As with most major events in my life, this particular episode began with a seemingly innocuous morning conversation.
by Rose Padrick
Finally on the road to recovery from the latest in a series of illnesses and able to once again enter his coveted private domain bulging with all manner of with saws, grinders, sanders, and multiple tool cases filled with hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and Lord-only-knows-whatsits, my Best Beau stared into his coffee cup and said he had been thinking.
Over the years these few words have raised the hair on the back of my neck fairly often and pushes me to say short, silent prayers to the Big Guy that this would be one of his good "Thoughts." Our trip to Glacier Bay in Alaska began with exactly those words, but so did repainting the entire inside of the house.
"Since you went back to work full time I'm pretty much left to my own devices, there's no one to talk to except myself and you know what a lousy conversationalist I am. How would you feel about getting a dog?"
I suppose I should have been grateful he didn't want to adopt another child or move his mother in with us, but memories of long years caring for our last canine family member resulted in sky high eyebrows.
"I'll do everything; you won't even know it's in the house. I'll feed it, water it, brush it and pick up after it, nothing left for you to do." I never did understand how those hazel eyes could look so innocent even while he was shoveling "Bovine Excrement" at such a fast pace.
I didn't believe those very same words uttered years ago by our children - resulting in our adoption of a tiny bundle of fur that grew to be a hundred-pound, insanely active bundle of fur. . . for which yours truly did the feeding, brushing and picking ups, and knew better than to believe them now.
With fifty-two years of experience behind me and a feline companion who was becoming more and more picky about her food, I acquiesced to obtaining another four-legged family member without revealing that the vet said cats sometimes respond well to another animal in the house and it might result in a better appetite.
The words spoken when I asked what kind of dog he had in mind and he replied, "One with four legs that won't yap at me when I happen to mention the extra weight was very attractive on her," will be omitted from this account, but not the fact that my eyebrows headed skyward again.
Weeks of calling and visiting all the rescue centers in the area resulted in our meeting very large dogs, very hyperactive dogs, small loud dogs and several that wanted to attack my husband's scooter. It was heartbreaking to turn down one after another, I could feel their sad little eyes watching as we walked away.
I read a small piece in the paper about a program through the Sheriff's Animal Control Department, called and left a message. I received a return call the same day by a compassionate worker who asked several questions about what kind of dog we wanted. I explained my husband was mostly confined to a scooter but was able to get around fine and just wanted a companion, and I preferred a smaller dog that wasn't likely to pull on a leash hard enough to possibly upset the scooter or pull my husband off of it. I also asked that it be trained well enough to come when called as my husband would not be able to chase it should it escape the fence.
The fourteen-pound, curly haired bundle of energy with the biggest eyes in all of Dogdom came to us via the Brevard County Sheriff Department's Paws & Stripes program. I was totally impressed by the care shown not only to the training of the dogs but training us humans also, we visited with the dog and trainers several times before we were able to bring him home. The extra effort put into making sure we were likely to be kind and a good fit for the dog was above and beyond in my opinion, not to mention that the dogs are saved from the shelter. Everyone involved in the program certainly deserves a large "Good Job!" and an extra-large Dove bar.
Coming to us already tagged, shot, chipped and minus two small round body parts, the dog listened attentively while I explained my husband is his owner, hopefully thus reminding my husband, who was supposed to be feeding, brushing, walking ETC… Anything needed comes from the male human, I am not to be involved in any part of his daily life including care and feeding…the dog then sneezed, licked my face and settled down at my feet.
He had such a happy demeanor, ever at the ready to perform any of the commands he was trained to do with a smile. His tail was always in motion so the name Wags seemed perfect. It took no time to realize just how smart he was and how eager he was to learn something new. The only quirk in his behavior being he would growl and hide when any other dog came close. It was explained that there had been an "incident" with another dog before the Animal Control picked him up and he had been bitten. He's getting better now but still cannot be allowed to run free at the dog park.
Those first weeks Wags was wonderfully patient with us, he loved to go for walks and play, but when we just wanted to settle into the couch and watch TV he was all for that also. He became very adept at dancing around to stay out of the way of the scooter, walking beside it on leash and sitting between my husbands' feet to take a treasured ride. Except for the feeding, walking and brushing thing they spent most days together.
We found he has an almost manic affection for treats, no matter where he is his head pops up anytime we get near the pantry, reaching into the pantry brings him to an alert sitting position and grabbing any kind of crinkly pouch results in a prancing dog at your feet.
I used this affection to interact and train him on a daily basis. Fetching his leash, bringing a toy, rolling over and playing dead were learned within the first week. When my husband was hospitalized again, I taught him to search the rooms in our house when I came home from visiting in the evening so I wouldn't be so apprehensive going into the house after dark. I appreciated he never needed to be encouraged, but took this job very seriously. I'm not sure the cat felt the same when she was flushed out of the closet where she had been comfortably ensconced in a nest made of my cashmere sweater.
The one drawback to using a treat to train him was he would get so freaked out by the mere smell of any kind of a treat he would bundle all his tricks together. I swear I could see his little brain saying,
"Treat! Treat! She has a treat! Wait-she wants me to do something. But what? I wasn't listening! What does she want me to do? Oh, I'll just do everything I know, she's sure to like something! AND GIVE ME THE TREAT!"
He would then sit pretty, hold his paw up for a shake, lie down, roll over and play dead, all in the span of one minute. He's since gotten a little better at reining in his frenzy but it's still hilarious. As is his insistence on beginning at the head of my bed and tunneling under the blanket all the way to the bottom to spend the night totally covered, sucking on his hind foot until he falls asleep.
Getting back into his workshop once again after the
hospitalization my husband began having more balance
problems. If he reached for a dropped tool he sometimes
fell over, so I trained Wags to pick up anything pointed at
and hand it to my husband. I was most impressed that he
could pick up a rather large hammer, small wrench and
other tools that appeared they would be to heavy for him.
My husband appreciated this assistance in keeping
When I couldn't procrastinate any longer about my necessary foot surgery Wags was great. Handing me the Kleenex box and picking up the multitude of things I continually dropped was most helpful, but cocking that adorable little face to one side with ears at attention while I whined and moaned about my immobility was invaluable. He seemed to know which foot to stay away from and his little head lying on my leg was more comforting than the pain pills. Alternating between sitting, standing and curling into a ball, he left the couch only when nature called and would rush right back to snuggle back into his special place between my leg and the back of the couch.
His command to fetch dropped objects was 'Pick it up' but he quickly learned my "Oh Crap! Or occasional "Dammit!" would soon be followed by a "Pick it up." So he bypassed the command and jumped off the couch to grab whatever I had dropped, knocked off the tiny TV table or had slid off the couch. The time I discovered my icepack had leaked and little wet gel pills were all over my fairly new couch there was no one home to help. I stood and teetered on one foot as best I could while attempting to sweep the sticky green globs into my water glass, not paying attention to what Wags was doing in the meantime. After cleaning up my gel mess to the best of my almost immobile ability, I nearly sat on four of his toys and a brush I had lost weeks ago. Evidently, my repeated "Oh Craps" and other utterances had resulted in the poor little guy picking up everything he could find on the floor and depositing them on the couch. I had to laugh out loud at the 'What the heck did you want?' look on his face.
When I was finally able to hobble with a knee glider we began to take walks around the neighborhood but had to stop when we ran out of streets that didn't have dogs who ran loose and took protecting their territory quite seriously. The dog park after hours has become a viable alternative as is a near-by campground where all dogs are leashed all the time. He's a sight to see running here and there, nose to the ground and "watering" everything in sight; I've always wondered how on earth all that liquid came from within that little body.
Wags is always up for a game of Tug-of-War, a visit from any of my grandchildren or an episode of "My Cat From Hell" and, coming from a less than perfect past, I truly admire the way he faces life every day with a big smile, a wag of his tail, and a happy attitude that I envy and strive to emulate.
I'm looking forward to many years snuggled on the couch together… sans surgeries.
Visit the Brevard County Sheriff's Paws & Stripes Comfort Dog Program for more information.