Pet project

The boots were the first sign of trouble.

Tucked safely in a cardboard box, my brand-spankin’ new Fryes, the ones I had coveted for so long, were now lying in a shambles on the bedroom floor. Shredded tissue left a paper trail to the perpetrator, sheepishly watching from the corner. My stomach sank as I pieced together the crime scene, the victims lying lifeless on the ground, gaping gouges in the heretofore pristine leather, a chunk taken out of a sole, a gnawed-on heel.

In her own special way, my newly adopted adolescent mutt, a cute but increasingly conflicted cattle dog mix, showed me what she thought of being left home alone on a Saturday night.

I sat dumbfounded on the couch as my husband tried to ease the pain. “It just adds to the distressed look,” he said of my newest prized accessories, which had yet to make their public debut. “You can hardly notice the teeth marks. A little shoe polish and they’ll look good as new.”

It was little consolation coming from someone who still wears the same pair of Chuck Taylors as the day we met 12 years ago. But he had a point, it wasn’t the end of the world, just a small glitch in the oft-challenging role of dog overseer.

Unfortunately, there were more potholes to come, including a strong dislike for the mother-in-law, the neighbors, co-workers, the mail man, the UPS man, the cable man, men wearing hats, men wearing glasses, men wearing hats and glasses, women with long hair, people wearing hoods, kids on scooters, people on bikes, men with babies, and pretty much any two-legged that came within a 100-foot radius of the house.

Which is not to say Daisy (thanks, I’m aware it rhymes with “Crazy”) wasn’t an equal opportunity barker, also going ballistic over inanimate objects, including lawn ornaments, vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers.

Of course, it’s hard to say which was worse, the barking or the chewing. In addition to fine leather, Daisy had a taste for upholstery, window blinds, plastic toys, seatbelts, furniture, banana bread (just the top), running shoes and wild Alaskan smoked salmon. Perhaps the most disturbing of her oral fixations was her gruesome torture of stuffed animals, removing their eyes like victims of a Satanic ritual. I can still hear the blood-curdling screams the day we found Elmo under the bed, blank holes where his eyeballs once bugged.

And you can forget about the newspaper-on-the-snout variety of discipline. One hard glance in Daisy’s direction and she lost all manner of continence. And no matter how inviting I made it seem, “crating” was akin to doggy hell, a fate worse than bath time to be fought tooth and claw.

“Inbred,” “damaged goods” and “schizoid” were just a few of the words used to describe my new pet, along with advice to send her back whence she came. “There’s a reason no one wanted her,” I was told.

And while I have been guilty of trying to pawn her off on unsuspecting ranchers, the truth is, giving Daisy up was never an option. See, we were her third strike. Her origins were murky at best, but one thing was evident, whether a victim of over breeding, neglect, abuse, or all of the above, she was a frightened and forlorn creature with good intentions, who would just as soon crawl under my skin then let me out of her sight. Sending her back to square one would only compound the myriad problems, ensuring a dubious future at best.

So, while I waited in vain for her to “outgrow” her destructive habits, I delved headfirst into doggy psychology 101. For the next year, I read books, attended “Canine Academy,” talked with dog trainers, sat in on lectures and even consulted an animal psychic, all in a quest to unlock the workings of her mysterious little mind.

Channeling Cesar Millan, I set about on what my husband called “my project.” Sure, I was no dog whisperer, but I had dogs before who were polite and well adjusted, for dogs anyway. It was nothing time, training, love and lots of exercise wouldn’t cure. Before long, I had her sitting, lying and staying on command, and we had even worked a few tricks into the repertoire. She became a steadfast trail companion and I even enrolled her in doggy day care to teach her the ropes of canine society.

While I am proud to say that she and the mother-in-law have come a long way and I have abandoned thoughts of removing her teeth (or at least filing them down), we still have a ways to go. A 6-foot fence has gone a long way toward protecting innocent pedestrians, although there is the occasional security lapse. However, despite efforts to establish her place in the family pecking order, she is still hard-wired to protect the flock at night, even if that means a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to warn us of the newspaper hitting the lawn. In addition, she is still reduced to a puddle in the blink of an eye, and anyone who dares cross our threshold is greeted with a bum rush and bared teeth

“Have you thought of Prozac?” one trainer inquired after hearing the laundry list of issues.

Did I sound that desperate? Turns out, she was talking about the dog. Seems the same country that brought you “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” has now come up with doggy anti-depressants.

Although I had never really considered my dog to be depressed, she did spend a lot of time on the couch come to think of it. Problem was, I could never get her to talk about her childhood. However, come to find out, not only was Prozac handy as a doggy upper, but also as a doggy downer. And seeing as how we had tried the natural route – citronella spray bark collars and “Herbal Calming Treats” (the whole lot of which was devoured in one rampage, foil bag included) – maybe something a little stronger was in order.

But I couldn’t help but wonder. Was it right to subject an innocent animal to pharmaceuticals? Not to mention the fact that there are people in the world without food or clean water, and here I was buying anti-anxiety medication for my stressed-out dog. And for some strange reason, I couldn’t seem to shake the whole Rosemary Kennedy tragedy.

But the final straw came when an unmarked envelope arrived in my mailbox. It was a letter informing me that, although neither wind, snow nor sleet could stop the U.S. mail, a 40-pound Aussie shepherd-heeler could. That’s right, I, “Mrs. Betol” (no wonder I’ve never won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse) had landed on a U.S. government watchlist for harboring an animal that interfered with U.S. postal delivery. Seems I had slacked on latching the screen door, and tipped off by the dog down the street, Daisy had given her arch nemesis a run for his life. And until I could guarantee to keep her under wraps, I could pick up my mail in person, at the post office.

And so, after much soul searching, and with the blessing of a sympathetic vet, I decided there might be something to this whole “better living through chemistry” thing. That’s right, I, Mrs. Betol, government blacklister, am the newest member of the Prozac Nation.

OK, so I’ll probably be on file with the feds till the day I die, but at least I’m getting my mail again. And Daisy seems to be adjusting well to her new serotonin levels. Sure, she’ll probably never make friends with the man in blue, but “my project” just might not get the boot after all.

– Missy Votel



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