm sorry, but I don't see a light bulb?
HOUND DOG: ZZZZZZzzzzz.z.z.z..z..z..z…z
SCHNAUZER: Bark! Bark! Bark! Mom, the lightbulb is out…Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!…MOM! I said the lightbulb is out! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!…MOM!!! WHAT PART OF THAT DIDN'T YOU HEAR? I MEAN HELLO????
SHIH TZU: Who me change a light bulb? We are royal descendants and we have staff to do that for us.
And what about cats?
CATS: Dogs do not change light bulbs. People change light bulbs. So, the question is: How long will it be before I can expect light?
ALL OF WHICH PROVES, ONCE AGAIN, THAT WHILE DOGS HAVE MASTERS, CATS HAVE STAFF…
Happiness is a wagging tail!
I'm not sure I could remember the exact order of these challenges while I was unsuccessfully trying to handle them!
A Tribute to Gabriel
I rescued Gabriel from a homeowner who cared more about his Italian furniture than he did for a dog’s life. When I met Gabe, he was being kept outside in a cage with a rug over the cage in 85 degree weather. The man let him out of the cage so I could meet him. Gabe immediately wanted to play ball but the man kept hitting him with a fly swatter. Gabe was 7 months old.
Guess what? I rescued this boy. He was the sweetest, most gentle soul. When he was 4 1/2 he got epilepsy and to this day I wonder if the many hits on the head by his original owner were to blame. But Gabe had Jake and Daisy and they played together every day. When Jake died, you could see all the sadness in Gabe but he kept on fighting for his own life. He was on a lot of meds. Finally, he couldn't fight his illness any more. One year after Jake crossed over, Gabriel joined him. He was only 10 1/2. Can't even begin to tell you how much Daisy and I miss him. My tribute to Gabe follows:
MY LITTLE BOY, GABRIEL
SEPTEMBER 15, 2007 TO MARCH 26, 2018
I remember so clearly
The day that we met
You were so friendly
And wanted to play.
Your owner was mean
I knew you were mine
So we took you home
To be loved and cherished.
Your name was Boots
Which I did not like
I saw you were an Angel
and you were now Gabriel.
At first you were afraid
To come into the house
But quickly you knew
This was your forever home.
Oh, wow, you wanted to play
You and Jake became great friends
You so loved your ball and your Frisbee
But mostly you wanted to swim.
You were always so gentle and so loving
You loved your brothers and sisters
They all loved you, especially Snoopy
The two of you would romp the yard
You were never crazy about car rides
You stayed home with me when Jake went with Dad.
You loved to cuddle and love
At night you would stay under the bed.
Remember we rescued Daisy
She loved you so very much.
Jake, Daisy and you would play
Catching Frisbees, balls and swimming
When I would come home from work
You were so happy to see me
You would jump up on me
And hug me around the waist.
You were never really close to Dad
But you loved him all the same
When he left us you all were very sad
But things just started to change
When you were only four and a half
You had a seizure and it scared me.
The seizures became more frequent
And the doctor put you on meds.
All of a sudden you loved car rides.
Jake would hold his Frisbee
You barked and laughed, the 3 of you
And we all became so close.
Whenever you would have a seizure,
Daisy would try and help you.
She stayed by your side and kissed you
And always just tried to help.
We had to move from the home you loved
And we no longer had a swimming pool
But the 3 of you found other ways
To make our days stay cool.
We played every day and went for walks
We even went to the Beach.
We had a lot of happy times
But we had our share of sad.
One day, Jake became very sick
And he crossed the big divide.
It broke our hearts so very much
And things began to change.
You were starting to have more seizures
You found it hard to get up
You kept going to the doctor
And I knew it was getting close.
We still played outside a lot
Daisy would comfort you
We still went for car rides
And took our walks every day.
But one day it became so clear to me
You were not doing well at all
One year after Jake you joined him
And Daisy and I were alone
My Little Boy I love you so much
You are always in my heart
I pray that God holds you in His arms
Until I meet you at the Rainbow Bridge.
By the time I met him, Lance’s life had been up for grabs for a decade. Then, one day, I overheard Lance’s owners joking about “nuking “their dog. Considering how they’d treated Lance for a decade, I couldn't help but think his life might be literally on the line. Since we were living in a no-dogs-allowed apartment, my wife Clara and I frantically searched for a house to purchase and found one within a couple of weeks. A few days after we moved in, I showed up at the Schmidt residence and asked to take Lance. My request was denied. Mrs. Schmidt insisted—I'd say delusionally—that Lance was part of her family. I drove back home, at first confused and then flat out angry. A part of the family? Who the heck was she kidding? I decided that if I couldn't get Lance by hook, I'd get him by crook. I began scheming—I would steal Lance, if necessary. In the book, I mention that I might be a bit rusty in the theft department, not having stolen anything since my shoplifting days as an adolescent. A lapse of memory. It was only after Lance: A Spirit Unbroken was published that I remembered having committed theft as an adult and that thievery just so happened to involve a dog…
…One summer, back in the 1980s, I was going through a tough time. Among other things, I was between jobs. John, a friend of mine, let me stay at his house in Roosevelt, Long Island while I got back on my feet. Living with him at the time was a family (we’ll call them the Smiths) he had befriended. They had a dog, a Terrier mix, named Quincy. The first time I laid eyes on him it was obvious he was being severely neglected. He was a scrawny, smelly mess. I noticed that at dinner he was either ignored or thrown an occasional scrap as an afterthought. The Smiths were the kind of people I wouldn't be caught dead with but my own circumstances had thrown me under the same roof with them.
When I got my initial unemployment check, one of the first things I did was buy Quincy a bag of kibble. Every so often I’d supplement that with some of my own dinner. Within a month, Quincy was back to his appropriate weight. John and I also gave Quincy a bath (the first of his life?). We had to use scissors to cut gum, candy and other foreign objects that were embedded in his coat. Admiring our handiwork, John said, “Quincy has his dignity back.”
I started taking Quincy with me to the local high school where, while I ran around a quarter-mile track, he did the kind of investigating dogs normally do in all the nearby foliage. Every once in a while he'd join in and run right alongside me as I circled the track. Usually, that didn't keep his interest for long and he went back to further canine snooping.
About six weeks after I had moved in with John, I found employment in New York City. That meant a round-trip commute via the Long Island Railroad five days a week. Every workday morning when I’d leave the house, Quincy would stare at me from a window, propped up on the sill with his front paws, begging me with his eyes to either take him along or come back inside the house. Oh, the guilt trips (literally and figuratively) Mondays through Fridays!
The first evening I came back home from my job, Quincy was nowhere to be found. After much searching, I found him up in my bedroom, ensconced in a closet I’d left open. That was where I would find him after every workday. I had the distinct feeling he didn't want to be around any of his owners during my absence.
Then I met Clara. We hit it off immediately. The problem was she lived some thirty-five miles away in the Village of Patchogue. Lots of phone calls led to our first meeting, several dates and, after a January weekend together, the decision that I would move in with her. The following Monday I called off work and headed back to John's place to get my stuff. While driving on the Long Island Expressway, I had no trouble convincing myself that I should and would take Quincy with me.
It was early evening when I got to John's place. No one was home, making my caper easier to pull off. I parked my VW beetle in front of the house, went inside and, after exchanging greetings with Quincy, began collecting my personal belongings and taking them out to my car.
On my last trip to the car the Smiths pulled into the driveway. I happened to be carrying a bag of dirty laundry so I told them I was going to the laundromat, sensing they hadn’t noticed the rest of my worldly possessions crammed inside my VW. I hadn’t aroused their suspicions, but taking Quincy to the laundromat might. I went back inside, trudged upstairs and sat myself at the desk in my bedroom, pondering my next move. Quincy lay down next to his would-be dognapper. What to do? I wasn’t about to unpack my car but I couldn’t leave my possessions in it either—that would be an open invitation to anyone with sticky fingers. No telling what my extensive LP and 45rpm record collection was worth.
Then, opportunity knocked! I heard talking and laughing coming from downstairs. I descended to the first floor and realized the Smiths, all five of them, were in the back room watching TV. From there, they couldn’t see the front door to the house—as long as they stayed put. I went outside, started the car and came back into the house. The Smiths were engrossed in whatever show they were watching so I went upstairs, leashed Quincy, and descended the stairs, hoping and praying he’d keep his yap shut. Out the door we went, high-tailing it (Quincy doing so literally!)to the car. After squeezing Quincy into the back seat between my dumbbells and stereo, I scooted into the driver’s seat and slowly drove away, not wanting to attract attention or arouse suspicions. I kept a lookout in my rearview mirror, all the while trying to cook up an alibi if nabbed and forced to explain what I was doing. Once I entered Southern State Parkway, I gunned my car to the extent you can gun a 1973 VW Beetle. Quincy and I were home free!
We arrived at Clara’s and, before unloading any of my personal property, I let Quincy into Clara’s house to meet her. What did he do? He went into a furious spin and then took a humongous dump on the living room floor. Quincy had introduced himself! Clara is a dog lover so Quincy put a damper on the relationship.
Moral of this story? After a long car ride let your (kidnapped) dog poop outside before bringing him inside.
As for Lance, did I have to kidnap him? I can’t give that away but, if you haven’t already, you can find out by reading Lance: A Spirit Unbroken.
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Undaunted, I signed Gia up for agility, but we had to go through their beginner training first. Add another $195 to the list of charges to rehab Gia. There were a few other dogs there and Gia was not having it. She would bark, growl, and try to pick fights with them. We had to go to the back of the classroom. She was also developing a Stranger, Danger attitude towards people, now adding kids to the list of things that made her nervous. These classes were a little “out there” for me. I guess I am a little old school when it comes to training having been through it enough. Sitting there on a mat, massaging my dog’s ears, etc. was a little weird. It is why I do not do yoga myself. And the whole method of this training was treating. I realized I would have to monitor my dog’s feeding to compensate for the treats during class. Yeah, no! My dog is very food motivated but then so am I. However, when we are out on the street and trying to walk, she is over threshold (extremely fired up) and will not take a treat. It is exhausting. I gave up on this training and tried to figure out my next move.
One weekend, I went to pick up my dog food from the farm. It is a ninety-minute drive each way, so we thought we would take the dogs with us. The farm is in the Hudson Valley of New York. Beautiful countryside. The owner of the farm said that his neighbor had a lot of acreage and there are deer trails he allows people to hike on with their dogs. After we got the food, we went up to the trail. Anxiously, we let the dogs off leash to explore. I have never seen THIS Gia before. She was happy, the white tip of her tail up like a flagpole, while she was exploring the brushes around the lake. Then she jumped in the lake and started swimming. We were astounded. She is a true country dog. But like I said, we cannot afford that move yet. When we got home, the old Gia returned. Not wanting to walk–it is like the Push Me-Pull You from Dr. Doolittle. Or having a pet donkey.
One evening, Gia was in the yard and I heard her barking (no surprise there), but the barking seemed like it was coming from the front of the house. I peeked out my front window to see a man walking towards my front door crouched down with his arms open wide like he was going to “scoop” something up. Turns out, he and his wife were walking their dog and spotted Gia, who had escaped from our yard. He was trying to corral her so she wouldn’t run into the street. We never figured out if she jumped the fence (it is a four-foot fence but when your adrenaline kicks in, you do it) or if she scurried under it. Anyway, the next purchase was a breakaway collar. She escaped once more and hid in our neighbor’s driveway. She has not left since knowing the big, bad world waits for her out there.
Last spring, I reached out to one of Gia’s trainers from before…Gia and Clifford love her. Although her boss’s methods are a little out of date, she has been studying up on some positive training and working with therapy dogs, etc. She came over and the dogs went crazy for her. She is good with them too. She knew we were experimenting with other trainers and ideas and she was fine with that. We thought maybe an in-house training session for ten days (drop off in the a.m., pick up in the p.m., Monday through Friday) might help. I trusted them and signed her up. To the tune of $1800 (because I was an old client, I got a discount). The training worked up to a point but I really need Gia to be comfortable in her own surroundings…on this busy county road.
I took a break from trainers. It did not help that I was laid off from my job last year after twelve years. I started a new job in January, but I do not have the extra cash to spend on trainers right now, and I do not want to give her any more drugs. I am in limbo right now. I have been reading up on some different trainers where I can do the work myself. They all say the problem is anxiety and can be alleviated with exercise. How am I supposed to exercise her when she will not go out??? One thing I am planning (after I read my 1000th book on dog training) is to start her walking on my treadmill. Hopefully, we can burn off some of that stress and she’ll be able to walk outside. When we were using the trainer the dogs adore, they would jump on retaining walls, park benches and tables to burn some pent-up energy. Now what Gia does is run from the back door and bee line it to the front window jumping over the couch to bark at someone walking in front of the house. Not sure that is exactly what the trainer had in mind–making my house Gia’s personal obstacle course.
My dogs’ lives prior to being rescued are all mysteries. I used to ask God to give Gia the power of human speech just for five minutes so she can tell me what to do and what not to do. She is such a sweet, smart, and lovable dog. I enjoy watching her figure out toys and puzzles. I can see her mind working. Clifford is lovable and a manipulator. When he is out in the yard and wants to play, he does this little “woof”. Hearing him, Gia will tear through the house to go outside to see “what are we barking at”. I could swear Clifford gives me a wink and a big Pit grin because he got one over on her. Clifford is calm, cool, and collected and he knows that Gia requires more of my attention and he is fine with that. Clifford loves to walk (if we get to chase cats and squirrels it is a huge score). When I look at either of them and they look back at me, my heart is so full of love.
Having Gia has made me more aware of myself. I take better care of myself so I can be around to take care of her (and Clifford, and my husband, too) but I can also understand why some dogs are returned because people don’t want to put in the time to figure out these dogs. I believe I have a special needs dog.
In the end, I made a commitment to Gia. I want to give her the best life possible. And I will…once I figure out how to do that.
—Patricia Sullivan Jimenez
Don't forget about my special book sale at https://walterstoffelauthor.com/buy-now !
Gia #2 is a border collie/Labrador Retriever mix. She was about a year old when we adopted her. The rescue told us that she was a stray and rescued from a high-kill shelter in western Virginia by a woman in eastern Tennessee. Gia was on the list to be euthanized. In fact, she was 8 hours from the needle when she was pulled. Like all rescue organizations, they had a veterinarian examine and spay her. Once she was cleared for adoption, they transported her to Delaware to the rescue and they put her profile on doggie Tinder where I found her by swiping right (just the way you do on Tinder for humans!). My contact at the rescue told me that her foster mom said Gia was skittish. We did not know to what extent but we would soon find out.
My contact at the rescue brought Gia up from Delaware one Friday night to do a meet and greet with Clifford. They got along right off the bat and she got to stay. And so, it begins…
On our first walk Gia escaped from her harness and briefly ran away. An idling Mack truck had spooked her. Over the next few days and weeks, we were learning that she was afraid of SO MUCH: thunder and fireworks (no surprise there), motorcycles, loud cars, pneumatic tools (repetitive stapling or nailing), etc. She also would bark ferociously at any dog walking with their owners past our house. I took her to a few trainers, but they used a lot of old school methods such as jerking corrections, alpha dog stuff, etc. I’ve probably spent about $2000 on trainers–some group classes and some private sessions. A few months after we got Gia, my husband and I went on our vacation which had been planned the year before. We took Clifford and Gia to a local kennel. I’d never used this kennel, but I did my homework. It had good reviews. I scoped out the kennel and it appeared alright. I brought our dogs down for a couple of doggie day care sessions and they did well. We signed them up for their “vacation”.
When we returned from our trip, Gia was a mess. The owner of the kennel had to keep Gia and Clifford apart from the other dogs because she got into skirmishes with them. Prior to our vacation, I had visited the kennel on weekends. What I hadn’t been aware of was that it was also next to an area where garbage/recycling trucks parked. The beeping sound of those trucks was enough to drive Gia over the edge. The owner suggested that I muzzle Gia because of her aggressive behavior. I felt so bad. Gia had reverted to her old ways and I blamed myself.
I read up on positive dog training (add the cost of MANY books to the growing Gia dog training tab). I believe that with Gia’s issues positive is the way to go. She is already nervous so jerking her leash, pulling, etc. will not make her a happy dog when outside. Inside, she is the boss and you would never know that she suffers from agoraphobia. We live on a semi-busy county road so there are always trucks, a bus or two, and souped-up muscle cars. We cannot afford to move yet to find Gia a country place.
I reached out to my vet who gave her Lorazepam (generic version of Ativan). It dulled her senses and increased her appetite and she gained weight. He recommended I take her to an animal behaviorist—at $300.00/hour! I took her to meet with the doctor (a quick thirty-minute session). The exam room was not your typical vet examining room. It was a giant doggie playroom. A big box in the corner loaded with balls and squeaky toys. It had a bowl of water for the patient, aromatherapy and light classical music playing. The doctor asked me a bunch of questions and evaluated Gia. She also suggested I try another canine expert who was versed in Victoria Stilwell’s training methods.
Having determined that Gia is noise sensitive she suggested I purchase earmuffs for Gia, the kind that dogs that fly on planes and helicopters use to protect their ears. I bought them. They were $85. Add that to the costs of helping my baby girl. I felt so stupid walking her with earmuffs on. They would not stay on her, so I bought her a snood to keep them in place. That lasted for one walk. The doctor gave Gia a prescription for Fluoxetine (generic version of Prozac). We weaned her from the Lorazepam and started her on the new drug. This one made her more anxious and aggressive. Not what I was looking to do. We weaned her off Fluoxetine too. Just say no to drugs! When we weaned her of the Fluoxetine, Gia did seem much better. That, too, turned out to be short-lived.
I contacted the recommended trainer and made an appointment. She came to the house and evaluated Gia. Clifford, the lover of all things human, kept barking at this woman. I had never seen him behave like that. He would get all whale-eyed and bark at her while looking at her from the corner of his eye. Gia would go over to him and try to calm him down (one of her most adorable traits with him) and tell him that the lady was there to help her. Clifford went over to his bed and just watched. The trainer sat there on the sofa taking notes on her laptop. She hardly interacted with Gia at all. I thought it was odd, but she was the professional. The trainer suggested I take Gia to agility classes as this would help with her confidence and, being part border collie, she would excel. She also suggested I change her food. The commercially produced food I was giving her, although the highest quality I could find was not healthy. I did switch. Turns out the agility center also sells it (the proprietor is Tito Jackson, no relation to the late Michael’s brother). I now buy the food direct from the farm in upstate New York. It is an organic raw food diet and the dogs have done well. Believe it or not, it is also much less expensive, and dogs absorb more of the vitamins and minerals (read between the lines here–less waste!).
But I digress. The trainer mentioned that we were going to work in stages to help develop Gia’s confidence. We signed a contract ($700) for six sessions. The first session was after the evaluation. I felt buyer’s remorse but in my heart of hearts I still wanted to help Gia, so I gave the trainer a check and we scheduled our next appointment. During the second session, Clifford did his whole “Danger, Danger Will Robinson” routine. Gia calmed him down and we decided to go for a walk. I had Clifford and the trainer took Gia. A half a block later, the trainer said, “Let’s switch dogs, I can’t control Gia”. I was surprised because that was her job. I agreed and we went back to the house. The trainer cut the session short, I am guessing out of a little embarrassment. I fired her the next day, requesting the balance of my money back. She was surprised and I said that I did not feel that she was bonding with Gia and, therefore, she would not be effective. The good news? She returned the balance. The bad news? I still had an unbalanced dog. Back to the drawing board…(to be continued)
Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).