Friday, January 30, 2015

Cool/Not Cool, Puppy

 Capone the Wonder Dog has been with our family a little over a week now. We’ve discovered some of the things our puppy does are very cool. Some not so much.

1.     Waking up 3:30 am?
Not cool, puppy.
2.     Having the morning wiggles so bad it’s nearly impossible to get your collar on?
Not cool, puppy. I cannot wrestle a frantic puppy before coffee. I just can’t.
3.     Managing not to wee on the kitchen floor in spite of the morning wiggles?
Cool, puppy.
4.     Going back to sleep in your crate until a more decent hour?
Cool, puppy.
5.     Licking my feet in greeting with a level of adoration usually reserved for goddesses or other ancient deities?
Cool, puppy.
6.     Working your way up to lave my calves as well?
A little awkward, but still cool, puppy.
7.     Pulling me down a steep hill on our morning walk?
Not cool, puppy.
8.     Pulling me back up that same hill with the intensity of an Alaskan sled dog?
Cool, puppy.
9.     Nipping at everything that dangles, including shoelaces, hoodie strings, my coat, and any scarf I dare to put on?
Not cool, puppy.
10. Eating your kibble so fast you barf?
Not cool, puppy.
11. “Cleaning” your throw up all by yourself?
Not cool, puppy, although I do appreciate the effort.
12. Falling in love at first sight with the neighbor’s dog, Daisy?
Cool, puppy. And kind of adorable in a Lady and the Trampish sort of way.
13. Knocking Daisy over when you try to show your affection because she is roughly the size of your head?
Not cool, puppy.
14. Trying to nibble on the brick fireplace?
Not cool, puppy. I don’t even understand that one.
15. Taking a flying leap at my friend right after I serve her a giant cup of hot coffee, spilling it all over her shirt?
Not cool, puppy.
16. Sitting by her feet and staring up at her apologetically for the rest of the visit?
Cool, puppy, but touch my coffee and you’re toast.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Episode III, The Return of Demir

My husband left for Amsterdam on Saturday. On Sunday, Capone the Wonder Dog joined our family. Needless to say, the house was a little different when Demir came back from his trip.

Demir never had a pet growing up. We adopted kittens when we were newly married (Thelma and Louise), and he developed allergies almost immediately. We had fish, and every time one died, he considered it proof that we should not own pets again. Ever.

Enter Capone, my son’s surprise 14th birthday gift and the sweetest puppy ever – about 90% of the time. The other 10% he’s a nippy, crazy, shoe-obsessed little pooping machine.

My husband loves dogs, especially when they belong to other people, but Capone was irresistible. He fell instantly in love.  

“Look at his paws,” he said. “He’s going to be big.”


He inspected the paws a bit closer. “Really big.”


He tilted his head to one side, a gesture surprisingly reminiscent of Capone. “How big exactly?”

“Bigger than a bread box and smaller than a young horse. Probably.”

Capone proceeded to be an angel most of the night. Other than a few shoe thefts, he was on his very best behavior. He put on a very good show - sleeping by he fire, cuddling with the boys, playing with my husband.

"He's perfect," he said. 

There were adjustments, of course. The floors were completely bare, but every surface of our house was covered with a random and miscellaneous collection of hats, gloves, laundry, books, wine, and anything we didn’t want Capone to eat. There were a lot of things we didn’t want Capone to eat and soon we were running out of surfaces.

Demir had to get used to leaping over the child gate if he wanted to go upstairs, not an easy task when the steps are covered with more things we don’t want Capone to eat. The baby gate is imperative, though. Capone is really good at going upstairs, but downstairs – not so much. He starts out well, but gains speed around the middle and ends up wiping out at the bottom. The gate is a necessary evil until Capone gains a better understanding of the concept of gravity.

Saturday morning Demir woke up at 4 am because he was jet lagged. Capone woke up with him, very happy to oblige. They had a lovely stroll and poop session in the back yard followed by a long and leisurely walk and tug session through the neighborhood. I handed Demir treats and poop bags on his way out the door because I was off to a morning meeting and was throwing him to the wolves. He looked at the poop bags and then at me.

“What are these?”

“In case he poops.”

“What do I do if he poops?”

“Clean it up.”

The look on his face was a combination of outrage and fear. “I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Would you rather leave his poo in someone’s yard?”

They survived the first walk and Capone did not poo. The second day was a little different, but fortunately I was there to take care of matters. Capone chose a bad house and squatted down immediately to poop. If there was a rating system for which neighbors would be the most annoyed at a dog pooping in their front yard, he chose the second worst possible house. And although it was early morning, their lights were already on and I suspected they were watching from their windows. I was too scared to actually look.

My husband used an expletive that had something to do with what Capone was doing at that very moment. It was sort of le mot juste.

“Yep,” I said.

The rest of the walk consisted of Capone either leaping ahead or refusing to move. We finally got to a snowy path through a field, and he happily sniffed around, picking up sticks and prancing around with them. My husband tried to remove the smaller sticks because it looked like Capone was trying to eat them. It was a back and forth of him saying, “Drop it” and Capone refusing to comply.

At one point I was a bit ahead and I heard “No. Drop it.”

Surprisingly, it was followed by a “Good boy,” which meant Capone had actually listened.

That was followed by a panicked sort of yelp, but not from Capone. From my husband.  I turned around to see him staring at what Capone had just dropped.

“It’s….it’s….it’s…..” he couldn’t quite get the word out. “A rat. He had a dead frozen rat in his mouth. What do we do?”

I shrugged. It looked more like a dead, frozen field mouse to me. “Keep walking?”

I couldn’t see much of my husband’s face. Most of it was covered with a hood that buttoned around his neck, covering him to the mouth. His eyes spoke volumes.

“Do you want me to take the leash?”

He didn’t have to answer. I gave him the poop bag and he held it as far away from his body as was humanly possible.

“I didn’t sign up for this.”


Capone at 13 weeks - right after our walk this morning.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Great Puppy Adventure 2015

After a disastrous start to our Great Puppy Search of 2015, we ended up with a miracle. A beautiful 12 week old male black lab named Capone from an amazing breeder. Her name is Sue, and she more than made up for the horrendous first breeder experience. Sue loves her dogs, and treats them with nothing but care and respect. She’s also one of the most knowledgeable people I’d encountered. She answered every question thoughtfully and cried after we left with Capone. She was genuinely glad he went to a good family, but sad to see him go. She gave me a huge packet with tons of important information, including which commands she used, just to make things easier for us. Capone was off to a great start. Now it was up to us not to screw things up. Ugh.

As soon as we got home, we had questions. I relied on my friend Patti, who has the equivalent of a PhD in Labrador Retriever training and behavior. Patti got her dog from Sue as well, and Patti and her dog Clancy are an outstanding search and rescue team. My goals with Capone were not so lofty. First, I wanted to keep him alive. Secondly, I didn’t want him to poop in the house. 

Maybe those goals were a bit lofty as well.

We started off rocky, when the last part of the ride home became stressful. Accusations were thrown, “Mom. You have to tell me when you turn. He’s sliding all over the place.” And, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, Mom? This doesn’t seem safe.”

We made it home. Safely. And Capone began exploring his new environment. We rushed around what we thought was an already puppy proofed area and puppy proofed some more. Friends came to visit and Capone charmed their socks off. Then came the moment of truth. Bedtime. Capone sat in his kennel, but looked at us accusingly. And the barking started.

“What do we do?” asked my youngest son.

“We’re going to be calmly assertive,” I answered. We’d been watching way too much of "The Dog Whisperer."

“We need Cesar Milan,” whispered my son as the intensity of the barking and whining increased.

“We’ve got Sue.”

I sent out an urgent FB message, which Sue graciously answered immediately, asking her how to get Capone to sleep in his kennel. She said to use the command word “No” when he barked, and then to say “Lie down.”

I looked right into Capone’s eyes, used my most calmly assertive voice, and said, “No. Lie down.”

He gave a half-hearted bark, and I said it again. “No. Lie down.” And it worked. Like a charm. He went to sleep within minutes.

“You’re the Alpha,” said my youngest, not without a touch of envy.

“We all knew that,” I replied.

Capone has been with us for around 30 hours now. He discovered the Cave of Wonders (our shoe closet), the Magical Dispenser of Liquid Joy (our water cooler), and he learned to stay away from my favorite slippers. He made friends at PetSmart, stayed in his kennel for a few brief interludes and barely barked at all. He also ate or attempted to eat the following:

1.     The head of a squeaky toy frog
2.     Part of a soccer ball
3.     A pair black men’s dress shoes
4.     My new boots
5.     Rabbit poo
6.     A pine cone
7.     Several rocks
8.     Twigs in varying sizes
9.     What I suspect was deer poo
10. A plastic twisty tie
11. A card with a photo of Patti’s dog on it
12. The newest edition of my oldest son’s favorite magazine.
13. A cardboard box
14. A new pair of tennis shoes
15. Leaves
16. Grass
17. The coffee table
18. A book
19. A coat
20. A penny
21. His new leash

We are still working on the “drop” command. That has become a bit of a priority for us. We found out online that if you blow on their face when you say “drop” (in a calmly assertive voice), they will do it. Eventually.

He managed to remove every single tag that existed on just about every item in our house. It was obviously his new job, and he took it very seriously. He also took his other job seriously – being a professional stalker. He spread the love, giving each of us a turn to be stalked, and he wasn't even sneaky about it. I think I tripped over him twenty seven times today, but I may have lost count.

To all of you who said it wouldn’t be easy – you were absolutely right. I’m exhausted. My youngest is exhausted. My middle son escaped to the science center today, so he can’t share our war stories.

“Do you remember when Capone almost ate the coffee table?”

We shook our heads in disbelief, but none of it bothered Capone. He wagged his tail, put his head on my knee, stared at me with his big, brown eyes, and all was forgiven.

As long as he stays away from my boots.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Great Puppy Search of 2015

Well. The Great Puppy Search has begun, but so far it has not been a raging success. After a nine-year campaign launched by my son, my husband finally relented a few days ago. We surprised him with a note in his 14th birthday card saying he could finally, at long last, get the thing he wanted most in the whole world. A puppy.

Then we realized we had no idea where to start or what we wanted. Immediately the advice began pouring in, but soon I discovered that how people feel about dog breeds is something very individual and personal. One person’s idea of a beautiful dog is someone else’s “so ugly it’s almost cute.” And people are passionate about the dogs they love, and about a lot of other things, too.

I was advised not to buy from a pet shop, but we ended up looking at one anyway. A friend of ours had just bought a really lovely puppy from a local pet shop, so we decided we would look – for educational purposes only. They carry lots of different breeds in pet stores, and since we were clueless, we thought it would be a good place to begin.

We walked inside on a busy Sunday afternoon, and the shop was packed with happy people fussing over the puppies. At least they looked pretty happy. One woman did shout, “Don’t buy from here! They get their dogs from puppy mills!” as we came in. It was sort of weird, like one of those people carrying around signs saying, “The end is near! Repent!”.

The puppies were all cute, but on closer inspection most of the people in the pet shop were kind of weird. Not an everyday sort of weird, either. This people were borderline circus freaky carnie kind of weird. One lady was braless and had breasts that nearly touched her thighs. Really. One family, dressed entirely in camo, talked about how they bought their other dogs, a Rottweiler and a Pit Bull, at the same mills in Ohio that the pet store used. The store manager, looking perky in a pony tail and a polo shirt, froze as soon as Camo Man spoke. Obviously the crazy woman shouting a warning had been right - the shop did buy from mills. 

Boob Lady had come with a herd of grandchildren, eager to play with puppies, but obviously with no intent to purchase them. They proceeded to torture dog after dog, complaining loudly about each one. I guess it was their idea of a fun family activity.

We waited thirty minutes for a chance to see three of the puppies. My son chose a chocolate lab, a Ba-Shar (a mutation of a Bassett Hound and a Shar Pei) and an Ori-Pei (another mutation between a Pug and a Shar Pei).  They brought the puppies in one by one. They were all cute, but we immediately fell in love with the chocolate lab. Unfortunately, all the dogs were sick (they had kennel cough and none could be purchased)(not that we would have)(the screaming lady had scared us).  They were also extremely overpriced. The chocolate lab was nearly $2K, which is about three times the going rate for that breed.

Our next stop was to look in the classifieds. Another bad experience. We drove to a farmhouse in the country, skidded down an icy driveway, and entered into what must be one of the nine circles of hell. The breeder, a large woman in her pajamas with a raspy voice, didn’t seem thrilled to see us and didn’t make eye contact.  Not a good sign. This was a scheduled appointment, not a drive by.

When we walked into the kitchen, the first thing we saw was a gigantic birdcage with an enormous parrot inside. The cage was the size of my kitchen island – if it had been doubled and stacked one on top of the other – and the parrot (from tip to tail) was roughly the size of my 14 year old. As we walked past, it said, “Hello, sexy” right in my ear. I nearly wet my pants.

The next stop on this thrill ride of an adventure through this crazy fun house was walking past a closet with a chocolate lab inside nursing her litter. She was blocked in with a baby gate and growled menacingly at us as we walked past.

“Is that the litter you advertised?” I asked.

Breeder Babe looked over her shoulder and managed to glare at me without making eye contact. “No. Those ain’t the ones.”

We were led into her family room, which was definitely hotter than Hades (another Inferno reference here)(Dante would have loved this place). I’ve been in saunas that were cooler. I guess the place was kept warm because of the multiple litters of puppies throughout the house, but I smelled something smoking and hoped my eyebrows hadn’t caught on fire.

The puppies, only a week old, were on a blanket on the floor. The house was cluttered, but fairly clean. The puppies, however, were filthy.

“Go ahead,” I said to my son. “Pet them.”

He looked at me in horror, but tried to gingerly find a clean spot to kneel on the floor. He couldn’t find one.

“Can we see the mother?” I had no idea what questions to ask, and this seemed like a good one. The heat was starting to affect my brain. I was just glad that (due to a freak accident years ago) I no longer have a perfect sense of smell. I’m sure there were a whole cornucopia of scents in this place.

Breeder Babe shuffled off to the garage. 

“Uh, oh,” said the parrot. I should have listened.

The mother dog came in, growling and terrified. “Go and feed your babies,” shouted Breeder Babe, but the dog was more focused on us. She was obviously scared, and very used to strangers who came in during the night and stole her babies. She circled us, growling, with her ears down and teeth barred.

“She’s not happy.”

Once again, my powers of observation are uncanny.  Without having any knowledge of dogs whatsoever, I managed to concisely summarize the whole situation in one sentence.

“She’s fine. GO. FEED. YOUR. BABIES.”  Breeder Babe dragged the poor mother over to the blanket, pushed her to the ground and smacked her on the head when she tried to get up.

“We should go,” said my son, his eyes huge in his face.

I agreed, but my good friend, Patti, was planning to meet us at the breeder to help me figure out if they seemed reputable or not. I had already figured it out for myself, but I thought Patti should see this. Lucky for her, she got lost and couldn’t find the farmhouse in the middle of the desolate, dark, snow-covered field. It definitely looked like a good setting for a slasher movie. That should have been my first clue.

“Wait. I’ll bring out the father.”

I didn’t think my son’s eyes could get bigger in his face, but they did. Especially when dear old dad came out with two giant Rottweilers.

They ran through the kitchen, their feet skidding on the tile floor. One of them nearly ran into the parrot cage.

“Watch it,” said the parrot.

The adult dogs, although they cowered around Breeder Babe, seemed friendly and fairly healthy. I just didn’t like the vibe of the place, the way it felt seedy and slightly illegal. I also didn’t like the way Breeder Babe spoke to the dogs. Every time she yelled at them, we flinched. If the three of us had been a dog pack, she would have been the alpha.

 “You’re just here to make a deposit today. You can pick your puppy when you come back in a few weeks.”

“We really have to go.” 

Breeder Babe looked up in surprise and then shuffled back to the kitchen to show me paperwork and my “Welcome Puppy” packet. 

“Um. We really have to think about this.”

She paused, the “Welcome Puppy” packet still clutched in her hand. “If you want a female, I can’t guarantee one unless you make a deposit. NOW.”

“We’re just not sure.”

“I have references.” She was now clutching the packet so hard she was wrinkling it.

“I’m sure you do.”

“I’ve been doing this for twenty five years. Well, more than twenty.”

“Great,” I said, easing toward the door. My son had his hand on my coat, pulling me out.

I thanked Breeder Babe for her time and we left as fast as we could. The parrot did have the final say.

“Bye-bye, baby.”