Saturday, September 26, 2009

Houses and Dogs

Looking at the calendar, I realize that a year ago we had already closed on this house, and were 2 days away from the big move. It sounds trite to say "I can't believe we've been here for a year". EVERYBODY says that, so you would think people would re-adjust their expectations of how fast time goes by, but no matter how often you note the speediness of time, and no matter how many times other people warn you, it still always comes as a shock.

A year ago we were heading to Chicago. This year, I have no Chicago trip on my schedule, but Will is headed up there for a bachelor party in 3 weeks :-P I am quite irritated that I am not invited. Last year it took us FOREVER to get all of our stuff out of the old house, but as of a couple weeks ago the old house is officially sold and we don't have to hear about it anymore! I took a spin through the old neighborhood last week while I was out there visiting my seamstress, and was surprised by the nostalgia that hit me. I am not really nostalgic about the house, but I definitely am about the neighborhood. We did live there for 5 years, and for a large portion of that time I spent every morning out jogging or walking, so I knew everyone's dogs, I knew whose mailboxes will be covered with pretty clematis in the fall, and I knew the odd air currents that resulted in warm pockets in certain places on chilly mornings. I haven't done much (any) morning jogging or walking in this neighborhood, so I don't know it nearly as well. And even though the houses are closer together in this neighborhood, the people are more distant. We wave to our neighbors and talk over the back fence, but of course it can't compare to how well we knew the people in the old neighborhood where Will grew up.

But I love living close to everything. Driving out to my parents house makes me wonder how I survived before. The community pool was great this summer, Emily loves it and learned to be quite a proficient swimmer (with waterwings). The house itself has been great too, with only a pinhole leak in a pipe to marr an otherwise incident-free year. Knock on wood and cross everything that we continue to enjoy such good luck.

The only bad thing about this house is the Jehovah's Witnesses. They come around practically every Saturday morning, and although we have incredibly busy Saturday mornings, we somehow manage to be home for what has to be a large percentage of their visits. We had one doozy of a visit back at our old house when the woman, seeing that I was holding a 5-day old baby, thought it would be somehow appropriate to give me a pamphlet about losing a child. Luckily though, that was one of the only visits at the old house. But here we're much luckier. Will is comfortable telling them to sod off, but I am a sucker. I look at the poor woman's shaking hands, I notice the tie-clad man's awkward demeanor, and I can't just tell them to get off my porch. But that doesn't mean I don't hate that they come. When I make the decision to step out of my house and into the world, I do so with the understanding that I may run into a person or two who I would rather not deal with. But when I'm safely ensconced in my own house, I shouldn't have to deal with such people seeking me out. I can't stand their "it's just logic" approach, it makes me long to shoot their arguments full of holes whether I agree or not, but doing so would only encourage them so I usually just adopt the blob approach. If I just stand there staring at them vacantly, they eventually go away. But not forever, oh no. They'll be back next Saturday to take up "just a minute of my time".

One thing that is the same this year as last year is that I am still throwing money hand over fist into dog maintenance. Last year we were trying to figure out a way to keep Mingus' skin from falling off. This year I am spending money to try to turn Mingus into a dog I can actually live with. A couple weeks ago, I was ready to get rid of him. Despite the fact that whenever I hear of a family getting rid of their dog I feel like they should have tried harder and stuck it out, I was willing to swallow my pride and be that schmuck. Now that Emily is not just mobile, but steady and quick enough to catch up with a dog, we are having problems. He nips her to herd her, which is one thing, but he also nips her out of anger, which is one step away from actually biting her. Of course we never leave them alone together, and of course we work with both of them, teaching Emily that if he's growling or running away it means he doesn't want to be played with, and having her feed the dogs and give them treats to establish that she is fun and good and she controls their resources, making her higher up in the pack than them. But despite our efforts, things seem to be getting worse. Emily will come up to me crying with a red mark on her arm because Mingus nipped her, and that is not ok. I've worked on this dog for 6 years, and I've gotten nowhere. I can deal with him being an asshole to me, but I can't deal with a dog that bites my daughter.

So we're making a last-ditch effort and calling in the big guns. We hired a trainer to come out to our house and give us advice, and I think it went well. She pointed out that despite Mingus' aggressive, in-your-face behavior, everything points to him being an anxious, frightened dog. And even though he will come sit next to me and whine, or even put his head on my lap, he does not like it when I pet him. I suspected as much, but his mixed signals have kept me guessing. She also pointed out that dogs have mental capabilities that are on par with that of a 2.5 year old, so it helps me a lot to think of him as a frightened toddler vs. the belligerent old man he acts like. I am not supposed to pet him ever, and we determined that when Emily is running around and Mingus starts getting flighty (i.e. always), we are supposed to quietly close him in his room with a peanut-butter stuffed kong ball until he calms down. These methods seem to have helped so far. We haven't had any nips today at least.


I have a dog living in my house who I don't like, and who doesn't like me. I cannot pet him. I have to tiptoe around him, lest he get too anxious and bite my daughter. 10 times a day I have to gently and lovingly escort him to his room and give him a treat just to avoid having him lash out. There is really no plan to make him a good dog who we can all enjoy, there are only ways to try to keep him calm enough that he won't hurt people. It is obvious that Emily's very existence only worsens his anxiety. I am not happy, and he is not happy. Is it really worth it?

I will make the effort. I will talk to the vet about anxiety meds for the dog when baby Charlotte arrives, as suggested by the trainer, because stress will be high for all of us and the last thing we need is to have to spend our time coddling the dog. I will do these things because if the time comes to get rid of him, I want to have a clear conscience. I want to be able to say we made every effort.

But I still feel that if we are ever able to find a different home for him, a place where we know he won't be killed or forced to live out the rest of his life in a cage, I will jump at the chance.

Maybe that makes me a bad person. Especially because "there are no bad dogs, only bad owners". But I also know there is only so much I can take.

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