Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 11-7-11
November 8, 2011
My 92-year-old mother grew up on a farm in Alabama and does not believe in keeping an animal that isn’t useful. Consequently, she wasn’t exactly thrilled about my plans to bring Darby, our 10-month-old, 70 pound Rottweiler mix, along on a visit in October. Right up until the moment that we left Colorado, she was doing her best to talk me into leaving the dog behind. “You don’t need to be dragging that puppy out here,” she warned. “She’ll be more trouble than a 2-year-old.”
Anxious to show of the extensive training that my pet had received, I assured her, “Oh, but Darby is so smart! I’ve really been on it when it comes to keeping her in line.” Plus, my husband and I figured that the new surroundings and experiences would be a positive, and since I’d be staying in our pop-up camper she wouldn’t be getting in the way. What wasn’t considered was that somewhere along the 1,600 mile drive cross-country, our dog-child would end up forgetting everything.
Upon meeting “Grandma” for the very first time, Darby jumped up and nearly knocked her over. “No! Get down!” I commanded, horrified. Nose to the ground, my dog then proceeded to jerk me back and forth across the patio several times.
“Is she always so hyper?” Mother asked, gingerly brushing paw prints off her blouse.
“No, she’s just happy to be out of the truck after 37 hours. She’ll settle down after we take a walk,” I replied confidently. Instead, it made things worse. Running backwards, the stinker tugged at the leash and shook her head back and forth for half a block, pausing only long enough to yank at my pant legs. Twice, she pulled me over, and none of our well-rehearsed commands to “Drop!” or “Quit!” meant a thing. Later, after we’d joined a local dog walking group, Darby went completely deaf. She hopped like a giant rabbit towards the Shih Tzu’s, Italian Greyhounds, and mixed-breeds that we were introduced to, lunging and whining as I struggled to make her “Sit!” In response to my many apologies, the other ladies pointed out (very kindly) that “She’s just a puppy. Give it a few years and she’ll be a really fine dog.” I wasn’t so sure … and didn’t know if I could wait that long.
When offered a chance to romp in a nearby soccer field with a highly active Australian Shepherd, Darby – who was flying about as fast as she could go – ended up colliding with the other owner, making contact at knee level and crumpling him. (Nobody got hurt, just muddy.) At friend Jody’s house, she snatched items from her Beagle-mix “Gracie’s” toy box and ripped several to shreds, repeatedly ignoring “Leave it!” (Jody laughed, “She sure is one big puppy!”) And during an overnight stay at Missy’s place in the country, she focused so intently on barking at cows that “Cease!” didn’t mean a thing. Inside, she wrestled with Golden Retriever “Buddy” with such gusto that they knocked over furniture and nearly broke a lamp. “It’s okay, Carolinee. She’s still a puppy,” Missy reminded me, even after ordering Darby out of her kitchen for the 10th time.
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The next morning – as if I weren’t embarrassed enough already – the dog pushed open their bedroom door, launched, and landed squarely on Missy’s husband. (I won’t repeat here what he yelled.) In fact, the only quiet time that we got during the visit came after Darby had attempted to sneak into the pasture and got zapped by electric wire. “YIPE!” we heard through the door screen, followed by “yipeyipeyipeyipeyipe” and then thumping as she rolled onto the porch.
“Fence get her?” Missy chortled after the dog skulked into the den with her tail between her legs. “She’ll learn … won’t you, Darby?” Hackles raised, Darby crouched on the throw rug, shaking. “Actually, Carolinee, she’s doing pretty well for a puppy.” It was hard to believe.
Between lurching after cats, squirrels, woodchucks, and falling leaves; leaping into puddles; growling at the garbage men; digging up flowers and rocks; and enthusiastically yanking me around the neighborhood for a month, my puppy had a wonderful vacation. And Mom, after silently watching (and hearing about) me fumble with my dog-daughter during that time, ended up finally getting the last word in.
When Darby discovered the patio gate unlatched and slipped out to wander off into the sunset, her Grandma stepped smoothly in behind her. Gently but firmly, she commanded, “Darby, you come here.” My dog turned around immediately and walked right back inside. “There, now … you’re just a good puppy,” Mom said, briefly stroking her head with two extended fingers. Darby sat as still as a statue with her tail wagging respectfully. Watching from the window, I smiled and felt the same way.