Carol and I were talking over lunch when I was nudged from behind.
I reached back and felt the cold snout of our newest family member, Oliver. He has been with us for a year now and, upon reflection, I’d say he’s changed our routines more than any other dog we have adopted from a shelter.
Other dogs, and they all had unique personalities, were like satellites to the family. They molded to what was happening and loved being included, whether it was a game of Frisbee, a backyard barbecue where they could count on handouts, or a ride to the supermarket and an opportunity to hang out the window, tongue lolling in the wind.
But Ollie is independent and, while he will join an activity, that’s not his raison d’être. As we both know, the spotted coonhound loves to smell. He can smell pretty awful himself sometimes, but it’s the scent of wild things [and the cat next door] that I’m talking about. That’s what gets him going.
Carol was so taken by his passion to follow a scent that she sat down with her laptop as soon as she returned from her morning Ollie walk to make notes.
Here’s some of what she had to report after a visit to Confreda playing fields Sunday:
“We head out looking at the tundra of the soccer fields.
“Actually, Ollie is only looking down at the ground, with six inches of white at the end of his tail erect, like the deer he would like to catch up with. He zigs ... he zags, he starts ... he stops ... nose and head bouncing up and down in anticipation. Occasionally, as a habit he mildly lifts a front leg from some setter blood background, or lifts a back leg for the special trees.
“It is pleasant. Then...
“He caught the scent!!!
“Thank God for leather gloves.
“My body goes into the schuss ski position, legs bent way down, and I brace myself to meet the end of the leash with my shoulders [Asking him at that point to stop or slow down is a joke].
“He gets the picture but tries heading out in another supposedly indirect path. By now, I have found a tree to wrap the leash around, and he knows that means business.”
Carol and I have learned to keep Ollie on a short leash, especially in the car. Without a tether, he’s back and forth between the front and back, intently watching for pedestrians and, should we pass a dog, well, that’s reason to whine and howl. For that reason, Carol wears earmuffs while driving Oliver, even in the summer.
And, if it’s not something outside the car, he’s sniffing out the smallest crumb that might have fallen from a granola bar. The danger is, should he not find a morsel, he’ll settle for just about anything else to chew.
We’ve purposely left sticks in the car, meaning there’s always a coating of wood chips on the back seat, which is preferable to gnawed plastic pens oozing ink. Sunglasses left within his radius, or a single sailing glove that now is without a thumb in addition to its missing fingertips.
Our other dogs never acted like this. That’s not to say that they were angels. They could sniff out food and did an excellent job of tearing through Girl Scout cookie boxes and managing to pull apart a pack of gum. Ever watch a dog chew gum? They’re no good at blowing bubbles.
Ollie is constantly on the hunt. You can hear him, a gentle intake and expulsion of air through quivering nostrils as he patrols the kitchen or discovers us, as we were Sunday, seated in front of cups of soup. He’s gotten better at meals, lying at his designated spot until we’re finished and then it’s a race to the kitchen for any leftovers. There is always something. It’s planned that way.
So I was surprised to feel his nose poking me in the back. This was not an inquisitive sniff, but rather, a demanding probe, like, “Why aren’t you paying attention to me?”
In addition to his moist nose, I felt a slimy object and immediately knew that he was thrusting one of his favorite toys in my direction – a foot-long section of rope, with a loop in one end and a knot in the other. The knot once held a tennis ball in place but, in a fit of vigorous shaking and ecstatic chewing, the ball was reduced to buttons of rubber.
Now that I knew what he was up to, I ignored his persistent probing. For once he was focused on gaining my attention. This was a role reversal. We continued talking. Ollie backed off, leaving the “pullie,” as it has been named, on the back of the chair. I didn’t turn to face him. I wasn’t going to give him that satisfaction, but I imagined his eyes wide and ready to pounce on the rope the instant I touched it.
The standoff lasted no more than a minute, but what a glorious minute. I was in control. Ollie’s instincts had been trumped.
Finally, he could bear it no longer. He snatched the rope and growling, shook it vigorously.
I pretended not to notice.
He flipped it in the air, caught it, and shook it some more.
Finally, without leaving my seat, I reached out and grabbed the loop. With deep growls, bared teeth and his legs firmly planted, he yanked the rope in short bursts. The chair rocked, but now that we were in it for keeps, I wasn’t going to let go.
And then it hit me. He already won! I succumbed to his taunting. He was running the show – So much for satellites.
I was pulled, just like Carol was pulled earlier in the day, but with no tree as an anchor.