Write Now: Get A Dog? Fine; Keep A Dog? Maybe
Last month, I wrote about getting a new dog.
It did not work out.
Pete is now back frolicking with other dogs, cats, goats and cattle of my wife’s friend Theresa.
Theresa had heard my wife talk about the advancing age of our two dogs, Ralph and Buddy.
“We need a younger dog,” Maryellen has said, repeatedly. “We need one now, so it can learn from Ralph and Buddy about where to go and not go” on our 27 acres.
Why the insistent desire to get a third dog?
It is food-centered.
My wife likes our dogs.
She loves her garden, her shrubs, her dozens of potted plants along the back of our house, her 300 or so blueberry bushes. She also loves the eggs supplied by our flock of chickens.
But varmints eat chickens. We learned that anew this past summer when possums decimated our flock while our dogs were distracted by illness.
Varmints also eat garden plants, shrubs, and blueberry bushes. To my wife, varmints go beyond the usual rats, possums, weasels, etc. “Varmints” can be cute, cuddly deer or playful young bears. What species they are does not matter. Whether they threaten our produce or poultry determines for her whether they are “varmints.”
Dogs keep varmints at bay, most of the time.
Of course, varmints are smart. They quickly learn that dogs confined by runs or inside houses are merely loud nuisances. Free-running dogs, however, do concern them. Our Ralph regularly sends woodchucks and possums, to animal heaven, and enjoys a feast in the process. Buddy barks incessantly; Ralph kills. That usually preserves peace on our homestead.
Training those dogs to run loose, yet stay on our property and away from passing cars or trucks, not venturing onto neighbors’ property either, is a patience-testing process. It took a year to train Ralph. When Buddy came here from a shelter, he took many behavior cues by watching Ralph.
“Chickens? Chase? Fun! Oh. Black dog ignore. Must be not fun. Not chase chickens. Instead, munch many biscuits!”
That simplified the training, but did not eliminate the work or the daily reinforcement, usually a walk around the property with appropriate rewards and corrections for acceptable behavior.
Pete, we thought, could have been that sought-after younger dog.
Pete got the name “Pete” so we wouldn’t confuse “Bud” and “Buddy.” He took to the name right away, prompted by dog biscuits.
Unhappily, Pete also took to treeing our half-dozen cats, loudly, enthusiastically, and energetically. At about 70 pounds, the long-legged, leather-lunged Walker Treeing Coonhound mix nearly yanked my wife’s shoulder out of its socket when she attempted to dissuade him from substituting cats for raccoons in tree-climbing pursuits.
After about a week, it became apparent that a hound is not what we need around here. We should have learned that a few years back when Henry, a normally shy beagle, joined our crew. Henry was placid, calm, and agreeable … until his brain lit up with a thought: “Rabbit!” Then Henry would take off, sometimes for an hour, sometimes overnight, despite everything I tried.
No, we need a dog with herding instincts.
Did we fail?
I don’t think so.
When I was younger, I did fail with dogs, on several occasions. The dogs didn’t fail. The failure was with me and my refusal to recognize that certain dogs have been bred to do certain things. With training, it is possible to adjust those traits. It is not possible, in my view, to get rid of them.
Hounds … well, they “hound” things, don’t they?
Pete hounded our cats. He hounded my wife. He hounded while he bounded all over our property, sending chickens squawking, snapping branches off plants and shrubs.
We tried. It did not work.
Happily, Theresa had given him to us with the understanding that Pete would be “returnable.”
In due time, we’ll try another dog. But we won’t do so unless the dog is also “returnable.”
Dogs are not like four-wheelers or riding mowers. They aren’t machines. They are individuals, shaped by breed and molded by temperament and experience.
I think we owe it to dogs to give them good homes … and to admit it if circumstances conspire to thwart our good intentions.
The cruelest thing we do to dogs is to abandon them if our intentions don’t work out. Condemning dogs to months on end of chained solitude or, worse, dropping them off “in the country” to suffer and die slowly are, in my view, grounds for condemnation to the lowest reaches of hell.
But trying to adopt and adapt with a dog, then recognizing it won’t work, and having a plan to cover that eventuality? That, I think, is worth the risk of having to admit that we humans don’t always get things right.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.