This Side Up

If only we had the right words


I’d forgotten what it is like to have a child at home.

At our age, Carol and I are not thinking of having more children, although that would be a sure sign of a miracle if it were to happen. But there are other miracles and this is one way of looking at the newest member of the family – Oliver.

Last I reported, Oliver, who was delivered to the East Greenwich Animal Rescue League from North Carolina, was undergoing quarantine at a foster home. Oliver, a coonhound rescued from the streets, was soaking up all the affection Josh and Danielle could provide. He was enjoying the easy life, gaining weight and taking to the furniture as if it had been designed for him. The picture that Tammy Flanagan, who runs the rescue league, sent us showed Oliver sprawled on a couch with Danielle.

We got to meet him the following week and everything seemed to connect, but we needed a bit more time to make certain this was the dog for us.

It’s been more than a week now since we went over all the essentials with Tammy. She took us through the adoption paper work, and the promise that we bring him back to be neutered. That would have preceded the adoption, if not for some concerns that arose when they performed blood work. Oliver had been placed on a treatment that would take three months to complete.

The regimen came with strict instructions.

“You can’t let him run loose,” she said, as Carol and I hovered over a file folder with lots of “Oliver” data. Oliver was on his haunches, as if attentively awaiting a jury’s verdict. He looked up with his pleading eyes.

“Were we going to take him with us?” he seemed to ask.

“You hear that, Oliver,” Carol said in a doggy tone of voice I haven’t heard since Binky died. “We’re going to take care of you, and when it’s all right, you’ll get to chase sticks and balls.”

This reminded Tammy of something.

“You probably don’t want him tugging on sticks either,” she said.

I was beginning to wonder if, after this treatment, Oliver would be transformed from hound into lap dog. I wondered if I would be able to suppress those urges to play with a dog? You know, growl with him when he clamps his teeth into his leash and wants to play tug of war, or race after tennis balls after being hit as hard as they could with a tennis racket. That was Binky’s favorite game, whether played at the Gorton Junior High or at Vernon Field early Sunday morning; before people showed up to hit golf balls, fly remote controlled planes, play catch and walk their dogs. Binky was so focused on catching the ball that he wouldn’t quit the routine of chase, catch and retrieve, even if other dogs tried to join the game.

Carol seemed to be reading my mind.

“No, you’re going to have to wait.”

After vowing to keep all the regulations, we left.

Carol and Oliver were in the back seat. We’d mapped out the strategy in advance. On arrival, Carol gave Oliver a tour of the yard. He was deliberative and very hound-like, sniffing at everything and then straining at the leash for the next five yards. Then he would be anchored in place, nose to the ground, inhaling some aroma that only a dog could love. His tail wagged perpetually.

It was onto the house next. With the same intensity, he checked out each room. I thought this guy probably knows more about us by now than we do of ourselves. But, for what he had in canine intuition, he lacked in rudimentary vocabulary.

He gave us a bewildered look when we yelled, in unison, “No” as he put his paws on the kitchen counter to get a better sniff – maybe a bite – of the butter dish. He didn’t know his name, which apparently a rescue worker had given him, and showed no understanding of “Come,” “Sit” and “Lie down.”

Tammy guessed Oliver is 5 years old, so he would have had some training along the way. We just needed to find out what.

We went with the word, “Sit” for starters. We kept repeating the word while lifting his collar and pushing his bum until he sat. When he did that, we showered him with praise and gave him a piece of kibble. After about a dozen of these exercises, we tried it without a push to the rear. He wasn’t quite ready, but by the following day he was sitting on his own.

There have been a couple of accidents – the deposit in the living room the day after he arrived, and the christening of a plastic storage tub in the midst of the blizzard. I immediately rushed him outside and stood with him in the shelter of a pine tree. Nothing happened. How do I train him to pee? Wasn’t that to come naturally, as long as it was outside? He strained on the leash to go back in.

“You have to do it out here,” I told him.

He cocked his head. Was he waiting for me to tell him more? Was I just confusing him? It was a standoff in the swirling snow. There had to be a resolution. Finally, I could think of nothing else and said, “Sit, Ollie.”

He looked at me like I was crazy.

“What? In this snow?” he must have thought.

I commanded again and he sat.

“Good boy,” I announced jubilantly.

In another moment we were back inside and he was happily crunching a treat. It seems he’s just begun to train us and we’re catching on quickly, just like parents.


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